Howards' Way, The Onedin Line and The River...YBW brings you the pick of sailing and boating TV programmes over the last 50 years. How many do you remember?

Howards’ Way

Filmed on the River Hamble and The Solent, Howards’ Way was the classic 1980s BBC One TV series about the sailing community in the fictional town of Tarrant on the south coast.

The initial series focused on the Howard family, as Tom, who has been made redundant, follows his dream to design and build boats, and invests in the Mermaid Boatyard (in reality the Elephant Boatyard at Bursledon), which is run by Jack Rolfe and his daughter Avril.

The programme also featured brash power boating entrepreneur Ken Masters, who employs Tom’s wife Jan, Howard’s grown up children Leo and Lynne, and a host of other characters such as millionaire businessman, Charles Frere and the Urquhart family.

Howards’ Way ran for six series from 1985 to 2000.


The Onedin Line

Set in Liverpool between 1860 and 1886, The Onedin Line charts the rise of a family run shipping line, owned by the son of a waterside shopkeeper, the ruthless James Onedin.

Running from 1971-1980, the series followed the lives of the Onedin family, and the rivalry between Onedin and his sister, Elizabeth, who along with her husband runs a rival shipping line.

As well as dramatising life in the late 1800s, the TV programme, which ran for eight season, charts the changes in shipping, with the shift from wooden to steel ships, and from sailing to steam ships.

Expect this saga to deliver rivalry and ambition, as well as tempestuous women and stormy seas.



Under the umbrella title, Hornblower, these epic award-winning films are based on some of  C.S. Forester’s classic adventure stories about the Royal Navy officer, Horatio Hornblower.

Set during the 18th century Napoleonic Wars, the series charts the rise of Hornblower, played by Ioan Gruffudd, from a young and shy midshipman to admiral, braving bloody engagements at sea and encounters with ladies.

The series also stars Robert Lindsay and Cherie Lunghi and ran from 7 October 1998 until 6 January 2003.


The River

This gentle BBC romantic comedy stared David Essex as the solitary canal lock-keeper, Davey Jackson, whose life is never the same again after he meets Sarah.

She is forced to stay at Davey’s cottage while she is waiting for repairs to her barge, and the pair fall in love.

The series was screened in 1988 and also featured original music by David Essex.

It was filmed along Wootton Rivers in Wiltshire, and is full of shots of beautiful English countryside.



Usually referred to as one of the most derided soaps of all time, Triangle was set, believe it or not, on board a North Sea ferry sailing between Felixstowe and Gothenburg.

The BBC One show, which stared Kate O’Mara, Larry Lamb and Michael Craig, ran from 1981 to 1983.

The show however had its issues. Part of the problem was the series was seen by the audience as dull and gloomy, as it was shot in inclement weather on board an actual ferry in the North Sea.

The script was also seen as stilted and clichéd, which eventually led to it being cancelled after three series.


Black Sails

Set during the Golden Age of Piracy in the Caribbean, around two decades before Treasure Island, Black Sails follows Captain Flint, played by Toby Stephens.

The series see Captain Flint battling to save his home, the former British colony of New Providence Island, from the returning British Navy, and his alliance with Eleanor Guthrie (Hannah New).

Characters include a young John Silver, as well as real life pirates, including Anne Bonny and Blackbeard, who are fictionalised in the show.

The final fourth season is currently being shown on Amazon Prime.

TV programme Mutiny to recreate Captain Bligh’s legendary journey of survival


Three Men in a Boat

Recreating the original Jerome K Jerome novel, Dara Ó Briain, Rory McGrath and Griff Rhys Jones take to the River Thames in a wooden skiff.

The BBC Two two-part series follows their sometimes hilarious journey from Kingston-upon-Thames to Oxford and takes in the likes of Henley-on-Thames and Cliveden House.

The format proved so successful that six more series were commissioned – Three Men in Another Boat, Three Men in More Than One boat, Three Men go to Ireland, Three Men go to Scotland, Three Men go to Venice and Three Men go to New England.


Island Race

During his long incarceration as a hostage in Beirut, John McCarthy had a dream of sailing with the wind in his hair.

On his release, he was invited to sail around Britain in three months with his friend, the comedian Sandi Toksvig, and the pair teamed up with Yachting Monthly and Yachting World contributor Tom Cunliffe.

Island Race: An Improbable Voyage Round the Coast of Britain was shown in eight parts on BBC Two in 1995, and showcased the best of British sailing.

The boat used was Cunliffe’s own 1911 Bristol Channel pilot cutter, Hirta.


Great Canal Journeys

The Channel 4 series follows acting couple Timothy West and Prunella Scales as they explore the canals of the UK and Europe.

Running since 2014, Great Canal Journeys has seen the self-confessed “canal nuts” navigate the likes of the  Oxford Canal, the Kennet and Avon, Rochdale and Llangollen in North Wales.

They have also ventured further afield to France, Venice, Sweden and Amsterdam.

These insightful journeys are full of charm, nostalgia, personal insight and heartfelt humour

The series offers a vicarious encounter with the world of slow travel and the camaraderie of canal life as well as the chance to see beautiful countryside.


Timothy Spall…at Sea series

The Timothy Spall at Sea series follows the actor Timothy Spall and his wife Shane as they take their 52-foot-long seagoing (category C) Dutch barge, the Princess Matilda, on a trip around the British Coast.

Their “mini-odyssey” was shown on BBC Four in three series  – Timothy Spall: Somewhere at Sea, Timothy Spall: Back at Sea and Timothy Spall: All at Sea.

As well as mainland Britain, the couple also sailed to Northern Ireland and the Isle of Man.