A trip down the river, or up the canal, can be one of the most relaxing ways to spend and afternoon, or a month, if you've got the time. Several boat hire companies operate in and around Oxford, and some also provide services for private leisure, and residential boaters.
Below you can find reviews submitted by members of the public who have used the various boat hire services available around Oxford.
For those living on a boat, and thinking of moving to Oxford, or those already living in Oxford, but thinking of living on a boat, look out for our Living on a Boat in Oxford guide.
Please submit your experiences of the Boat Hire companies in Oxford using the 'submit a review' box on this page - thanks! Future hirers will be in your debt.
College Cruisers are based at Jericho Warf, off Canal Street. They are long-established, and have a convenient base in central Oxford. Their yard lies next to the much-disputed Jericho Community Boatyard, of which you may have read in the National Press. They offer standard boatyard services for private leisure and residential boaters - diesel, gas, pump-out, a small chandlery (ropes/fenders/mooring pins/chimneys/chimney hats etc) and solid fuel (coal) sales.
They also offer crane-out services and can perform repairs and maintenance on their quite extensive hard-standing area. They also offer LPG boat gas work, an essential if you need repairs in order to pass your 4-yearly boat safety certificate.
They offer a range of boats for hire - from the tiny Hertford and Keble to the palacial Trinity and Magadalen. Popular with stag and hen parties, their location is good for a quick weekend break up to Thrupp and back. They are also well-placed to access the Thames (actually, the Shepwash channel, which connects later to the Thames) via the Isis lock. If you are brining a boat above 45 foot down the South Oxford canal to the terminus, you must enter the Shepwash via Isis lock in order to wind (turn the boat around).
There are visitor moorings opposite College Cruisers, and the Hythe Bridge Street residential moorings lie beyond the yard, on the line of the old canal route to the now filled-in canal basin (Worcester Street car park). There is a campaign to re-open the basin as a proper basin. Your author wholeheartedly supports this - it would bring the true character of the area back to the Castle Quarter of the city centre.
Oxfordshire Narrowboats operate out of Lower Heyford, a very picturesque part of the North Oxfordshire countryside. A common factor with all the yards operating along the South Oxford canal is that you do not have to travel very far in order to reach the most beautiful scenery. Just beyond the A34 bridge as you leave Oxford, you enter the start of a long many miles of very un-spoilt, idilic farm and pasture land, dotted with woodland and the occassional marsh.
As the canal tracks the railway lines, you see the small areas of 'lost' land, penned in between the two transport infrastructures, which have been left compeltely wild and very, very beautiful. Save the occasional cottage nestled in a just-viable plot of land, and the odd farm, there is almost no permanent habitation beyond the limits of the towns and villages. And when you do go through the more 'built-up' areas, you see them from a completely different - indeed, unique - angle, than that which you would encounter travelling along the road. The soft lapping of the water and the gentle throb (hopefully) of your diesel engine are all that break the stillness. That, and the occasional horn blast from over-enthusiatic hen or stag parties. But we can, gentle reader, surely forgive them that.
Canal communities tend to be both very close-knit and flexible. You may think that everybody is always in and out of each other's boats. While this is to some extent true - people are very welcoming - it may take years to see inside a boat, even if you have been moored just down the towpath from them for the length of that entire period. Like boats, people on them can be very different - some extremely social animals who yearn vistors on board, some who while prevalent at the pub and very happy to chat on the towpath, prefer to keep their (very small) personal space entirely private. It's just a matter of finding out who's which. And often, you are suprised when you realise they didn't want to put pressure on you to come and be sociable, if you didn't want to. People are very accepting and understanding on the canal. It is a gentle community.
But back to boatyards - Oxfordshire Narrowboats have a wide range of Oxfordshire-place-name-themed boats, from 'Eynsham' to 'Islip'. Day-boats 'Cherwell' are also available for single-day self-piloted or skippered (they pilot it for you) hire. Well appointed and up-to-date, Oxfordshire Narrowboat's fleet is always well turned-out. Their familiar blue and yellow, with gold anodised window frames are instantly recognisable. I have yet to see a dirty one.
Peering through windows of moored hireboats (naughty nosey!) indicates they are all of a generally high standard of fit-out, and this should be across the board these days. Long gone are the days of melamine bulkheads and lowest-of-the-low caravan furniture. Now most hire boats look more like modern furnished apartments, and include full electrical conveniences, including TVs. washing machines and even microwaves. I believe you can even get a 12 volt toaster, but as with any use of batteries to provide a heat source, this is a quite ridiculous product. The microwave's not far off either.
One of the joys of hire-boating is that it's not your boat, or your batteries, or your engine, so you can pretty much use them to the ground. If you want to. And hire boats tend to be quite well-protected from abuse in terms of their battery systems, and have effective charging. Plus you are likely to be cruising most of the day, which gives plenty of time to re-charge your 'domestic'/'lesiure' battery bank.
Other boats - and indeed extensive river cruises - are available from Salters Steamers - a venerable establishment (est. 1858) based opposite the Head of the River pub by Folly Bridge. They offer punts, rowing, electric and diesel day boats for single-day hire, and operate a fleet of very large passenger trip-boats which offer both scheduled services (from Oxford to Staines during the summer, and various speciality cruises such as the Jazz Cruis) and offer the fleet for private charter, including catering and all hospitality services. They have a new 'Edwardian River Launch' - a very fine sleek affair - which is suggested as a wedding vehicle. What fun.
Salters Steamers also offer their slipway based near Donnington Bridge for private booking. You can get your craft taken out, have the hull inspected/pressure washed/blacked/surveyed etc. This can be a very efficient way of having your hull blacked.
Slightly further afield, Abingdon Boat Centre offer day-boat hire and diesel/gas/pump-out. They also have attached King Craft chandlery - a well stocked selection of paints/epoxy/brassware/rope/clothing/batteries/hardware etc.
Back in Oxford, Osney Mill Marina (aka Osney Marina) offer private moorings and boatyard facilities. If you intend to go here and are travelling to it downstream on the Thames, or intend to continue upstream, beware the very low height of Osney bridge, especially at high water levels - you may not get under it! Ring ahead for advice, or ask you nearest lock-keeper (if they haven't been replaced with robots yet).
Along the peaceful bank of sleepy Port Meadow you can find Bossoms Boatyard. Another venerable establishment, Bossoms produces, repairs and designs launches dinghies and yachts. The first Bossoms yard operated from 1830, and there is archealogical evidence of boat-building activity on the Bossoms site at Binsey from pre-historic times. It truely does feel like you are walking through an ancient, ancient place, when you travel by Bossoms at Binsey.
You will get a very lovely boat from Bossoms - if you are looking for a river craft, there are arguably none finer. They will also repair your existing craft to an exceedingly high standard. Oxford is very lucky to have them. You can also arrange mooring at their small Port Meadow marina, they have a chandlery and handle boat sales.
Whichever way you find onto the Oxfordshire waterways, you are bound to have a good time, good cheer, and good company.