Our Vision

Our vision is to facilitate “totally independent boating on the inland waterways for people with any disability”, whereby a crew comprising solely of people with disabilities are able to cruise the inland waterways and attain the same benefits, enjoyment and achievements available to able bodied boaters.

Mission Statement

CanalAbility seeks to make boating activities on the inland waterways accessible to disabled people and community groups, enabling them to achieve the benefits and enjoyment of boating on the rivers and canals.

Specific Aims

  • To enable people with any disability to undertake boating activities in order to benefit from the spiritual and mental well-being achieved by being “on the river”.
  • To empower people with disability or disadvantage to achievements and aspirations not otherwise available.
  • To encourage an appreciation and understanding of the river and its environment amongst the disabled and community groups for whom this experience would otherwise be difficult or impossible to achieve.
  • To build confidence, motivation, personal development and teamwork through boating activities for both service users and our volunteer team.
  • To facilitate community service together with an understanding of disability and disadvantage for our volunteer team by encouraging their inter action with service users.
  • To enable and encourage service users and volunteers to have fun and fulfilment from their boating activities.


  • To provide and maintain a fleet of boats with suitable design and facilities to achieve the “Aims” of CanalAbility.
  • To provide training, information and advice to service users and the volunteer force to ensure safe, efficient and enjoyable boating.
  • To promote an understanding of CanalAbility and its aims amongst the target service user community as well as the wide community at large.
  • To raise sufficient funds to further the work of CanalAbility and ensure its financial viability and future.
  • To recruit and train sufficient volunteers to deliver the “Aims” and “Objectives” of CanalAbility in an efficient and professional manner.
  • To facilitate through training, an understanding and awareness by staff and volunteers of disability and disadvantage.
  • To comply with all legislation, requirements and best practice issued by organisations which influence or regulate the operations of CanalAbility.

Our History

The evolution of CanalAbility hinged on a forlorn character (our president, Derek Fenny) standing on the bank of the River Stort, in the late 1970s, wondering what exciting schemes he could create to capture the imagination of  unemployed young people.

As part of his role as Community Education Officer for West Essex Derek was responsible for the management of the locally created Youth Training Scheme –YTS. The forlornness disappeared when a narrowboat came round the corner and the idea of building one was created. Help was given by friendly and supportive officers of the Harlow Development Corporation who were in the process of folding up in 1979 and were eager to leave tangible things for the people of Harlow.

As a result our first canal boat, YOP Rose, came into existence and helped many young people to learn practical skills. This boat was used heavily for many years under the control of Essex County Council and was maintained at the Outdoor Education Centre with a high degree of independence. Subsequently it transferred to CanalAbility until its sale a few years ago.

The next and most important stage of our evolution was the realisation that the boat was totally unsuitable for anyone with a physical disability. Friends within the County Council, who shared Derek’s concerns about this inequality, started to examine whether or not it was possible to get another boat. The County Council would not consider this as an option, so the unofficial group decided to form a charity to raise monies.

Canal Boat TripHence CanalAbility (formerly The Canal Boat Project) was formed and registered in 1991. Slowly but surely grants were forthcoming and Stort Challenger arrived to address many of the disability issues. A reputation was earned and other similar groups were happy to give or sell their boats to us. Hence the arrival of Red Watch and Dawn Treader – both serving us well as a business concern but not sufficiently addressing the Disability Issue.

The original concept had always been to try and enable disadvantaged people, not just disabled, to participate in boating on the river. Not just being ‘water tourists’. A big thrust was then made to improve our credibility by designing and building Daybreak. Whilst some technical problems plagued the boat in the early years it was another big step forwards and we are grateful to Harlow Health Centres Trust for financing the boat.

Derek is immensely gratified to all the volunteers, Doreen and her staff ,and the Trustees, for carrying the dream forward and giving that ‘boating experience’ to a wide and diverse client group.

CanalAbility  are committed to working to move the agenda on disability access to the river and the towpath forwards and make both more accessible for all.


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If you have mobility difficulties, or are a wheelchair user, you'll love our boats!

Each boat has a ramps & lifts to enable access via wheelchair and for people with impaired mobility, disabled toilet facilities and other adaptive technology to allow everyone to take an active part in its operation.

See the individual boats for details of their accessibility features.