Canal boat Narrowboat coming under the bridge pulling alongside the tow path. The narrowboat is a particular type of canal boat, built to fit in the narrow locks of the United Kingdom. The UK's canal system provided a nationwide transport network during the industrial revolution, but with the railways, commercial canal traffic gradually diminished and virtually disappeared by 1970. From 1970 onwards narrowboats were gradually converted to permanent residences or holiday lettings. the first narrow boats played a key role in the economic changes of the British Industrial Revolution. They were wooden boats drawn by a horse walking along the towpath led by a crew member. Horses were gradually replaced by steam and diesel engines. By the end of the 19th century, it was common practice to paint roses and castles on narrowboats and their fixtures and fittings.