Can a canal boat cross the channel?


So we suppose the first question we need to ask is… Why on earth do you want to know? Are you planning a booze cruise to top all booze cruises? Or have you got bored of real ale and are wanting to sample some vin rouge? In this article we are going to look at crossing the channel in a canal boat. Hold onto your hats!

Can You Cross the Channel in a Canal Boat?

Alright, let’s break it down. Can you do it? Yes, you can. Is it a good idea? No, it’s not.

Here’s ‘the why’ for both.

Why You Shouldn’t Cross the Channel in a Canal Boat

A Canal boat doesn’t have a keel

Ok, listen. Think about all you know with regards to sea states. Think about why you don’t get a shipping forecast for the Kennet and Avon Canal? It’s because, generally, regardless of the weather, landlocked still waters have one state… relative calm. The channel? Not so much. The biggest wave observed in the English channel was 10 meters high. Sailboats have a lump of lead suspended a metre below their hull, specifically designed to keep the centre of gravity as low as possible and keep the boat pointing mast up. Does your canal boat have a keel? Are you unsure? That means it doesn’t. It also means that in anything other than a gentle swell, you are going to be wondering whether you will make it.

The run of the tide.

Did you know that the English channel has one of the highest tidal flows… in the world? As someone primarily concerned with inland waters you might not appreciate the effect of tide. Sea mariners know the tide patterns like you know the traffic flow on your morning commute.

Why is this important?

Well, your top speed will be around 5mph. Do you know how fast the tide flows at particular times of the month and year? Let us give you a clue, it’s faster than 5mph. Chances are if you’ve been unlucky you could set off, get into the pull and never get closer to your destination even with the engine at max chat. So why bother?


The Rules of the Waves

Do you know all of those little bits of etiquette that you’ve learned over your years on canal boats? Maritime rules are just like those… On steroids. Fail to give way at the correct time or have the wrong flag flying and you are going to end up in trouble.

The Traffic…

Have you ever seen an oil tanker going full tilt? Do you want to know how much an oil tanker weighs? OK, we want you to try and truly envisage this. On average, an oil tanker weighs around… 400,000 tonnes. And they travel at around 16 knots. That’s a lot of metal moving pretty fast. How many canal boats do you think the average oil tanker sees on a daily basis? None. The ship’s captain generally sits about 250 metres from the stern of the boat. How many canal boats do you think he would see if you were out in the channel? It’s the same answer. None. The wake alone would be enough to capsize a canal boat.

The English Channel is the busiest strait in the world, with around 400 transits per day. How many of those are canal boats? Not many. There’s probably a good reason for that.

Navigation Issues

As general rule seafarers always adopt a belt and braces approach. Need a radio? They normally carry two. Winch winders… yep two. Compass, at least two. Aside from the sun, and the Boat inn being on your left instead of your rightwhat do you have available right now that tells you right now which direction you are heading? Ok, we will concede that you might make it across the channel, but where you end up in France? That’s going to be anyone’s guess!


Why You Could Cross the Channel in a Canal Boat…

You’d Be in the News…

But probably not for the right reasons. The reason is that people would think you were absolutely insane. It has been done, however. What the reports fail to mention is that the people in question waited weeks and weeks for a suitable weather window and sea state… Oh and they had an escort boat. Ask yourself why they had an escort boat?

It is a Boat.

The boat doesn’t know what kind of water it is on. It has one purpose, to keep you dry and afloat. If this is the only criteria (and the weather is right) then there is no reason why it wouldn’t work. People have crossed the channel using nothing but a layer of fat. Safely ensconced in your canal boat, we suppose it is possible.

It Was Done En Masse in 1939

If you are from these fair isles you will no doubt feel that somewhere, lurking deep within you is the ‘Dunkirk Spirit’. On the 28th May 1940 over 311 small ships attempted to make their way over the channel to rescue the 40,000 trapped members of the British Expeditionary force. Whilst it was hailed as a great success it is worth noting that over half of them sank. That’s not good odds. But why not? Go for it! Just make sure that you take a life jacket.


Having read our article, what do you think we are likely to say? Just because you could, in theory, do something, doesn’t mean that you should. For us, ordering a different ale on the Norfolk Broads is about as close as we want to come to real adventure. In answer to the question; can a canal boat cross the channel? We are going to say, yes it can, but it will be very lucky if it gets there in the same condition that it departed in.


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