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Thread: A quick guide to living on a boat

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    Tuning In Narrowboat Sion's Avatar
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    A quick guide to living on a boat

    Due to popular demand!? I have decided to write a rough guide to things you should know about living on a boat.

    First, and most important is - Is it for you? If you've already lived in a van or something similar then you'll have a good idea. But if not then you have to realise that it is VERY different to living in a house. Sure, most boats, narrowboats at least, have electrics (maybe only 12v) and plumbing, but in general, you won't have any 'on grid' type services.

    Water is stored in a tank - usually about 70 gallons or so. That doesn't last long and you have to fill up every few days from a stand pipe by the side of the canal, or from water point in the marina if you are in one. You have to be conservative with water, some boats do have baths n washing machines and such like in, but the more water you use, the more often you'll be having to fill up. My boat has 3 tanks in it, so can last a lot longer between refills, but then it was built to be lived on, most boats aren't.

    Electric, as mentioned, may only be 12v, especially on older boats. That might mean that you have to get rid of any 240v stuff that you have - computers, hifis, tvs etc. An alternative would be to wire it up for 240v or run it all of a generator on the boat. Generators can be noisy and are not very well loved by most boaters who like peace n quiet, especially in the evenings. A lot of more modern boats will now have 240v electric, but that is converted from 12v using an inverter. However much electric you are using tho' it will all be sourced from the leisure batteries on the boat. These are charged up usually by running the boats engine - again try not to do this in the evening if you are around other boaters. An alternative of course is solar and/or wind power to recharge batteries. It can be viable if you live a fairly simple life with few energy draining appliances. Apparently hairdryers, microwaves and washing machines are the things that drain the batteries the quickest. These are things that are becoming increasing more common on narrowboats as more and more people with money buy their own boat to use at weekends and holidays, but I don't have any on my boat and don't intend to cos of the load they need. Running the boats engine to charge the batteries of course uses diesel and puts hours on the engine, thus wear and tear (usage of marine engines is reckoned in hours used, not distance travelled)

    And of course a narrowboat is a small space. No more than 6 ft wide, with a maximum living space length of around 40 ft if you want a boat you can take anywhere on the canal system. It isn't a lifestyle if you are a hoarder of 'things'. In the summer, being on a boat is amazing, but in the depths of winter when it's cold and dark and has been raining for days, cabin fever can set in cos you're stuck in a small enclosed space.

    There are communities of alternative people, such as us lot 'ere living on boats dotted around the canals, but a huge number of teh people you'll see with their own boats are of the Daily Mail/Telegraph/Times variety - some of them will be so stuck up they won't speak to you. Many of them will be flying the red ensign or some other 'nationalistic' flag from their boat (just wait until I've got a red n black anarchist flag on mine . Most people tho' are actually fairly friendly - or at least they will acknowledge you and say hello, which can be better than living in a street where no talks to each other.

    If you have never been on a boat, then do try it out for a few days. Narrowboat holidays are very expensive, especially in high season, but it's worth trying it for a week at least. I went on a narrowboat holiday with a group of friends nearly 20 years ago and loved it. I've only recently bought my own boat but don't regret it in the slightest, even tho' there is a lot of work to do on it...

    More to follow shortly - otherwise this will be a massive post...
    Last edited by Narrowboat Sion; 25-06--2006 at 01:04 AM.
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  2. #2
    hi
    well me and ste have recently been looking at narrowboats
    we live in a 3 bed semi with a lot of land and its last valuation was very good
    now the kids are growing and leaving and ive got major itchy feet weve been seriously cotemplating
    i am recovering from agrophobia at the mo so it would be a huge step for us
    i used to live in a commune then lived in a bus for a few years so i know about alternative lifestyles
    weve been having a look around and have seen a new build for 95,000 which would give us a decent bank account but also an older one for 45,000
    which would give us a better bank account obviously and hubby bieng a builder he could work on it
    well i guess we will have to see
    i would love to go back to bus living but it wouldent be practical at mo
    voted nicest member..........thats what they think

  3. #3
    Enochian Heavens Door scarlett's Avatar
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    my dream is to live on a narrowboat..dream it will stay...as at the mo' 2 sons (and 3 cats) find it a bit to 'hippy' for their liking
    AHH WELL, ONE CAN DREAM....
    Scarlett-I can't tell them the truth:they'll panic and think it's witchcraft

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    Tuning In Narrowboat Sion's Avatar
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    Part deux

    So you have decided that yes, you are going to take a plunge and buy a boat (if you'll forgive the bad pun ). So how to go about finding a boat?

    Well firstly, it's a good piece of advice to get a mooring sorted before you even buy a boat. With more and more people owning their own boats (mostly used as floating holiday homes) moorings are becoming very difficult to find - especially in London and the SE. If you are going to be living on the boat, you'll need a residential mooring, and these are even harder to find. A lot of marinas etc will turn a blind eye to you living on a boat if you keep a low profile, but don't count on it. Ask around - especially people who own boats - they are the best source of information.

    What do you want from your mooring? Do you want a connection to mains electricity so you're not having to run everything off your batteries all the time? You'll really need to be looking at a marina then. They often also have on-site security, laundry rooms, toilet n shower blocks and other amenities. But also lots of other boats and maybe not much privacy as the boats are so close to each other. Marinas are the most expensive places to keep your boat. Prices vary, but for a reasonable sized liveaboard boat (say 50-57 foot) then you'll be looking at around 1,500 per year mooring fees, and possibly much more down south

    If you aren't so concerned about utilities then a lot of farmers have end-of-field moorings. Cheaper than the marinas.

    Another option is to not have a home mooring, but to 'continuous cruise' which is what I do at the moment. This has a lot of restictions on it tho' - you are supposed to stay in one place no longer than 2 weeks, and to move onto the next 'neighbourhood' (or whatever terminology ii used) every 2 weeks or less. You can't keep going abckwards and forwards, but must keep going further along the canal network. So this isn't an option if you are limited by a job, kids in school etc. I can get away with this because I work away from the boat for a short period and then go back to it for 1-3 weeks, move it on a bit and then go away back to work. (I do live-in care work.) I don't have to pay any mooring fees, but do need to find somewhere where I think the boat is going to be safe while I'm away from it. There's always the risk that I could go back and find it's been broken into/trashed or even burnt out. Some people are lucky enough to be able to cruise without being away from their boat, but I need to work to pay off debts .

    So get a mooring sorted out first if you can - or cruise if that is going to work.

    Next you need to find a boat.

    You can have one built. That will cost you anywhere from about 20,000 upwards depending on the size, but more importantly how much work you'll do to finish it off. For 20 thou' you'll have a shell with an engine. The rest, (wiring, plumbing, painting, insulating, lining out, kitchen, stove/heating, etc) you'll need to do yourself. You can have some of that work done by the boat builder if you have more cash. If you have lots of cash - 60,000ish then you can have it all done. The boat I bought had been built less than a year before and cost me 21,000. It has been insulated, lined (not particularly well - but liveable), had the wiring put in, but needs all the electrical fixtures and fittings to finish off, no plumbing yet, so those 3 water tanks are sitting empty (I use bottled water which is a hassle) - but do have a compost loo on board, and it needs a few coats of paint as it has been stood in more or less just primer since new and is getting rusty.

    A second-hand boat will also cost from around 20,000 upwards. You do occassionally get them cheaper, but 20,000 was about the minimum I saw while I was looking. The cheaper the boat, then the older it will generally be - most of the cheaper boats around will have been built in the 1980's and will probably be getting a bit tatty. It's essential to have a boat surveyed unless it is almost new or has had a very recent survey already. You'll particularly need to know the hull thickness - especially on an older boat (else you could find yourself with a sinking feeling ) so if it doesn't have a recent survey, you'll need to have it craned out of the water and examined by a marine surveyor - that will cost you a few hundred quid. You might be able to persuade the owner to pay for a lot of the work that may need doing. It's all a bit like buying a house in some ways. On an older boat especially, if the hull is rusting away, then you may well need to get it overplated, which can cost a few thou.

    There's lots to think about when buying a boat. There are different styles of boat which give more or less interior space. I've a 'cruiser' stern narrowboat which is good for socialising as it has the largest deck space on the outside of the boat, but at the cost of less space inside the boat. Interior layouts are different - some have living space at the front and bedroom at the back - mine is the other way around as I tend to sit outside at the back of the boat. How much storage space is there in it? Including for solid fuel if you have a stove to keep you warm. Are you okay with just a shower, or do you want a bath as well? 12v only or 240 also? Go and have a look at a few boats to get a feel for what is right for you. There are loads of brokers out there selling boats from marinas - make an appointment to have a look at a few in your price range.

    Part three coming up - boat maintance and ruuning costs.
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  5. #5
    Tuning In Narrowboat Sion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scarlettdee
    my dream is to live on a narrowboat..dream it will stay...as at the mo' 2 sons (and 3 cats) find it a bit to 'hippy' for their liking
    AHH WELL, ONE CAN DREAM....
    My good friend Janine came to stay with me on the boat for 3 days back in April. It was her first time on a narrowboat and she loved it. So much so since then she's put her house up for sale and is going to buy a boat to live on as well once she has the money from the house sale. She has a teenage son, but he's nearly old enough now to fly the nest, so she's decided not to hold back!

    It's something I couldn't have done if I'ld still been with Jasmin's mum. She is too conventional. That's not a critism of her by the way, I still have a lot of affection for her - she is the mother of my only child after all, but since I've been free for the last 4 years or so, I've been able to live my life the way I have wanted to for soooo long. :harhar: I had my dream about this for a long, long time. I'm sure yours will be realised as well one day! (If not, jus' come and hijack mine!)

  6. #6
    Bad Bad Rubber Piggy!!! Zim's Avatar
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    its always been my dream to have a narrowboat with a pet duck (a la rosie and jim) and a marmoset (a la alladin)

    maybe the pets wont work but the dream is the same

    Ive wanted this since i was 5. i think now is the time to start trying to achive it ('specially as me and the missus want to move out from her parents dictatoral grip)

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    Enochian Heavens Door scarlett's Avatar
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    the little one has just read the 'narrowboat' posting...denies all knowledge of saying no and suggests we ditch his 19 year old brother and go and live on a boat ..he'd like to live nextdoor to zim ..'cos he thinks zim really looks like his avatar
    Scarlett-I can't tell them the truth:they'll panic and think it's witchcraft

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    Hobbit. Skye's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by scarlettdee
    the little one has just read the 'narrowboat' posting...denies all knowledge of saying no and suggests we ditch his 19 year old brother and go and live on a boat ..he'd like to live nextdoor to zim ..'cos he thinks zim really looks like his avatar
    He does but with longer hair. :harhar:
    Hello Tom :D



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    Heavenly Creature PeacePiper's Avatar
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    What an awesome post Sion it sounds like an awesome way to live thanks for taking the time to make a guide, will come in very handy to anyone planning on doing this and even in years to come
    I shall have to explore this idea myself. There aren't any canals round here so it's never been in the front of my thoughts but it's a definite possibility in the future

  10. #10
    Bad Bad Rubber Piggy!!! Zim's Avatar
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    Originally Posted by scarlettdee
    the little one has just read the 'narrowboat' posting...denies all knowledge of saying no and suggests we ditch his 19 year old brother and go and live on a boat..he'd like to live nextdoor to zim ..'cos he thinks zim really looks like his avatar
    im slightly disturbed as my avatar is supposed to be a 9 year old called sqee.

    he looks like that cause he lives next door to a serial killer who breaks into his room and rants at him (as squee is his only friend) and also gets saved by said homocidal maniac named johnny

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    Tuning In Narrowboat Sion's Avatar
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    Part three. Maintenance and ruuning costs.

    Perhaps should just mention that this and the previous parts were only really discussing narrowboats - there are other kinds of boats you can live on - motor cruisers, Dutch Barges, static houseboats and so on, but I don't know so much about those so just concentrating on narrowboats here. Also, this is all in connection with narrowbeam narrowboats - which are 6'10" wide and generally capable of travelling thro' all the canals we have. You can get widebeam narrowboats, say 10 or 12 foot wide, but as some locks are only 7' wide, you are restricted in where you can travel in them. They obviously have more living space, but cost more to buy and run. Anyway...

    After mooring fees - mentioned above, the next major cost is likely to be your boat licence. This will generally be a British Waterways one, tho' it depends on where you moor your boat and where you travel - the Environment Agency is more likely to licence boats on rivers for example. A rough cost as of now is approximately 11 per foot length of the boat per year. My 55' narrowboat is costing me approx 610.00 to licence for a year. there's a 10% discount if you pay it all upfront. There are also discounts for certain other reasons, such as if you have an electric engine as opposed to the normal diesel one.

    Insurance is also mandatory - you need third party at least. Mine for this year is 150 approx thro' Craftinsure, who seem to be cheap and don't ask loads of awkward questions - it's done over the web.

    The engine will need servicing regularly, every 100-200 hrs of running time. They are similar to the diesel engines you find in vans - indeed some are just marinised versions of ordinary diesel engines. If you know how to service a normal diesel engine you should be fine with a narrowboat diesel. If not, there are regular weekend workshops on how to do it at places such as Reading University. - They also have workshops on boat electrics as well.

    The bottom of the narrowboat should be repainted - or blacked to use boating terminology - every 2-3 years max to prevent corosion. It will need to be craned out of the water and the old paint blasted off and then repainting. A typical cost is around 10 per foot length of boat. You can also have a expoxy type (I think?) coating instead. It's more expensive, but will last around 8-10 years, maybe longer.

    If you have a solid fuel stove then fuel costs are roughly 10-15 per week of usage.

    Diesel costs will vary depending on how much travelling you are doing and how much you need to run the engine to charge the batteries. 40 worth of diesel will pretty much last a full-on week of travelling several hours a day, each day of that week. Narrowboats currently use 'red' diesel - ie exempt from tax - it's around 50 pence per litre at the mo' - but that might change in the future.

    The situation with council tax is a bit uncertain. Often you won't need to pay it if you live on a boat with an engine. it's a bit unclear on the situation with continuous cruising, but haven't heard of anyone being asked to pay it. If you have a static houseboat that can't move, then you may well have to pay it.

    The top of the boat will need repainting every several years or so. To have a professional do it will cost in the region of say 3,000, but it all depends on the size of the boat and the complexity of the colour scheme. You could do it yourself and only need to spend a few hundred on the paint and hire of a gritblaster to take off all the old paint, plus of course docking fees.

    You'll probably need to replace the batteries every 2-3 years, most boats will have one starter battery and 2-3 other batteries for the electrics on the boat.

    I reckon that in total, my averaged running costs will be around 1,300-1,500 per year - assuming no council tax. Compare that to the bills I had for my house - 750 council tax, 350 water rates, 600 gas and electric (and they are going up rapidly!) So it is fairly comparable.

    The financial disadvantage with living on a boat is that boats depreciate in value over time instead of appreciating as houses have been doing. But you can buy a sailaway, do it up and maybe sell it on after a few years without having lost any money on it if it has been done well. Maybe even make a bit on it.

    I think that's the main stuff. I'll edit the post if anything else comes to mind.

    One more long post on this topic - it'll be a list of useful links to boating websites.

    That's all me hearties!
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    Not Quite a Noobie barefoot_boo's Avatar
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    Fantastic post, thanks Sion.
    "Study nature, love nature, stay close to nature. It will never fail you" - Frank Lloyd Wright

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    Tuning In Narrowboat Sion's Avatar
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    Part 4: Boat links

    Due to being in the middle of my most complicated and disorganised house move ever (or rather moving the rest of my stuff onto my boat) I'm a bit too short of time at the moment to do this, but a good starting point is

    http://www.canals.com/ which has loads of links to various narrowboaty things.

  14. #14
    phoenix rising hannanarchist's Avatar
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    scottish pirates

    hey,
    i've been looking into moving onto a narrowboat for a good wee while now. thing is i live in scotland... and canals up here are limited, not to say the amount of narrowboats and barges for sale! is there anyone out there who'd be interested in discussing sharing a boat, (ie sharing space but costs n stuff too) up here? it'd open up the market of affordability a bit, and be more fun maybe than boating it on me own!
    or any advice on how to find a lovely wee affrodable boat that's not gonna sink.
    cheers.
    If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

  15. #15
    Abandon ship. Duckman's Avatar
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    What is the difference between a barge and a narrowboat?
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  16. #16
    barges are usually wider, i think, and cant travel along all the canals. and some of them can survive at sea - my mate used to go to paris for the week on his dutch barge

  17. #17
    .:**:.
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    Is it easy to get jobs if you are living in a boat-long mooring??
    Like if you wanted to stay in one place and get a job there??

    Thanks
    Spike
    Spike :rock:

  18. #18
    True Warrior of Steel Roach's Avatar
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    When a mate of mine down south was at school, once of her teachers lived on a boat apprently, so I guess it wont be much of a problem getting a job

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  19. #19
    Tuning In Narrowboat Sion's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by hannanarchist
    hey,
    i've been looking into moving onto a narrowboat for a good wee while now. thing is i live in scotland... and canals up here are limited, not to say the amount of narrowboats and barges for sale! ... any advice on how to find a lovely wee affrodable boat that's not gonna sink.
    cheers.
    I just spoke to a friend yesterday from Lancashire who is looking for a boat herself. She says there are loads for sale along the Lancaster canal - you can have them craned out of the water and transported by road so looking further afield may be an answer if you can't find anything up your way. Try phoning one or two companies that do that to get a rough price - it might not be too expensive. There might be links to firms that do that at the link I gave above - or have a look in a narrowboat magazine. October to December can be a good time to buy as people sell at the end of the summer season, but most buyers don't start looking for the next one until after the New Year.

    Just by walking along the towpath or visiting marinas you'll often see boats for sale privately so don't rely on the brokers or magazines only.

  20. #20
    phoenix rising hannanarchist's Avatar
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    Thanks Sion,
    I've been looking into cranes and lorry transport... apparently (very approx.) 400 squid for craning at either end, and about 500 - 800 for transport (obviously that cost is also dependant on how far you're going! That was from northern England to Edinburgh) Also need a marina at both ends with craning ability.
    Just thought I'd say for matter of interest! Coolio. I'm off for a walk down the towpath... with a WANTED sign stuck to my forehead.
    If you don't stand for something, you'll fall for anything.

  21. #21
    Heavenly Creature phil's Avatar
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    I've lived on mine for about a year now and i love it. (winter just as much as summer) Everything about canal life and my boat suits me. I couldnt aford a fully fitted one so i bought a lined sailaway and did rest myself as i'm fair good on da tools. Sold house, lived in van for a few months, then boat whilst doin up. There's just me and my dog most of time and my kids come once week to visit and stay over. I think it would be too cramped full time with us all but for visits its fine and me and dog, plenty of room. Its not for everybody as its a very different basic way of life. My water tank must be a big one coz i fill up about every two weeks and have a shower every night and havent run out yet. Feedingt ducks, watching nature, drinking beer, walking dog. Its ace, the only fly in the ointment of life at the moment is having to go to fucking work every day!! Every single boater you meet seems to give you different advice so its best to listen to it all and keep the bits you like i find. Weeing off the side once its gone dark is a joy

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  22. #22
    Athena
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    I went to a canal the other day (I was on the TV if anyone East Midlands Today saw that!!! *plug* *plug* XD) and yes.. I NEED to live in a boat! Ok so I said that about camper vans too! but! Either would do me I guess boats seem more legal and tranquil the surroundings of some of the rivers are truely beautiful, and you get to travel around also!

  23. #23
    Noobie Dino's Avatar
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    Great thread Sion, practical n helpful stuff.
    I lived on my narrowboat for 8 years around Cheshire/Stafforedshire/Shropshire and loved every second of it, winter and summer.
    If anyone needs any info, though Sions just about covered all things here, then fire away
    Dino. x

  24. #24
    Quote Originally Posted by Dino
    Great thread Sion, practical n helpful stuff.
    I lived on my narrowboat for 8 years around Cheshire/Stafforedshire/Shropshire and loved every second of it, winter and summer.
    If anyone needs any info, though Sions just about covered all things here, then fire away
    Dino. x
    Do you still live on your Narrowboat??

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