We were discussing the prospect of messing about on the canals yesterday, and I happened to mention that I had spent quite a bit of time, er, doing what exactly with the narrowboat?

I wasn't really driving it

To guide, control, or direct (a vehicle).

but to say I was sailing it

To navigate or manage (a vessel).

when the watercourse is narrower than the narrowboat is long seems to be stretching it a bit. Were the boat in a tunnel I might be legging it

(v. tr.) Obsolete to propel (a canal boat) through a tunnel by lying on one's back and walking one's feet along the tunnel roof

but fortunately narrowboats nowadays are usually equipped with an engine.

So, does anyone know what I am doing while in command of a narrowboat?

  • 1
    Were you perhaps steering it? Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 12:38
  • In US sailing parlance, the person controlling the boat (working the tiller or wheel) is often referred to as driving it.
    – bib
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 13:15

4 Answers 4


Surely one navigates a narrowboat

  • I agree 'navigate' is the best word. It involves far more than 'driving', and 'steering', and sailing doesn't enter into the question. I don't think 'skipper' is right either, since it implies being in charge of others, and you may be the only crew member. You see, navigating a narrow boat involves knowing how to use locks, and being strong enough to turn the machinery. In the old days there was also a horse to control, which pulled the boat along from the 'tow-path'.
    – WS2
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 14:52

You skipper it.

To act as skipper or captain of (a vessel, team, etc.) (OED)


You cruise in a narrowboat.

The good weather encouraged more boat movements than usual at this time of year, with the fair weather boaters out cruising, taking advantage of the conditions.

... it is best to let the blood sport fanatics rant their heads off, while you cruise by.

I have cruised many miles ...

Narrowboat World (all my emphasis)

  • From same source: as well as piloting them --- where you steer your own boat
    – mplungjan
    Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 13:37
  • 1
    Personally I would steer clear of "cruising" as it has slang conotations Commented Nov 20, 2013 at 15:18

If it has sails you sail it, if not you can

  • pilot it
  • captain it
  • operate it
  • steer it

But I am sure a LOT of non-sail boat pilots would say sail it

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