How Far Can You Travel On a Canal Boat in a Day?


I think we are all resigned to the fact that we aren’t going to be setting any speed records in a canal boat in the near future. But that said, neither do oil tankers and they travel around the globe! In this article we are going to look at how far you can realistically travel in one day on a canal boat.


How far can you travel on a canal boat in a day?

Well there is quite a lot to think about actually. Let’s have a look at some factors and see if we can get to the bottom of it.

How fast can you go?

We suppose a better question would be how fast should you go? You might be able to achieve 7mph if you really put your foot down. But that wouldn’t be advisable. The general rule is that if you are creating a significant wake, you are going too fast. As a nice average figure, and to make our maths slightly easier, we would suggest 4mph is a reasonable speed to cruise around at. It’s just a fraction over walking pace.

For those of you who aren’t mathematically minded what this essentially means is that you will cover exactly a mile every 15 minutes. So, with this in mind. 4 miles every hour, 24 hours in a day. In theory you could travel 96 miles in a single day. Not bad that… Except that is purely a theoretical distance.

Why is it only theoretical? Read on

Barriers to your 96 miles in a day

#1. Locks

If you have even a rudimentary knowledge of boating life, you will know that half the fun is navigating locks. We are going to work on a timing assumption based on average experience. An expert might just be able to manage it in 10 minutes. For most, especially if you are taking it easy (which you should be when cruising), we think that 20 minutes per lock is a reasonable estimate. So for every three locks you negotiate, you are going to lose an hour of travelling time. We aren’t going to go to extremes and assume you are making your way up the Tardebigge flight. With 30 locks that would take you 10 hours. However as an average lets  work on a third of that, in fact to make the maths easy, lets say 12. Based on a rate of 3 per hour, that means already your travel time has been cut short by 4 hours…

20 hours multiplied by four miles per hour… Already you have lost 16 miles from your maximum range.  So we are down to 80 miles in a day!

Lets continue our thought experiment….

#2. Day and night.

Ok we are going to be generous here and assume that you have gone for a break around June 21st. That’s around 15 hours of daylight. Why is this important?

Well if you are asking the question as to how far you can go in a day, we are going to assume that you are hiring a canal boat. If you owned it you probably wouldn’t be quite as bothered. And if you are hiring it, you will probably find that it is in the rental terms that you only cruise during the day… That’s why it matters. So 15 hours of time when you cruise without getting in deep trouble and invalidating your insurance. We had 20 hours of time left after we navigated the locks, but now we have been robbed of 5. According to our maths that’s a further 20 miles lost! We are now down to 60 miles in a day!

#3. Constant speed

We think it will be prudent to apply a correction factor to our average speed. You aren’t going to have the entire canal to yourself! You’ll need to manoeuvre, slow down for other boats and generally be a courteous waterway user, especially when passing residential moorings. Working on an average between slowing to a crawl or just slowing down a bit, let’s say you reduce your speed on average by 25% over the course of the day. By reducing the speed by this amount, we also reduce the distance covered by the same amount. What were we down to? 60 miles… It looks like this has now become 45!

#4. Stopping for ‘refreshment’

Listen, we are trying to be realistic here. Where’s the fun in just going hell for leather without enjoying all the amenities that are on offer with a canal cruise? Travelling at full pelt for the day is exhausting, you will at least need to take a comfort break.

Let’s say you stop, moor up, secure the boat and head for lunch. As a bare minimum we reckon, by the time you have done all of the above, and walked to the pub we are talking two hours. So your 15 hours journey time has just become 13 hours. 13 hours at a speed of 3 miles per hour… you’re now down to 39 miles.

# 5. One for the road.

Yes that bitter is tasty. If you are anything like us, you won’t just have a couple and leave it there. Lets stay for a couple more… That’s another hour off! Oops, it looks like we are down to 12 hours journey time and 36 miles. But it is definitely worth it.



We have tried our best to apply a touch of realism to our calculation… The results are in. We reckon, realistically and accounting for a few stops you could just about manage 36 miles in a day. You would manage more if you were really motoring, threw caution and manners to the wind and didn’t stop by for a bite and a pint… But why would you do that? We aren’t giving up the pub, are you?





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