The Costs Of Living On A Narrowboat (Updated August 2020)

I love discovering unusual acronyms. For instance, there’s ‘Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden’ aka GOLF. Or how about ‘WareHouse at River Front’, aka WHARF.

Most apt for us is ‘Bring On Another Thousand’ – BOAT!

Occasionally we’re contacted by a blog reader asking us how much it costs to live aboard a narrowboat. With the upsurge in the popularity of Inland Waterways stories and documentaries in the UK and abroad, people often ask “Is it cheap to live on a narrowboat?

Well having done so for over seven years (as well as two six-month trips in 2009 and 2010), whilst trying to budget sensibly, we feel we can give a reasonably good overview of some of the costs involved.

A Modest Income And/Or Savings Is Essential

To fulfil our dream of living differently, we sold the home in Gisborne we’d bought together in 2008. The proceeds from this bought our narrowboat and helped support us for some years. The death of our respective parents and money inherited topped those up, and Sandra has her NHS pension invested in New Zealand.

We’re not yet ‘retired’, though Barry will claim his NZ pension in December 2020. He continues to sell his outstanding photography in the form of almost 50 different waterways-related Greeting Cards, and a burgeoning series of Digital Jigsaw Puzzles. Sandra is a self-employed Senior Account Manager for Ad-Extra; building and managing Google Ads for small businesses.

Regular and Expected Costs

It’s worth noting that we have no ‘home’ mooring. We’re continuous cruisers. It’s not rocket science and should be easy to comply. Movement of just 20 miles a year is the minimum requirement., and you must cruise within the ‘British Waterways Act 1955’. For full terms and conditions visit this link, Schedule 2.

“Boats without a home mooring must be engaged in genuine navigation throughout the period of the licence”. Basically, make the effort, ‘in good faith’, to navigate around our waterways. You’ll need to continually move from place to place over a total range of 20 miles (32 kms) or more rather than just shuttling back and forth between two or three places.”

Canal and River Trust Continuous Cruising Guidance

Licensing Your Boat

To keep a narrowboat on the Inland Waterways, you must pay an annual fee for a Canal and River Trust (C&RT) licence. This licence entitles you to cruise the 2,000 miles of waterways owned and run by CRT.

The Canals & Rivers License cost depends upon the length of your boat, ranging from £538.75 (if you pay ‘promptly’) for a boat up to 18′ long (5.5m), to £1,206.71 ( for one up to an incredible length of 77′ 1″! (23.5m)) – for a 12-month licence at 2020/21 prices.

Gold License

If you want to venture further afield, onto rivers such as the Thames, or the Nene, you’ll need to purchase a Gold Licence – in 2020 for a boat up to 16′ 8″/5.09 metres £606, to £1,586 for a boat up to 75′ 9″/23.09 metres, if paid in full. Direct Debit instalments are more.

The other possibility is a time-limited licence from the Environment Agency. For their current costs, call 03708 506 506, email boatreg@environment-agency.gov.ukor see their website www.gov.uk/environment-agency

If you’re going to trade from the boat, you’ll also need to apply for the appropriate business/trading licence from C&RT, which bring the cost up a little, but surprisingly not by very much. https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/business-and-trade/boating-business/starting-or-expanding-a-boating-business/roving-traders

  1. Roving Traders (RT)
    1. 19.1  Roving Traders may have a Home Mooring. Those without a Home Mooring must comply with the ‘Guidance for boaters without a Home Mooring’. You may only trade from a Home Mooring if you have the consent of the mooring provider. You may not trade from any given point on our Waterway network for more than 28 days in any one calendar year unless you have planning consent and our written consent.
    2. 19.2  You must provide us with copies of:
      1. 19.2.1  A Boat Safety Scheme Certificate (or a Boat Safety Scheme Exemption Declaration, if applicable) in accordance with Clause 4 above. This must be a Non-private certificate if customers are allowed to board your Boat.
      2. 19.2.2  An insurance certificate covering your trading activities in accordance with clause 5 above.
      3. 19.2.3  A full risk assessment for all your trading activities if we request you to do so.
      4. 19.2.4  Evidence that all skippers of the boat hold a MCA Boatmasters’ Licence (or equivalent) if you carry coal, diesel, bottled gas, sewage, oil or other hazardous substances in quantities greater than those required for the domestic and navigation needs of persons operating the Boat.
    3. 19.3  All goods associated with your trade must be kept on the boat at all times. You may place one A-frame style advertising board on the bank between the Boat and the towpath in locations where it does not cause an obstruction or hazard but this must be removed immediately if requested by us.

Source – https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/media/original/28089-business-licence-terms-and-conditions.pdf

Insurance

Just like a house or car, every narrowboat is required to be appropriately insured to obtain a license. The cost of this varies depending on the agent and any add-ons to the policy.

Our basic insurance with Craft Insure (who we’ve used for many years) in 2020 was £150.20 – less than 2019 (£166.35). We pay an additional amount (£94) for insurance to trade from a side hatch (and from the towpath), and cover for an item onboard worth more than the maximum standard cover.

Licensing cost us £1,037.62 in February 2020. I believe we’re going to get a three month refund in 2021, in the light of not being able to cruise during the coronavirus lockdown 😉

Toilets

Narrow boaters will tell you, in a jovial tone, a variety of ‘toilet story’ versions. If you were to ask us, we’d be delighted to regale more than one amusing tale – which, believe me, are really only funny in retrospect! There’s a fascinating ongoing debate and divide between proponents of pump-outs and champions of cassette toilets.

One of these options will cost you to empty it at frequent intervals, depending on the size of your tank and number of people depositing waste into it. With two of us on board, we can generally last three weeks between pump-outs. However …

We need to be mindful of when we last emptied our loo, where we’re heading, and what facilities there are. In 2013/14 pump-outs cost us £252.50; 2014/15 £245; 2015/16 £242.25 ;2016/17 £251.50; 2017/18 £298.05; 2018/19 £398.20; and 2019/20 £337.50. Making our average annual cost, over seven years, £289.29.

The larger increase in 2018/19, we believe, was a combination of:

1/ Lots of visitors on board (we probably pumped out more than we needed to, as it can be a somewhat scary wondering when system’s full, and not being near a pump out with people on board!);

2/ We noticed an increase in prices;

3/ The ‘seal’ in the bowl was leaking, which meant the liquid (water) filled the tank faster. Luckily Barry’s mended it now! In 2020 we spent over £100 less.

We have a cassette toilet on board for ’emergencies’, which we made use of for the first time in 2017. We’d certainly recommend having some form of ‘back up’ where possible if using a pump out.

Additionally if the mechanics fail, you’ve got the cost of repair to consider. Our vacuum pump-out gave up the ghost in autumn 2015 – rather ghastly as we had two guests on board at the time. Fortunately we were able to moor next to boaters’ facilities for the two nights it took to sort out. Replacing the necessary components cost over £200, a little deer dear!plus a couple of days of hard (and foul) work for Barry.

Cassette toilet contents disposal is free. However, we feel it’s needed far too frequently (every couple of days generally), and would be fairly extremely unpleasant. Most boaters have more than one cassette and store the full ones somewhere in or on the boat, waiting to find a place to empty. Maybe it’s something you get used to? If you had to. We’d rather not thank you.

Another option that’s gained popularity in recent years is composting toilets. Kath and Anna-Marie write an informative post about their first experiences of using a composting toilet in 2017. Check out how it functions here. Apparently (wait for it, don’t read on if you’re squeamish), “The Solid tank will last one month with two people using it full time”

By separating liquids from solids, the volume of solid human matter is significantly reduced. Air Head’s approximate 22 litres capacity means that up to a season’s worth of weekend use may be held. This is approximately 80 uses. Full-time use, 60 uses or two people for 1 month.

The liquid tank will hold approximately four days use per person if used exclusively.”

https://www.waterlesstoilets.co.uk

The mind boggles about this option (well mine does, after 35 years as a nurse and midwife I’ve no desire to focus with such intensity what to do with the contents of my bladder and intestines), but it seems as though there’s an increasing interest by environmentally aware boaters …

Diesel

Currently narrow boaters can use ‘Red’ diesel to propel, and heat, their boats. You can divide the tax between propulsion and heating in different ‘splits’, depending on where you buy from – you declare and sign for the split. Generally people would split it 40/60.

As a trade boat, we pay no tax on it, as it’s a legitimate component of our business costs.

The price of diesel ranges hugely, from around 70 pence/litre to over £1. Ask any live-aboard who’s been travelling for a while, and they’ll tell you the cheapest places to fill up!

Our diesel costs for 2013/14 was £1,241.93; 2014/15 (the season we began trading) £1,345.69; 2015/16 £1,448.54; 2016/17 £1,014.78 (we found lots of the cheaper places for diesel that year we think); 2017/18 £1,229.27; in 2018/19 £1,270.50; and in 2019/20 £1,096.91.  Our diesel costs have remained pretty stable. An average of £1,235.37 per year.

Until spring 2019, whether we moved or not, each day we’d need to have the engine on to charge the domestic batteries. Unless ‘hooked up’ to electricity somewhere (a rarity). Consequently, it wasn’t saving costs by sitting still for any length of time. We’d need to travel about three hours to fully charge the batteries.

In April 2019, Barry had one Solar Panel installed on the roof our boat through Plum at ‘Solar Afloat‘. The difference in battery life was noticeable, and we decided to take the plunge and buy another. Our fridge on board was a 240 volts one, which was draining power each day. Knowing 12-volt fridges were expensive, we hesitated but decided to shell out and buy one.

The cost of the two solar panels and controller was around £570. The 12 volt fridge £700. Not cheap. But we knew we’d be leaving the boat often, and replacing our six domestic batteries was a worry if drained of power too often.

By November 2019, we’ve noticed an incredible difference. We no longer needed to run the engine each day (though we still have to for cooking in the electric oven, or using the washing machine). The batteries are all kept charged using the solar panels. Even if we leave the boat for a few days.

Heating

Just in time for the cold snap ...
Fitting our multi-fuel stove in the lounge, October 2014, just in time for the cold snap …

Most liveaboards have a solid fuel fire somewhere on their boat. We had one fitted during the autumn of 2014. Having spent the first winter aboard with just diesel radiators (and a stove in the Boatman’s Cabin which wasn’t practical), we’d found it challenging to maintain any semblance of warmth without using up a large volume of diesel.

Whilst you can scour the towpaths for ‘free’ wood to burn, it needs to be very dry to use in the fire. Generally the wood you pick one year isn’t burnable until the following year after it’s been ‘seasoned’.

Coal isn’t cheap, but it’s preferable to diesel expenses-wise. Over the past four seasons our costs have been: 2015/16 =£212.44 (the first full year with it fitted); 2016/17 = £249.04; 2017/18 = £314.07; 2018/19 = £369.97; 2019/20 £507.28. An average of £330.56 per year.

They’ve increased each year, even more so 2019/20. For the 2016/17 to 2018/19 seasons, we were both working at Calendar Club for three months so that would’ve reduced usage.

We have radiators in every room, run by an Eberspacher Diesel Central Heating unit – which obviously uses diesel! It’s been working very intermittently since we bought the boat in 2013. A couple of years ago we had the fan motor replaced at a cost of £250, having been (incorrectly) informed that was the problem. That made it work for a short while, but only if the engine was running. So we splashed out a year ago and bought a new control unit for £350. It now functions fantastically, even without the engine running; and is reliable. Thank goodness!

Engine maintenance

Barry does all our engine maintenance which saves money. He changes the oil about every 4-500 hours, as well as the oil and fuel filters. About every 800 hours, the gear box oil also need changing. The total cost of all these is generally around £100.

Most narrowboaters have an annual membership with ‘River Canal Rescue‘, as a sort of insurance policy – similar to the RAC or AA if your car breaks down. There are four levels of cover costing from £65 to £280 per annum, depending on your needs or ‘fears’. These costs have remained stable since 2019. We choose not to pay out for this, and it’s worked fine. Barry’s capable of fixing most things.

Bottom blacking!

The general recommendation is narrowboats come out of the water every two years, to have their underneath parts power-washed, scraped and given a couple of coats of a bitumen-type black paint. Many narrowboaters do this themselves, hiring a dry-dock for a week.

NB Areandare
The new blacked bottom in February 2017 at Hawne Basin

Areandare’s bottom was blacked at a cost of £550 at Tattenhall Marina, in April 2014. In February 2017 we performed a DIY bottom blacking at Hawne Basin (well, to be fair, Barry did. No ‘we’. I was unexpectedly and horribly indisposed hospitalised after a trip to Africa). This entailed seven days of hard graft, in addition to the monetary costs. Taking the boat out of the water cost £188.77, paint and brushes £39.99, and four new anodes (and a spot of welding) £150. A total DIY cost of £378.76 (or £228.76 without the cost of anodes).

Time to return to the water – following blacking in March 2019

In 2019 we blacked the hull ourselves, this time at Stafford Boat Club. Thankfully I wasn’t taken ill. Though I did have an account to build for my Ad-Extra job, which entailed working inside while Barry did more than his fair share outside. It’s a delicate balance thriving in a parallel universe. Pennies still need to be earned, and I can’t pass up opportunities to do so!

The cost was £264 to take the boat out of the water and return; paint for the hull £100 (normally £175 but Barry found a large damaged tin reduced in price); £25 for some welding; and another £100 for paints for the gunnels, brushes and rollers. Making a total DIY cost of £489.

In August we’re having Areandare taken out of the water to ‘shot blast’ her hull, and have a zinc and double epoxy coating on. No DIY this year. She’ll then stay out of the water while we’re away – so long as things go to plan! Nothing is certain as we all know now more than ever.

Boat Safety Scheme

This is a type of narrowboat MOT. To comply with regulations you need to have a current BSS , and renew it every four years – and most importantly to be as safe as possible! It will cost you around £150.

Our most recent BSC was in February 2017. Undertaken by the lovely Adrian Pye, at a cost of £130. I don’t think he’s doing BSS any more. You can find an examiner in your area here – https://www.boatsafetyscheme.org/boat-examination-and-certification/arranging-the-examination/find-an-examiner/

To check the current requirements go to this page. Since 1st April 2019, all narrowboats are required to have a Carbon Dioxide alarm fitted. Sadly there’s been a few deaths over the years of carbon monoxide poisoning. We had a tester sent to us to trial in 2018, which worked brilliantly. During a very windy night that year, our alarm went off. How grateful were we to have been woken up in time to do something about the potential build-up of the gas on the boat?!

Boat ‘equipment and maintenance’

This is one of the categories in our accounts spreadsheet so is worth mentioning, though without a breakdown of specifics.

In this category we spent £1,922.45 in 2013/14; £1,801.31 2014/15; 2015/16 £1,559.18; 2016/17 £1,354.47; 2017/18 £2,208.68; 2018/19 £1,633.03; and in 2019/20 ££2,259.82. An average of £1,819.85 a year.

No wonder the acronym for BOAT is ‘Bring On Another Thousand’!

Cooking

For cooking, we have a gas hob and grill, an electric oven and grill (which only works when we’re hooked up to electricity or the engine is on full power), and a microwave.

We’ve found gas to be an incredibly cheap resource, despite cooking on the hob most days. In 2013/14 we spent £98.48 on gas; 2014/15 £72.93; 2015/16 £41.79; 2016/17 £22.36; 2017/18 £47.25 ; 2018/19 £60.18; 2019/20 £44.50. It’s brilliantly cost-effective. An average cost of £49.21 per year.

Groceries

As continuous cruisers, we don’t have a local supermarket, or Farmer’s Market selling lovely fresh local produce. We have to shop as and when we find a nearby store – then carry it back to the boat! Or occasionally we shop online and get it delivered – you can even put in a bridge number for this. Sue from NB No Problem, has a very useful page on her informative blog site clearly explaining how you can do this with Tesco online – click here to read all about it. Just make sure you put ‘Narrowboat …’ as the first line of the address.

I’m pretty sure any supermarket will do this – though I highly recommend you do NOT use Sainsbury’s! The one time we did, at the end of the coronavirus lockdown, they cancelled the order on the DAY OF DELIVERY. It was incredibly frustrating and caused us a lot of extra work that we hadn’t been expecting. I shall avoid that company if at all possible. I got no explanation – except “security cancelled it because you used a non-Uk card“. It was a UK American express credit card, which the woman on the phone admitted they should have taken. And every time the order had been amended in the week, the card had been ‘verified’. I have had absolutely no apology from them since despite attempting to get to the bottom of the shocking service.

We can forage for a few things – like dandelions for honey, fresh nettles for soup, blackberries for pies, elderberries for wine and elderflowers for cordial, and sloes for gin if we find them at the right time! We can grow a modicum of fresh food and herbs on board, on the roof, or in the ‘cratch’. Recently I’ve grown a cherry tomato plant gifted by the lovely couple who run ‘Cheshire Cat Narrowboats‘ and live in the lock cottage at the top of Hurleston Locks.

We can occasionally time our expeditions to the afternoon when many ‘about to go out of date’ foods are reduced in price. I’m not going to list how much we spent on groceries year on year, as it’s so diverse depending upon how many visitors we’ve had on board. We certainly don’t scrimp on food, I believe it’s one of life’s most precious pleasures. As a guide, last year we spent an average of £74.34 a week.

Mooring fees

As continuous cruisers, we rarely pay mooring costs (unless on the River Thames for instance, as we were in 2010; or the River Nene in 2015 where we paid a £5 overnight charge) as it’s covered in the cost of our C&RT license.

However, we chose to moor in Marinas for the winters of 2013/14, and 2014/15 – Tattenhall Marina from August 2013 to March 2014 (because Barry had to return to NZ for his initial spousal sponsored visa application. It meant we were close to my eldest daughter and grandsons). This cost us £1,171.92.

Then Worcester Marina December 2014 to March 2015 (my elderly father who lived nearby was poorly) for £918. In November and December 2015, we accepted the offer of a trading mooring at Mercia Marina. However the costs of the mooring (£577.72 for two months) were only just covered by the income from trading there, so we chose to leave in January 2016.

In the winter of 2016/17, we remained in the Birmingham area, as we were both working ‘on land’ for Calendar Club in Merry Hill and Tamworth. In 2017/18 and 2018/19, we stayed in the Lichfield area for our Calendar Club seasons.

Last winter we pottered around Chester – moving from Tattenhall to Chester and back frequently. It meant we could see more of my eldest daughter and her family.

Marina fees understandably differ considerably depending on location and services available. Prices will also depend on the length of your boat. To check out what’s available, go to this link.


Personal Expenses

Phones

I currently have an iPhone 8, that I’m paying for on contract with Three for 24 months until October 2020. I’ve got unlimited calls, texts and data (that can be tethered). It’s not cheap, at £43 a month. But it’s necessary for the work I do.

Barry has a Huawei P30 light, which cost about £260 to buy. It’s got a brilliant camera, which is why he chose it. He has 10GB of data a month, but unlimited calls and texts. It’s a SIM-only contract, we paid outright for the phone. The monthly charge is around £25.

Internet

We use an extra ordinate amount of data for various things – our businesses, blogging, emailing, Zooming for work, Skyping/Facetiming to family here and in NZ, etc. Onboard we have a Three Huawei mobile wifi device which had 40GB a month for £20.52 for a couple of years. It rarely lasted a month which was frustrating. In May 2019, we upgraded on a special offer to unlimited for another £1.50 a month. It made a dramatic difference.

Transport

Public Transport:

We don’t have a car. Some liveaboard boaters choose to. However it’s quite a challenge for continuous cruisers to do so, and also a big expense unless it can be justified. I used to be insured on my mum’s car to take her out and about when I stayed with her in Droitwich. That ended February 2018 when we decided to give the car away to my sister.

We mostly rely on public transport. Booking trains in advance can usually help to reduce the cost – our favourite ‘App’ is trainline.com for this. Splitting tickets work well, which they have included in the App now. We try and shop around for the cheapest fares, which generally come 12 weeks in advance – it’s worth planning trips. Obviously this has changed significantly since the coronavirus outbreak!

I used to travel around quite a lot. Initially to spend time with mum (and before that mum and dad). Since 2018 it’s been to visit my eldest daughter and our grandchildren. Consequently, our public transport costs are generally fairly high but still less than owning and running a car. In 2013/14 we spent £609.65; 2014/15 £902.03; 2015/16 £715.75; 2016/17 £658.17; 2017/18 £835.83 ; 2018/19 £1,482.78; 2019/20 £1,381.79. An average of £848.86 per year.

We’ve both got ‘Senior Railcards’ now so get 30% off. Shame we can no longer get free bus passes at 60 🙁

Car Hire:

Other times we hire a car – as it gets too complex and costly on public transport. The past year we’ve vastly increased the costs for this, having no access to a car any more. Car hire and petrol in 2018/19 cost us £2,152.29.

We use Enterprise for hiring and have built up sufficient points to be Gold Tier members. Occasionally we have enough points to pay for a day or two hire. We have two ‘Free’ upgrade vouchers we’ll be using this year. One of the challenges of hiring a car is that you need to have a Credit Card and a physical address. Otherwise, it gets rather complicated we’ve been told. However one of the fabulous things about Enterprise, is they’ll collect you from wherever you are (within reason!), and take you to the car hire office. Then return you after your hire. Brilliant if you’re moored somewhere away from public transport routes.

We’d never had a problem with Enterprise until January when the service at the Chester Branch was horrendous. They moved places the week we first rented, which wasn’t ideal. Then next time, a week after, they’d had time to settle in – but it was no better.

The other important note here is NOT to be fooled into paying extra to reduce the excess on the hire car insurance. Buy an annual hire car insurance policy from somewhere like icarhireinsurance (that’s who we use for just £47.99), and you should be covered for most eventualities. You’ll have to pay out initially if there’s damage, but you then claim it back.

It’s still, we feel, simpler and cheaper to continue without a car of our own.

TV Licence

We consciously choose NOT to have a TV onboard. However, many, if not most liveaboards, seem to have one judging by our experiences and the number of ariels on roofs!

A TV licence currently costs £154.50 per year (note that the fine for watching any form of TV without one is up to £1,000). Those without a TV may use their laptop or tablet – or their phone – to watch ‘catch up’ or even ‘Livestream’ TV.

Boaters may be under the mistaken impression that if they have no TV they don’t need a TV licence. Sadly they’re wrong. Those who come from abroad may not even know about TV licensing; for instance there’s no such thing in New Zealand.

If you’re unsure, it’s worth clicking on this link to read the information. Don’t get caught out!

If the “bricks-and-mortar” address is the boater’s permanent address, and they have a TV Licence for that address, then the licence will cover their boat as well. Boaters only require a TV Licence if their boat is their permanent address or if they watch live TV, or watch or download BBC programmes on iPlayer on board, and are not already covered by a home licence.

It’s easy to pay for a TV Licence or update details online, using a forwarding address if necessary. There are many ways to spread the cost, including weekly, fortnightly or monthly cash payment plans and direct debit options, which can be set up quickly. You do not need a fixed address to receive your TV Licence, as a licence can be arranged for your boat and sent to you by email.

Canal boat owners should visit tvlicensing.co.uk/info for more information about when a licence is needed.”

Unexpected costs

This is where the ‘Bring On Another Thousand’ acronym comes into its own once again …

You never know what you may have to find some money for from one day to the next – though maintaining the boat obviously keeps costs down. But things, like people, wear out with constant use and need replacing.

 Examples of unexpected costs we’ve experienced include:

  • Replacing a bent propellor was around £380 (which we were able to claim some of on the insurance)
  • Calorifier – £421 plus accoutrements of around £50 to fit (by Barry again!)

What have I missed?

In reply to the question “Is it cheap to live on a narrowboat?“, my response would be “That depends on your income and expectations!” Like many things in 21st-century life, it’s all relative …

If you compare it to living in a house, running a car (or two), commuting to work five days a week, an annual fortnight in Spain, etc, etc, then yes, it’s definitely ‘cheap’. However, if you feel you can move onto a narrowboat and continue with similar expenses, eating out frequently, keeping the fire going 24/7, not maintaining the vital components of the boat, etc, then not so much.

I guess at the end of the day it depends on what you’re prepared to ‘give up’, in order to gain more life in your days? Do you crave luxury and heaps of ‘stuff’? Or are you looking for more quality, exercise, fresh air and variety?

Of course, other variables need to also be considered – including the size and age of the boat, or whether you’re having one custom built. Like many things in life, much of the experiences you’ll have are as cheap or expensive as you make it.

I’m happy as usual, to receive comments from fellow narrow boaters about anything I’ve missed out. Please feel welcome and encouraged to comment below and tell us what your costs are in comparison to ours – we may be missing bargains …

I’ll update this page whenever I’m aware of new or amended information.

(Last updated 21st August 2020)

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P.S.

We flew back to New Zealand on 20th August 2020, for an indefinite period. It’s likely to be six months, but if the UK coronavirus management hasn’t improved, and things remain uncertain here, we may stay there for longer.

Whatever happens, we won’t have a full 12 months of expenses to share next year.

42 thoughts on “The Costs Of Living On A Narrowboat (Updated August 2020)

  1. Pingback: MIQ Day 9 - A Quiet Day ~ Barry & Sandra's Adventures

  2. Reality from a girl who took the plunge. Sorry if it shatters some dreams, but you really do need to source out a few stories from people who have experienced the lifestyle.
    Today l also read about the guy who drowned when his boat sunk in a lock. He was in his early 40s & was an experienced boater with several years as a liveaboard.
    So…. You cannot do enough reading. More reading….Less dreaming.
    https://www.standard.co.uk/lifestyle/london-life/this-is-what-its-actually-like-to-live-on-a-canal-boat-in-hackney-a3451166.html

    • Hi Jim. To be fair the story you link to isn’t the normal liveaboard boater. London boating and living in a static mooring there is very different
      Sure there will be ‘scare’ stories in the media. That’s what makes the news. But for every one of those there will be hundreds of others who are doing well. 😉

      • Yes l agree Sandra, London boating is very different to less populated areas.

        But if you read the story, she talks about the things that can go wrong on a boat.
        And the storage space in comparison to a flat.

        Many people will buy a boat on a budget (now new). Therefore repairs will be needed. That also needs to be considered in the budget. Either you have the skills to do it yourself, or pay people to do it for you.

        She also mentions the heat in the summer. Some boats have better insulation than others. I recall mine being very hot in the summer. I wished for more windows on many days.

        • Of course, lots can and furs go wrong. It’s absolutely necessary to consider the pitfalls. But it’s also an incredible way to let go of ‘stuff’. Not just material possessions. Lots goes wrong on land too. People have been buying boats on a budget for many years. The average cost of a boat I believe, is about the right price for a newly divorced man when the marital home is sold. Many single men, and women, live happily on boats with limited incomes.

          As to the weather, all you need to do is step outside if it’s too warm on board and sit under a tree. 😉

  3. Don’t want to be the one to throw water on the fire, but if you have never before owned a boat, you really need to be aware of a few things before you part with your money.

    Unlike a house, a boat has no deeds. Also unlike a car, a boat has no registration certificate (V5).

    You are also unable to check if it has any outstanding finance.

    Therefore you really need to go through ALL it’s paperwork to ensure that the people who are selling it really do own it.

    Don’t think just because the marina are selling it everything is good.
    Marinas sell for private sellers & you have no claim against them if you later discover you have been scammed.

    A few boat scams can also be found on eBay. Oh, and eBay buyers protection policy does not cover boats.

    I am very surprised considering the value of boats that there is no official way to confirm ownership or outstanding finance.

    Google “narrowboat scam”.

  4. Many guys dreaming of the liveaboard life after reading this blog. So thought l would add a little advice. I lived aboard boat in the inland waterways as a “continuous cruiser” when in my 20s. And that was in “ALL” seasons. I took 3yrs off work to do it.

    So if you are considering buying a boat in your retirement then l would like you to consider a few things before you commit.

    Budget: lf you have a comfortable income enough to rent a marina berth & buy a boat with full central heating, then you may be better in a house & rent a boat for the summer months.

    If you want to buy a boat for 20k & opt for “continuous cruiser”, which you will just about manage on your state pension. Then you need to consider the reality.

    WINTER: Waking up in the morning with the boat temp below zero. Getting that stove going. Then you need to move the boat every couple of weeks. Have you ever gone through a lock in the winter in a foot of snow? Alone?
    It’s not a life for the faint hearted. You need your health. If you are alone & slip & fall into that lock in the winter then you are in BIG trouble.

    If the answer is NO. Then l would suggest that you hire a boat (without central heating) for a month in January. That will wake you up to the reality before you commit.

    Then you need a plan should you fall ill, or break a leg. Do you have enough savings to moor up in a marina for a couple of months, then move into bed & breakfast accomodation whilst you recover? Or do you have family support?

    Can you afford to pay an engineer when the engine won’t start? Or are you good with engines?
    You will need to have many skills to maintain a boat. Unless you have income enough to pay people to do it.

    I am in my 60s now & l think l could just about manage that life. But l have family to fall back on should things go wrong. I would also sell property to give me 50k in the bank after l bought the boat. I consider that to be a realistic buffer should things go wrong.

    If you are thinking about buying a boat & left with no savings, managing on a state pension. I would say you are dreaming.
    You can hire a boat for a few months in the summer & retreat to a centrally heated house in the winter. If you go for 12 month liveaboard then you really need to be fully commited to that lifestyle & hardship.

    If you already have all of the above covered. Then l wish you the best of luck & perhaps we will meet someday up the cut

    Jim

    • Thank you for your thought provoking and realistic feedback Jim. There’s certainly many things to consider before commuting to a life aboard all year 😉

  5. Well it was interesting reading , but it appears unless there is more than a state pension available it is a NO go !! We couldn’t afford to go off into the sunset of New Zealand SO, that is it for us ! NO boating !!

    • Hi Brian. I’m thinking there’s more to your comment that I’ve forgotten. Have you been in touch previously?
      I’m sad you can’t go boating if that is your dream? Are there any other ways?

  6. Hello BarryandSandra,

    Hopefully you’re well on the way ‘down under’

    I lost my livelihood as a business chauffeur due to this ‘pandemic’ and the risk-loaded prospect of ever returning to that nature of work, particularly in my mid 60’s is a definite NO.

    My plan is to try and escape the ‘Private Renting’ sector, sell my car (14K) and with some savings + small loan = £25K to embark on a search for an affordable (approx £20K) 37-40′ NarrowBoat, good hull and engine, but requiring work etc. Use the 4-5K to cover Survey, CRT Licence, Insurance, BSC (if req’d in 1st year), Blacking (if req’d 1st year), Gas, Coal/Wood, Diesel, Engine Oil/s, Filters etc. I will be receiving my ‘State Pension’ each month @ £700.

    Aside from trying to find a suitable boat, whether via a good reliable Broker or
    Trawling, ebay, FB, Magazines for private sellers, I just wondered as kinda ‘battle-hardened’ converts with, seemingly lots of experience and first-hand knowledge. Do you honestly feel that I will struggle perhaps and ideally need a larger budget. Be as blunt as you like, I can take it.

    I’ve done a fair amount of research (mainly online of course). Watch hours of ‘YouTubers’, CruisingtheCut (sorry, but after 20 mins good for insomnia), NarrowBoat Experience. (Enjoyed these), Journey with Jono (not bad) and just had a quick flip over to NarrowBoatZero(??). A common thread to virtually all these characters’ backgrounds appears to be a solid financial footing, big boats, well fitted-out etc. I’m sure that they don’t represent the typical NarrowBoat owner, but may be as the ‘word’ gets out more and more, the type of owner will change?

    I appreciate that you’re away from the ‘Boating Environment’ and on leave, but if you can find time to offer your opinion, I’d be extremely grateful.

    Enjoy your time.

    Best regards

    Chris

    • Hi Kevin. Thank you for the positive feedback. That’s great that you found the information informative 😉

  7. Very helpful info thanks for taking the time to share, might be the difference between us having a boat or not one day as will be on a small pension and need to check the viability of costs on a the water, best info I have read..and I have read lots

    • That’s brilliant, so happy to have helped Rob. Good luck! Do get in touch if we can answer any queries and we’ll do our best 😉

    • Hi Chris. It’s extremely empowering, gives a sense of ‘control’ over what’s going out and coming in for me. And so good to have a record from the past to compare.

      I’m feeling a lot better thank you, will be back blogging again very soon …

      Thank you for your comments and concern, much appreciated 😉

  8. First time I have read your blog. I have subscribed. I also follow you on Twitter (which is much fun), leaving you comments in recent times. I met Barry last year at Birmingham, but you, Sandra, were hiding in the boat. I have been studying the liveaboard option for 5 years, reading all the magazines, visiting the last 3 Crick shows, will be my 4th this month, also I talk to any boater I manage to pin down. I am currently looking after my elderly mother, and living by the Thames in Staines, Middlesex. I have 7 days (not altogether) experience on the Wey and the Thames. Not a lot, but am thoroughly smitten, even before I set foot on a narrowboat. I joined the RBOA 2 years ago and attended their AGM last year. So you see, I am committed to this retirement plan. I just hope I have got my sums right. I have a boat build slot to start end of this year. I am not intending to have a solid fuel fire. Planning only for diesel radiators (despite what you say, I have my reasons). I am not cold blooded, and fleece jackets work very well, and with a cratch cover and pram cover should hopefully help further to keep out icy winds. I hope also to avoid gas, and considering diesel oven and hob. Or maybe electric if the Hybrid engine is not too costly. Will be looking into that option more thoroughly at Crick. Well there you are, my store so far ….. any comments will be gratefully received. From a future boater, Jo (jbrady2809)

    • Hi Jo
      Welcome to the blog! It’s great to have you here, I hope you’ll find it helpful. There’s a few Facebook groups that are extremely supportive for new (and old!) boaters. Posting questions in such places always brings back heaps of helpful suggestions from those with experience.

      We spent our first winter without a multi-fuel fire, sitting in a Marina, and I have to say it was jolly cold! I wouldn’t be without the fire now. There are ways to have a diesel fire which could suit you?

      How wonderful to be having a boat built to your specifications, now’s the time to research what will work for YOU.

      I’d definitely recommend the Facebook groups – just search for ‘narrow boating’ and you’ll have a deluge of possibilities.

      Get in touch if you think we can help.

      Enjoy Crick!
      Sandra 😉

    • Hi Jo,
      Maybe worth looking into a heritage range cooker, they are based in Cornwall and happy to discuss your needs. We have a build slot at beginning of 2018 ( so excited) and are now pretty confident this is what we are going for. I have always favoured gas free boating, this stove will take care of our heating, water and cooking needs. Having had long discussions with the team we are confident it will be fairly economical. Hope this is of some help / interest to you.
      All the best,
      Gail

  9. Nicely written. Just out of interest, if you have a mobile contract with unlimited internet and tethering capability, why do you also use mifi devices at extra cost? Is the “unlimited” internet subject to a fair use policy or something?

    • Hi Phil

      The unlimited internet access doesn’t include tethering sadly. When I was first sold the contract in 2013 by The Carphone Wharehouse they mistakenly informed me it did. I was understandably ecstatic! Three previously sold a contract that did, but they’ve withdrawn that. They’ve recently made a 4MB a month tethering option available, which I took up earlier in the year for a bit extra.

      • Go to http://www.Smarty.co.uk
        You can buy sim card on a month to month contract for very little cost. IE: they are doing a deal ATM for £18. Unlimited data, calls & texts.
        I was shocked to read that you pay £25 for 10gb.Smarty will do that for £6-£7. They even give you money back for unused data. All their offers are unlimited calls/texts.

        I roamed the rivers & canals in the 80s.
        63 now. Wife on oxygen 24/7. If she went before me l would sell up & buy a boat without hesitation. I have the experience, skills & knowledge, so would be the best option for me as long as l remained healthy enough to live that lifestyle.

        I found your page when trying to find out how l could get a replacement certificate. Although there seems to be no database.
        About 1996 l went on a weekend course in Oxford. I gained a certificate in handling 70′ boats in rivers/canals. I have lost that certificate. Although l have no idea if l would have got any reduction in insurance for having it.

        Again, many thanks for an interesting read. It gives a true insight into the running costs in the present day.
        When l had my boats, l rented a chalet beside the canal in Derbyshire. I moored my boat beside the chalet. Oh what l would give to go back in time.

        Jim Walsh

        • Hi Jim, I’ve passed that information on to Barry thank you. The challenge at the moment is we’re hoping to fly back to New Zealand in five weeks, so he doesn’t want to look at alternative options from his current provider or any others until we know if we can get there or not. The other thing to consider of course is the coverage of the provider, as that’s an important consideration for us.

          I’m assuming you mean a boat handling certificate? I’m not sure if having an up to date one has any bearing on your insurance, it may be worthwhile contacting some to ask? There’s a lot of companies who offer this training, I believe for a day? Neither of us has done it as it’s not a requirement for living on a narrowboat in the UK presently.

          I’m sure you know about Mercia Marina, in Willington? They have chalets and moorings and it’s a very lovely area.

          Do keep in touch via the blog, and if you ever do return to the waterways maybe our ‘paths’ will meet. 🙂

  10. We found etiquette is becoming a thing of the past on the waters. Due to boaters moving through thick ice we had to have our boat blacked 4yrs running till we gave up and left the waters 3months ago

  11. As a frustrated non NB’er (with a wife who won’t commit) I thought your article was fantastic and thoroughly informative. Thank you.

    • Hi Alan
      The challenge is that it’s going to depend on many variables. Length of boat, continuous cruiser or moored in a marina, how frugal you can be with groceries, socialising, any ‘unnecessary’ expenses such as holidays (!), gifts, clothes, etc.

      I can tell you our annual costs for personal and boating if that would help? We’re fairly frugal, but could always cut down more (and will be!).

      2013/14 April to March = living £906/month, boat £570/month
      2014/15 April to March = living £1084/month, boat £490/month
      2015/16 so far (7 months, we’ve been MUCH more frugal) = living £693/month, boat £365/month

      Does that help?

      Happy too chat further if you want to email 😉

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