Friday 15 July 2011

Living Aboard a Narrowboat – Part 1

My little Boat-Wife brain is full of fascinating things that I learned at the parent blogging conference Cybermummy11. I was reminded that a blog is not just a publishing platform. It is an interactive community. The writer is approachable and available. When I’m on my boat people passing by on the towpath sometimes ask me questions. Think of yourself on a stroll on the towpath now; I’m hanging my washing out on a clothes horse on the front deck. You think to yourself,

Hey, it’s that Boat-Wife off the internet! I wonder if it’s cold in winter on a narrowboat?

Ask Narrowboat Wife

You may be thinking of living aboard a narrowboat, buying a narrowboat or just going on a narrowboat holiday. You may just be curious about narrowboat family life.  Leave your question as a comment below and I will add the answers to the blog.

Is it cold in winter living on a narrowboat?

The short answer is no. It’s kind of a running joke among boaters that this is the question most people will always ask. The longer answer is that it depends on your heating. Most narrowboats are heated with a solid fuel stove. It burns coal or wood and a narrow steel boat can get very hot when the home fire is burning – enough to need opening the windows in mid-winter! The downside is that the fire can die down to an ember overnight making the mornings a little chilly. My friend Barge-Mum found that her solid fuel stove was inadequate to heat her large Dutch Barge. When I was pregnant with our first child we invested in a diesel stove. It runs off diesel from the engine tank and maintains a constant heat 24/7. The downside is it’s not as cosy and romantic as a real burning fire and it’s a real pain to clean (says The Doctor!). Narrowboats can also have a variety of radiators which either run off the diesel stove or from propane gas bottles.

Aren’t you worried that your children will fall into the canal?

Yes, but probably not as much as non-boating parents. They were born on board and have the risks drummed into them every day. If you lived near a busy road you would not leave the door unlocked. We keep the doors bolted shut and there are playpen barriers around the front deck. Accidents happen to children every day, on roads, in houses and very, very rarely on canals. The memory of the tragic loss of my friends’ child is never far from my mind.

How often do you have to move your narrowboat?

We move the boat every two weeks. We have a British Waterways Continuous Cruising Licence which requires us to continue our journey every fourteen days. In practice we have to move about once a week to fill the water tank at a water point. After fourteen days we are required to move to the next ‘place’ or ‘neighbourhood’ – not just to the next bridge.

Is living on a narrowboat cheaper than living in a house?

It is possibly a little cheaper but it depends on the particular house and narrowboat that you are comparing. I bought my first boat in the year 2000 when I was renting a room in a shared flat in London. Taking into consideration the BW licence fee, insurance, mooring fee, boat loan repayments to the bank, cost of gas and coal etcetera I found that the lifestyle was similar in monthly costs to my lifestyle ‘on the bank’. However, a big motivating factor for me was to be able to own my home. For a couple sharing a boat it would definitely be cheaper than renting a flat. Your costs will depend on the size of your marine mortgage or boat loan repayments, and your mooring fees which can vary depending on location and facilities. The bigger the boat the more expensive your insurance and BW licence will be.

Narrowboat Hire

When you hire a narrowboat the hire company will give you a brief lesson in how to steer the boat. They will also provide life jackets for the children. You can use Google to find a hire boat company in your chosen area. They are also advertised in the waterways press. Many companies offer day boat hire.

Living Aboard a Narrowboat

The Residential Boat Owners Association website has a lot of useful information about living aboard. There are also several books on the topic.

How Much Does a Narrowboat Cost?

A new narrowboat will cost about £1000 per foot. Second hand narrowboats can start at under £10,000 for a ‘project boat’ – something tired and weary. A 40 foot boat for one could be as little as £15,000; a good condition 70 foot boat to suit a family may cost around £45,000. The price depends on the age and condition of the boat. The important thing to check is the condition of the hull, by paying for a professional survey before purchase. Browse narrowboats for sale at

Have you got a TV/shower/toilet etcetera?

Most boats have all of the above and depending on your budget you can have all mod-cons including a microwave, dishwasher and washing machine! The complicated part is do you have a big enough water tank and an electric system that can cope with the demands of modern life? Running these modern luxuries is easier if you are on a mooring with 240 volt electric supply and your own water tap. If you are continuously cruising you will need to find out about generators and invertors and make sure that you have a good sized water tank. Chemical toilets can either be the pump-out type, which is emptied at a pump out point (pumped out by a machine), or an Elsan (sometimes called a ‘porta potty’) which can be emptied by hand into a sewage disposal point.

And there you have it. It’s never long before a boater’s conversation degenerates into toilet talk. Why not share this wealth of information with all your canal-curious friends on Facebook and Twitter? Click the buttons below to share.



SarahMummy said...

I love this post! As someone who has holidayed on my MIL's boat, the idea of living on one fascinates me :)

Narrowboat Wife said...

Thanks Sarah. I think the best thing about living aboard is being close to nature. Our local ducks have just had ducklings and they keep bobbing past our boat in a little row!