Volunteers are at the heart of CanalAbility and everyone plays a key role in our charity. They dedicate their time to keeping our boats running and making sure there are plenty of smiles to go around for our disabled clients. 

Our volunteer team are a helpful, friendly bunch and joining us is a great way to meet new people and make new friends.

We spoke to some of our volunteers and asked them what they had gained personally from volunteering with CanalAbility:

Barbara said,

“….The joy of being on the river, meeting the clients and most of all the friendship and camaraderie. Many of the volunteers have been, or are going through personal challenges and spending the day giving our passengers a great day is uplifting.

And Sue said she has benefitted from, 

“Friendships with other volunteers, self confidence and the satisfaction of knowing I have helped give people a great day out.”

If you have a little time and energy to volunteer as crew, we welcome people from all backgrounds and those with lots, very little, or no experience.


We provide all the accredited training you need for canal boat skippers and crew free of charge and, in return, we ask that you are able to commit at least 10 (mutually convenient) days or part days per year.

Bradley tells of some particularly memorable experiences for him while volunteering with CanalAbility. He says,

“Helping a blind lady steer the boat and see the happy face of a group of elder ladies after a day out on Daybreak.”

Some of our most recent volunteers have completed their training, here’s what Jane had to say:

“I have just passed my CCC (Competent Crew Course) and still have a lot to learn but I am very happy to now be able to take to the water. I am a retired teacher. I spent the last few years being a supply teacher at St. Elizabeth’s School. I have done some voluntary work for Rainbow services, but wanted to do something outside, and by and on the water is the best! I know being on the water is relaxing for everyone, so disabled and community groups get a lot out of CanalAbility’s work, I know from experience with such groups. I hope I will meet many of you in the months to come.” 

Volunteering provides many benefits to mental and physical health, here are a few of the benefits you could experience;

  • Reduce stress
  • Combat depression
  • Provide a sense of purpose
  • Increase self-confidence
  • Helps you stay physically healthy

John Thorn, who passed his CCC back in 2019, is now a qualified Skipper.

He says,

“Well, after the enforced break due to COVID-19, I have finally taken (and passed) my Skippers assessment. Not being local to Harlow I originally found CanalAbility by chance through my employers Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) Scheme and my love for canals (well rivers) and narrow boating (well wide beams) was re-kindled. It was a no brainer. I get to go out as crew on big boats, taking part in an operation that ensures that we create a day out for our clients that, no matter what their age, situation or health, makes a real difference for them. Some clients can tell you how much that they are enjoying themselves whilst others cannot but even that very slight change of expression is picked up by their carers who know that we are making a difference. I was asked to write a short piece now that I am a Skipper and part of that was what “being a Skipper” means to me. That’s really hard to answer and I am not someone that puts their thoughts onto paper very well but, in whatever I have done, I have always tried to improve and do my best and this is the same at CanalAbility. The training received since I started has been superb as has the advice from many, many people. I have learnt so much and will no doubt keep on learning. I would like to keep on passing on that knowledge (as it was passed to me) as well as supporting others and assisting newer volunteers into whatever role they wish.”

Read more about when John first started volunteering with us here.

So, you don’t need any experience, just the enthusiasm and willingness to learn new skills so where can you find out more? Visit our volunteering page or Email us at and someone will be in touch, or alternatively call us on 01279 424444.