Under the gunwale storage ideas

Under the gunwale storage ideas

Narrowboat Storage Series

Boats are full of nooks and crannies. Dead spaces. We try to use all the space we can when living in boats. The more the merrier. Every little space can be used. The gunwale, pronounced gunnel, is the top edge of the hull. Beneath this is typically a recess and internally it is a prime place to build storage on narrowboats, Dutch barges and house boats.

In this blog I want to show you a few ways that we have made use of this space. Both shelves and cupboards, you can fit a variety of things in underneath. Plus having a little depth means you can build storage in without interfering with the thoroughfare.

Space: Under Gunwale

Size: Typically, around 100mm deep and 900mm high on a narrowboat, 300-400mm deep and 800mm high on a Dutch barge

Type of storage: Cupboards, shelves or even a hanging space

Suitable for: Storing anything. Clean and dry, so clothes, books, shoes, trinkets. Really just determined by the size of the space

Materials: Normally already clad out in a ply, adding birch ply shelves with doors if required

Difficulty rating: Quite straightforward on a narrowboat where the space is reasonably regular. Much more challenging on the swept curves of a Dutch barge

under gunwale storage

One of my favourite uses of this space is the shelving in the bedroom on my boat at home. It’s a simple birch ply structure, stained and varnished. The different sized openings make it perfect for a whole host of items. Shoes, books, trinkets. It’s only about a hands breadth deep, so it won’t take deep folders or hardbacks. Still, it’s ample for a pair of trainers, paperbacks and lots of other things.  My wife has a love of storage boxes and has found lots of wicker boxes that fit the holes. We have one each and fill them with all the odds and ends from around the room.  The cat loves them. If only so he can scratch the wicker to pieces.

A Dutch barge has a much deeper recess beneath the gunwale. That’s too good to waste! With a space like this you can have full depth storage cupboards. The shape of the space makes it fiddly to build furniture to suit. Dutch barge hulls move in more dimensions than seems possible, which creates beautiful lines that are a pain to work with. It’s a great space.  One boat we did had enough space that we had room for a clothes rail tucked in under there.  What would be a hard to use alcove and wasted space at the edge of a room can be a cupboard for plates, glassware, linen, clothes, files, anything. The tricky thing is making something that is sympathetic to the lines of the hull. Keeping the line plumb down the wall to the floor can make for a seamless storage that melts into the background. 

Where there isn’t us much depth there is still space for cupboards. Like the bathroom. Our boat has cupboards beneath the gunwale in the bathroom. They’re small, but functional.  Like the bedroom shelving it’s a shallow space. This is plenty of room for all the tinctures and ointments of a bathroom. Toiletries, perfumes, oils and lotions, as well as space for medicines.  The doors are simple slab doors with soft close hinges.  This keeps dust and dirt off everything and leaves the space looking tidy. 

Another bathroom we did had a piece of cladding missing beneath the gunwale. We had removed the old shower and put in something more modern, but this left a hole. True, it could have just been cladded with a board. Covered up. But putting in a shelving unit tidied it up and added storage. Another bonus was it allowed us to cover up pipework that was sitting proud of the wall lower down. 

Deep or shallow, shelves and cupboards can fit either and make use of a dead space that would otherwise be left unutilised. It can be a little difficult to make something to fit the space well, but it can be achieved by an amateur with decent DIY skills. If you want something tailor made to suit you then why not get in touch with us.