The UK canal boat hire industry is gearing up to bounce back as soon as Covid-related restrictions are lifted

Although until mid April boating on the canals is still at a near-standstill, the UK canal boat hire industry is gearing up to bounce back as the Covid-related restrictions are lifted – many operators will say that they have already been poised for months to satisfy the rush to get on board. The latent demand for leisure hire emerged last year on such a scale that many of this summer’s trips will be filled by deferrals by last year’s disappointed families with waterway getaways top of their wishlist.

Hire boat companies see boom in bookings

Canal Boat spoke to hire company Shire Cruisers, based in Sowerby Bridge, which has been run by Nigel and Susan Stevens for over 40 years. They have seen a boom in bookings, while juggling with applications amid lockdowns at the same time as introducing safe working practices to maintain their 20-strong fleet.

Yet the driving force is one of optimism throughout the industry, says Susan, who remains well connected in the hire boat community. “We’re all optimistic that a lot of the people who came last year for the first time will come again. Although they came because they couldn’t go abroad or perhaps thought it was something they always wanted to do, they came and enjoyed it – including younger people and families. We have a lot of bookings with people who couldn’t come last year; I have checked with all of them and they still want to come.”

The feedback from 2020 was very encouraging, she said, and satisfaction rates among holidaymakers were high – a key factor also welcomed by other boatyards, she said.

This message was confirmed by Haley Hadley of Britain’s biggest narrowboat hire operation, ABC Boat Hire. “We are currently 15 percent up on last year and we are already have 82 percent occupancy for Whitsun,” said Haley. “Of course, some of this is due to last year’s customers transferring to 2021 but there is obviously also demand from customers that don’t want to travel overseas this year.”

It’s not all about narrow boat hire!

It isn’t just about narrowboats: on the wider waters of the Thames and Scotland’s Highlands, international operator Le Boat is responding to a surge in UK bookings.

Le Boat has transferred 14 more widebeam cruisers to its British bases on the River Thames and the Caledonian Canal, and says it’s “been preparing for a huge surge in ‘staycations’ in 2021”.

All of this assumes that holidays will actualy be possible this summer, with the Government still advising people not to make any assumptions despite progress on Covid vaccinations – so anyone booking holidays is still strongly advised to check the concellation conditions careful.

Check out this guide to the most beautiful and peaceful waterways getaways in the UK

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