The key distinguishing feature of a narrowboat is its width: it must be no more than 7 feet (2.13 m) wide to navigate the British narrow canals. Some old boats are very close to this limit (often built 7 feet 1 1⁄2 inches or 2.17 m or slightly wider), and can have trouble using locks that are not quite as wide as they should be because of subsidence. Modern boats are usually 6 feet 10 inches (2.08 m) wide to guarantee easy passage everywhere.
Because of their slenderness, some narrowboats seem very long. The maximum length is about 70 feet (21 m), the length of most locks on the narrow canals. However, modern narrowboats tend to be shorter than this, so that they can cruise anywhere on the connected network of British canals - including on the "wide" canals (built for wider, but shorter, boats). The shortest lock on the main network is Salterhebble Middle Lock on the Calder and Hebble Navigation, at about 56 feet (17 m) long. However, the C&H is a wide canal, so the lock is about 14 feet 2 inches (4.32 m) wide. This makes the largest "go-anywhere-on-the-network" narrowboat slightly longer (about 60 feet) than the straight length of the lock, because it can (with a certain amount of "shoehorning") lie diagonally. Some locks on isolated waterways are as short as 40 feet (12.2 m).
Hire fleets on British canals can contain narrowboats of many lengths from about 30 feet (9.1 m) upwards, to allow parties of different sizes or different budgets to hire a boat.
Read more about this topic: Narrowboat
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