Be it a boat or a house or maybe even a houseboat, Russell Narrowboats can build it.

Words by Adam Porters | Pictures by Andy Annable

Boat building firms come in all different shapes and sizes, from one-man bands to big companies with big sheds and production lines. But when I phone a boat builder to talk about featuring one of his boats in these pages, it’s pretty unusual to find him up on the roof of someone else’s house.

But Russell Narrowboats is unusual – dare we even say unique? – in that it’s attached to a building company. Paul and Diane Russell have been in the construction industry for more than 30 years, but they’re also passionate boaters. So in 2015, they built their first boat. Russell Narrowboats was launched in 2019, and they’ve been building both stock and bespoke boats since then. In 2023, the firm showed a boat at the Crick Show for the first time. We liked it, and thought it was about time we took a closer look at their work.

This, their latest offering, is one of the company’s stock boats – a boat that’s built to a standard design without being commissioned by a particular customer, that’s then put up for sale when it’s finished. The good thing about buying a stock boat is that there’s no waiting. If you want a bespoke boat, most builders have a waiting list, and the next slot could be a couple of years away. Stock boats are finished, ready, and available. And because they’re built to sell, the design and layout is usually the sort of thing that will suit lots of people.

This 60ft boat is built on a shell by Collingwood, probably the most prolific shell builder in the country. It’s semi-cruiser style, which is all the rage these days. The stern is surrounded by a metal dodger, with some dramatic curves at the forward ends, and a cut-out by the tiller which give the boat some real visual impact. The dodger also provides seating, with cushions to improve comfort. There are also built-in lockers, giving valuable storage space. There are more lockers either side of the central doors into the boat (and it’s these lockers and the accompanying extended cabin sides which makes this a semi-cruiser rather than just a cruiser). One is the gas locker, while the other one holds a spare bottle.

At the bow, there are no lockers in the well deck – but of course with the gas bottles at stern, the locker in the nose offers plenty of space. There’s an access hatch to the bow thruster, and the water tank is under the deck. There are some nice touches to the steelwork, such as scrolls in the ends of the handrails – and the bow is a pleasant shape. The colour, a very pale turquoise colour with a cream coachline, is very contemporary and really stands out in a marina of largely grey or dark boats. It may not be to everyone’s taste, but colours like this are very popular at the moment. Russell Narrowboats currently have their boats painted before they take delivery of the shells, but have plans to expand into painting in-house. All the trim, such as the mushroom vents are in chrome, and there are bright window and porthole frames too, by Caldwell’s.

This is a reverse layout boat, with the galley at the stern. Next comes a Pullman dinette followed by an open saloon. A walkthrough shower room is further forward, with the cabin at the bow. The fitout uses painted panels both above and below the gunwales, with solid oak trims throughout.

All the furniture and fittings are very nicely constructed; everything fits together properly and looks neat and tidy. You can see that care and attention has been paid to the building of this boat.

The floor is a laminate in an oak finish, to match the rest of the woodwork. The whole look is bright and contemporary – exactly what’s popular among boat buyers these days.

Three steps lead down from the back deck into the boat, and all have lifting treads for storage. There are cupboards both sides, one of which is the electrical cupboard. The one on the opposite side has the calorifier in the bottom half, meaning this cupboard should be warm – a nice place to hang your coats.

The style of the galley sets the tone for the whole boat. It has white units and quartz worktops, with black fittings. So for example, the under-mounted sink is black, and so is the tap above. There’s a Thetford oven set at eye level, and a black Shoreline 12-volt fridge. A Thetford three-burner gas hob is set across the boat. A small Zanussi washing machine is hidden behind a door.

A lot of thought has been given to maximising space. The cupboard which extends into the dead corner has a Le Mans style magic corner unit – shaped shelves which pull out so everything is easily accessible. Alongside there’s a pull-out unit. Other units include cupboards and drawers. The units themselves come from Howdens, so should be solid and durable. A very stylish addition is a slim wine cooler by Lamona.

A set of side doors means you have additional ventilation available, and provides a nice place to stand to feed the ducks.

The Pullman dinette has nicely upholstered bench seats with storage inside. The table is made from attractive woodblock, and has heavily rounded corners on the corridor side, so you definitely won’t catch yourself on it as you walk past. The table is mounted on Desmo legs, and drops down to form a guest double bed. There’s a set of side doors above the table, but they’re not glazed so it would probably be worth investing in a Perspex panel or suchlike, for days when you want light and views, but not fresh air or moisture.

The saloon is left open for whatever furniture you prefer. There’s plenty of room, so you could have a couple of captain’s chairs, or a sofa bed (which would also provide alternative accommodation for guests).

Under the gunwales on one side is a unit intended to house a big flat screen tv. The power sockets and an aerial point are provided. On the same side of the boat is a Refleks diesel stove – so there’s no need to store coal or logs, or go to the effort of lugging them about. It has a black surround and is mounted on a black quartz hearth.

On the other side of the boat is a small white cupboard in the same style as those in the galley. Access to the cassette loo is inside, so it’s quite nice that that’s out of sight. Above is a double socket with USB ports, so this could easily become a charging station. And the rest of the bulkhead carries a set of shelves.

This is a rather dramatic shower room, thanks to the use of black fitting and trims. Even the quadrant shower tray is black (and I think makes a nice change from the typical white), and so is the frame of the shower cubicle and the shower fittings. The cubicle is lined with a grey marble effect laminate, which is also striking. Alongside, there’s a small cubbyhole, and access to the shower pump.

The loo is a Thetford cassette, complete with a proper china bowl. On the opposite side of the boat is a white L-shaped unit giving plenty of storage space, with a quartz worktop. The basin is a straight-sided circular affair in black porcelain, and the tap is a very stylish waterfall type, also in matt black.

All the other fittings are also black, including the heated towel rail, a towel ring, and a loo roll holder. The glazed doors at either side of the room also have black door handles.

The cabin at the bow has an inline bed, which has quite a neat way of extending to a 4ft 6in width. A flap folds out, and has a couple of Desmo legs to support it. Most bed bases we see are enclosed, but this boat has the space under the bed completely open. This means access is really easy, and air circulation under the mattress will be very good. I can see the owners filling the space with those big plastic storage boxes, to keep everything neat and tidy.

Above the head of the bed is a white high-level cupboard. Underneath are a couple of neat little reading lights. Other storage is plentiful: there is a massive wardrobe on one side of the boat, giving both shelving and hanging space. It’s a very well planned piece of furniture. On the side facing the bed is a small shelf with a double socket and USBs, meaning there’s somewhere to charge your phone. On the opposite side of the boat is a low unit with a quartz worktop and a mirror above – and yet more power sockets. This boat really is well provided with places to plug things in.

High on one cabin side there’s a power socket and another tv aerial point, so a small tv could be mounted on a bracket. The step up to the glazed bow doors has a lifting tread, to give access to the water pump.

This boat is quite straightforward technically. In the engine hole there’s a Canaline 38hp engine. The installation looks neat and tidy, and the large cruiser stern on this boat means the engine hole is large, and there’s plenty of room round the engine to make servicing easier. To help with manoeuvring, there’s an electric Vetus bow thruster.

Electrical power comes from four 110Ah domestic batteries. There’s a 3kw Victron Multiplus inverter charger, and a monitoring system. While the boat has no solar panels fitted, the wiring for them has been installed, so if an owner wanted to add them it should be fairly straightforward.

Central heating is from an Eberspacher diesel boiler. This feeds the radiators and towel rail on board, as well as the calorifier (which is also heated by the engine and has an immersion fitted).

As is so often the case with these boat tests, we were really able to put this boat through its paces in terms of manoeuvrability – and it handles very nicely. The boat responds to the tiller and goes where it’s pointed. It turned without problems, and the bow thruster has enough grunt to make a difference when you’re trying to get back into a marina berth.

We have one regular complaint with cruiser stern boats, and that’s that the Morse control is often lower down than is ideal, and the instruments are somewhere you can’t see them. On this boat, the Morse lever is mounted on a column that’s part of the deck surround; it’s a little low down but not excessively so. The instruments are very visible, though, being mounted on top of the column, which slopes down to stop rainwater pooling. Not only is the rev counter right there so you can glance at it easily, so are all the switches, and the control for the bow thruster. That means that if you’re turning around, for example, it’s possible to have the tiller over and be using the bow thruster at the same time without having to contort yourself (and believe me, that’s not always the case).

The large stern deck has plenty of room for crew to keep the helm company, and the built-in seating and cushions means they have plenty of places to sit. It would also make a great place to sit out once you’re moored up.

This is a thoroughly bright and contemporary boat, with a lot to admire. The fitout shows a lot of thought, skill, and attention to detail. The hull style, layout, and interior style are bang on trend: they’re what most buyers of boats want these days.

At the time of our test, the boat was on sale at the New and Used Boat Company at Mercia Marina, priced at £164,950. A few years ago, that would have seemed like a lot of money for a stock boat – but as we’ve repeatedly pointed out, the price of everything has skyrocketed in recent years. Steel, wood, and components have all gone up – and you need all of those things to build a boat. So when you compare the price to other new boats around, this one offers good value for money.

Russell Narrowboats may have unusual roots, but on the evidence of this boat, they’re getting things right. A passion for boating alongside skilled craftsmen looks like a really good combination.

Paul and Diane Russell have been boating for more than 20 years – they had hire boat holidays while their now grown-up children were young. And it’s a multi-generational thing, because it was when his parents had a boat built that Paul realised he probably had the skills to build boats as well as houses. Their building firm does a wide range of projects, including full house builds to extensions and renovations.

The first boat was built in 2015, but the separate Russell Narrowboat company was launched in 2019. In that time, they’ve built 18 boats, most of them bespoke – and they currently build about five boats a year. The firm has two full-time staff working on the fitouts, and brings in specialists to do things like electrics and plumbing. The next one in build has a serial hybrid propulsion system. The firm also has plans for expansion, wanting to bring not only painting in house, but also shell building.

Also in the future, Paul and Diane will build a boat for themselves – they say they just don’t have time to use one at the moment. But they built their own house, so building their own boat would be simple in comparison.


Length: 60ft
Beam: 6ft 10in
Shell: Collingwood Boats /
Style: Semi-cruiser
Layout: Reverse
Berths: 2+2
Fit-out: Painted panels and oak
Engine: Canaline 38 /
Bow thrusters: Vetus 75kgf /
Inverter: Victron 3kw /
Wine cooler: Lamona LAM6904 / £415
Stove: Refleks / from £1500


Russell Narrowboats
Unit C, Wetmore Road
Burton-on-Trent, Staffordshire, DE14 1SN
07377 152383


As featured in the February 2024 issue of Canal Boat. Buy the issue here