Living aboard on a canal narrow boat when you have never done so, can seem to most almost idyllic, conjuring up images of brightly painted boats, cruising alongside sunny country fields, visiting those places you have never seen. Being you own man or woman, and being 'captain', and able to move on whenever and wherever your mood takes you. To be honest that is what it is all about.
It maybe that you want to enjoy your retirement, downsize that house and tour our countryside, and finding a simpler way of life out of the urban rat-race, or even just find somewhere cheaper to live in cities where house prices and rents are just soaring through the roof.
The idea is great, and I have lived aboard now for over two years, but like everything it does have its up and down side. So you must think the thing through very carefully before you decide to commit to your luxury life afloat.
However if you have never been aboard a narrow boat or wide beam boat why not try it out by hiring one for a week or so. There are a number of very good hire firms available. To see a variety of deals go here
Some of the things you need to know.
There are many pro’s and con’s and if you know little or nothing about living aboard a boat. I suggest you seek advice from the experts who you can join for free, and they are The Residential Boat Owners Association. They have a very interesting and informative website. Apart from joining for free, they also offer a free advice leaflet. They also publish a good paperback book called “Living Afloat”, this is packed with all the information you will need to make an informed decision on whether the boating life is for you and the best way to go about it. These can be ordered from the RBOA or picked up at some marinas.
Some Issues of importance
The first is Residential Moorings.
If you are taking a year or two out from your life ashore to cruise around the system then mooring is not normally an issue; generally you are allowed to moor anywhere along the towpath for up to a fortnight before you have to move on. CRT call this ‘continual cruising’ and will not insist you have a permanent home mooring before issuing you with their annual license.
If you are to remain in a specific area then you must have a permanent and officially approved residential mooring. It is important to appreciate the great demand for these moorings can outstrips supply in some southerly areas. You may have a lot of difficulty in finding a berth within an acceptable traveling distance of your place of work. It will be a good idea to find a mooring first, even starting to pay for it if necessary, before you buy your boat. Boat mooring length will determine the maximum size of the boat you can buy. The problem can be if you have bought a 60 ft boat and can only find a 45 ft berth! some marinas are also unable to provide residential berths.
When looking for your mooring consider a serviced mooring with a 230 V electricity supply and water make life aboard so much easier.
Secondly Do not burn your bridges
It is very important to have somewhere to live ashore should things go wrong. There may well come a time when you need to give up living aboard. This maybe be through illness, frailty due to old age or by a complete change your circumstances. Some boaters keep a house or flat going just for this eventuality, and haveing it let out on a short renewable lease through property agents. Houses have always increased in value over time, however a boat, no matter how well looked after, can only depreciate. Moving back ashore can be a huge financial problem for those who have not prepared for this.
Thirdly Costs for a 60 FT narrow boat
When you move on board you must look at costs. It is not as cheap an option as you may think, though does have some cheaper benefits.
If you are in residential moorings then you will have a monthly charge of about £300 for a 60 ft (18.3 meter) boat. You will have your CRT license to pay about £900 for 2017. Then there is boat insurance, like your house, at about £200 per year. Then the four yearly Boat Safety Check at £147.00, blacking your hull every three years £800 and servicing to your engine and equipment, £200 per year including parts.
The running cost are much the same as a small house however you can generate your own electricity if not connected to the mains in a marina, but you will need Propane gas unless you are either all electric or all diesel. I find the gas lasts very well when used for just cooking, up to 3 months on a single bottle at £28.00, as on our boat we use coal and diesel to heat it.
Next is diesel, this is cheaper and at the moment is about 70 pence a litre, however this can vary from area to area. This is the red diesel price, for domestic use only, not propulsion. The going mix is 60 propulsion and 40 domestic, however i have worked out my mix at 40 propulsion 60 domestic. Of course if you do not move in a marina then domestic is 100 percent. (I will discuss this matter in a later item as it involves a lot of mathematics).
My advise is that you do your sums, consider the pros and cons. I love the life, but like everything in life it has its ups and downs.
Some general things i am asked about living aboard.
Q: Is it cold on the boat?
A: Hell no, sometimes i am too hot.
Q: What is the best toilet?
A: It is up to preference, i like cassette toilets they are free to empty. Pumpouts last longer but you have to move your boat and it cost about £13.00 a time to empty it.
Q: Wide beam or narrow beam?
A: Again, it is up to preference, you have more room on a wide beam, it cost more to moor it, it can't go every where, and you have to pay and book for tunnels. The narrow beam up to 60 ft can go every where, with a few minor exceptions on the canal system with no extra payments. It also look like under the 2018 review of CRT licence fees, the present system of charge by length only, maybe changed to an boat area in square meters charge.
And finally some Funny observations….
I found this just now lurking on a hard drive, and after 2 years afloat, it still makes me smile. "Things they don't tell you before you buy a boat"
1. All of your clothes will smell faintly of ‘real fire’ or coal, regardless of how recently you washed them. Initially this is an inconvenience but eventually you come to rather like it. However on a modern boat not as bad.
2. If you own any white, cream, or pastel coloured clothes, they will soon take on odd black smudges, regardless of how careful you are about keeping them away from the stove, hod, or anything else coal related. This remains as an inconvenience and does not fade.
3. When visiting another boater, it is uncouth to ask to their toilet, unless you are at least a fifteen minute walk from another toilet facility (for women) or a wooded area/ bush (for men.)
4. If you have boater visitors over for more than four hours at a time, you will find yourself spending the latter half of their visit thinking that surely they must need to pee soon/ is your bathroom so nasty that they are too scared to want to use it/ how much more tea can you ply them with as a kind of pseudo-scientific experiment, just to see what they’ll do in an emergency.
5. Visits from other boaters will seldom exceed four hours without them either departing/ needing to go back to their boat for a minute/ having to ‘pop back to the car for something,’ see point four.
6. ‘Townies’ fill gaps in conversation by talking about the weather. ‘Boaties’ fill gaps in conversation by talking about water levels.
7. Pump out or cassette? Oh hells no. Don’t even go there.
8. It’s okay to insult a man’s wife, children, career choice, hair, or dress sense. But engines must always be coo’d over and spoken of in hushed approving tones, regardless of their size, condition, or maker. Shhhh! She’ll HEAR YOU!
9. If you are expected to go to work in anything approaching smart casual, you have likely got a pair of boots ‘for the journey’ that are generally covered in orange clay- like towpath mud, and also a pair of ‘smart shoes’ that are clean, patent leather, and walk less than ten steps a day. Plus a bag to keep each pair in, separately.
10. You become obsessed with what you can convince your stove to burn… Large, unwieldy or inflammable objects of rubbish will all be graded highly, according to your success in convincing the stove to eat them.
11. Ecofans. Having an opinion is mandatory. Having ever tried one is not.
12. If you have a posh new shiny boat, you are probably king of the marina. Conversely, that may also make you ‘king shit’ and/ or a N00b/ ‘more money than sense joker’ out on the cut.
13. ‘Online’ no longer just means that you have internet access, and committing the faux- pas of confusing the two meanings in conversation is verboten.
14. Portholes or windows? See point seven.
15. It seems perfectly normal to you to have both the stove/ heating going full pelt, and all of the windows open.
16. If you can’t manage to have a thorough shower, including shaving your legs, washing and conditioning your hair, and brushing your teeth in under four minutes/ four litres of water, you have failed as a boater and should probably consider moving back onto land.
17. Whenever you go to work in an office, visit a friend in a house, or have cause to use a hotel, you need an extra bag to haul along all of the things you want to charge up from their mains while you’re there.
18. Irons, microwaves, hairdryers and hoovers are all for posh people.
19. You used to own ten big thick jumpers for use in winter. Now you own two big thick jumpers, and a bottle of Febreeze.
20. And… You can make ten cubic feet of stuff fit into four cubic feet of space.
21. You keep a mop on your roof because everybody else does, but you’re not quite sure why…
22. When everyone else on the train home standing up is swaying about and clinging to railings, you are in the middle of it all freestanding, swaying with the flow and not falling down (until you do!)
23. Your mailing address is the same as your parents, for the first time since you were 16 years old.
24. Rosie and Jim are Bad People.
25. You probably started life on your boat with a novelty neckerchief, captain’s hat, pirate bandana, or “I’m on a boat, Mother F***er!” t shirt. By your third week therein, you have experimented with how that burns on the stove (see point 10) and roll your eyes and snort derisively at the fresh faced wannabe’s who have taken your place in committing aforementioned fashion faux-pas.
26. You have a beard. This is neither negotiable, nor gender- specific.
27. You can answer the question “is it cold on a boat in winter?” sensibly, only a finite number of times, before deciding to mess with people and saying “yes, it’s terrible, I have nearly died of hypothermia twice this year already, and I don’t know how I’m still alive…”
28. You thought you’d save money in winter by using the open bow as a fridge/ freezer for your food… Until you realised just how much alcohol you could actually store there if you stacked it all up right.
29. Upon hearing ‘man overboard!’ you reach for the camera first, and the life ring second.
30. When other people fall in, you are never there to see it/ photograph it. But you know damn well that when YOU fall in, there’ll be a group of Japanese tourists there, immortalising it on film and upping it to YouTube within the hour.
31. You can cook and serve a full Sunday roast for four, with less than two square feet of counter space to work on.
32. You stop thinking to yourself, “there’s some funny people on the cut” around the same time you realise that you are just like them, actually.
33. The 8pm engine/ generator off collective: You’re either with them, or against them.
34. You know that you have to disown any of your former friends who are apt to order “a pint of lager, please” in the pub, and you’re okay with that, actually.
35. Your hands and nails are NEVER clean, no matter how much you wash them.
36. You WILL have some kind of nasty toilet emptying related incident within your first few weeks away from mains plumbing. No one can teach you how to avoid your own personal initiation into boat toilet hell, you’re just going to have to grit your teeth and wait for it to happen.
37. When you started out with the boat, you had a little list of about five things that you needed to do/ buy/ sort out. However, due to a phenomenon I like to think of as ‘boat mathematics’ you learn that for every one item you cross off of said list, another two appear.
Three months down the line, your list has about 30 essential and time sensitive things you need on it, and your earnings for the next two to four years are already committed to it. Oh well, spaghetti hoops for dinner again…
38. If it moves and it’s not supposed to- Duct tape. If it is supposed to move and it does not- WD40. For everything else, there’s MarineFlex.
39. The first thing you do when you wake up in the morning is look out of the window and make sure that the land is still at the same level to you as it was the prior evening, and that that recurring ‘sinking’ dream was in fact, still just a dream.
40. For your first two weeks of living aboard, it feels like the ground is swaying, even on land. It’s a little bit like the first stage of getting tipsy, before the bad head and bad judgement kick in. Enjoy it while it lasts… You’ll miss it when it passes!
41. And on that note, it's also worth mentioning that an impressive number of boaters seem to produce their own elderflower (or similar) wines. This is very refreshing, tastes delicious, and doesn’t seem particularly alcoholic. Do not fall for this! I promise, you only need one all day hangover, complete with associated ‘vomiting over the side’ incident, to learn your lesson on home brews, boats and moderation!
42. You become obsessed with list and trim, beyond any approximation of what is reasonable. “Does my boat look wonky to you? Are you sure? I can feel it, I know I can. Look again! See?”
43. You start a ‘first cat to fall into the cut’ sweepstake, but realise that there really are no winners in that game, when said cat comes bolting in drenched in grimy death water, and proceeds to burrow her vile smelling and soaking wet self under the duvet with you. At 4am.
44. Your internet search history includes terms such as ‘shooting ducks legally’ ‘Eating wildlife UK law’ and ‘Mallards edible or not.’ Purely for the theoretical knowledge, you understand.
45. Good things about living on a boat? The food cupboard is within reach of the sofa.
46. Bad things about living on a boat? The food cupboard is within reach of the sofa.
47. The first time that you steer your own boat yourself, however slowly or poorly, you just know that you’re the coolest dude in the world. I wouldn’t say that the feeling is better than chocolate, but it’s certainly better than sex. (Did I go too far with this one? I went too far, didn’t I. )
48. You start to wonder why the hell everyone owns a key float, when they don’t actually float after you’ve attached your bunch of keys to them. Take my word for this one, and plan accordingly!
49. You can do the washing up every third day, and then only if you have a full bowl, and feel virtuous about it as opposed to slovenly.
50. You used to hate having pictures of yourself shown around, because you always look so gormless in them. But with boating pictures, you don’t even really mind that you look like a cross eyed imbecile, because you’re just so obviously happy in all of them.
We hope you decide to live aboard, or not which ever is YOUR decision in the end.