About Day Boats

About Day Boats

“The common type of craft used on Midland waterways was the narrow boat. This craft was so named because it was adapted to pass through the narrow locks on these canals. The boats varied in length and width, but rarely exceeded the 70ft length or 7ft width permitted by the general lock dimensions. There was also a considerable variety in the types of boats seen on the waterway. The principle designations were that they lacked or possessed a cabin or if they were made of wood or iron. Those that had no cabin were called open boats, whilst with a cabin, were quite naturally known as cabin boats. Cabin boats could be of two types, those that had a large high cabin and those that had a small low cabin. The larger cabin provided enough space for living quarters. The smaller cabins provided little else but a shelter for the boatmen.

The cabin boat was commonly used for long-distance carrying of merchandise or bulk minerals. The hold was capable of storing between 25 to 30 tons of cargo. […] many open boats were of a design local to the BCN known as the day boats, or Joey Boat.


The Joey [1.] is differentiated from a day boat by the fact that it could be steered from either end. Such boats were commonly employed in the coal trade, although they also found use carrying limestone and in later times mud, rubbish and salvage. They had a detachable mast and rudder and would be taken empty to the colliery wharf for loading, where they would be left until full of coal. The boat crew would return to fix the mast and rudder and then set off for a local destination. Such was the windswept nature of some colliery locations that small cabins came to be fitted to some of the Joey boats to give some measure of shelter for the boat crew, whilst the craft was at rest.


Another type of open boat was the Station Boat. This type of craft, unlike the Joey, was steered only from the one end. Its role was to collect and deliver goods at the many railways interchange basins that served the BCN.” [2.]

If only things were that simple! The neat distinctions drawn out above weren’t always reflected in reality. [3.]

This is not surprising, given that there were thousands of day boats working over a long period of time, on short haul traffic around Birmingham and the Black Country. Many boats enjoyed a mongrel existence – depending on the user, these basic work-horses could be put to work  in different ways at different times – and would be altered to meet the task. At times they might have a cabin, at other times be open; at time they’d carry a name, or at other times just the BCN gauging number.


They moved from company to company too, with both horse-drawn [4.] Joey and single-ended open [or cabin] day boats linked to a wide variety of subsidiary canal-side industries, as well as carrying coal and iron from the mines to the furnaces, foundries and factories and station interchange duties.

[1.] Joey boat is the term that some reserve for the basic design wooden or iron  narrow boat where the rudder or ‘ickey’ as B.C.N. folk called them, could be hung from either end to save winding and sometimes with a very basic cabin about 5 foot long with two bench seats and a bottle stove. […]

[2.] pg. 71 Chapter 5 Narrow Boat Variety in The Birmingham Canal Navigations by Roy Shill Tempus Publishing [2002]

[3.] Michael Ware in ‘Narrow Boats at Work’ notes that ‘While we usually refer to open boats of the BCN as Joey boats, many boatmen in the area just referred to them as barges!’

[4.] Or later, on lock-free sections hauled by tugs in trains of up to five boats

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