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!
Often we’re contacted to enquire 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 ask, “Is it cheap to live on a narrowboat?“
More recently, the global pandemic appears to have nudged people to consider how they live, and they’ve become more interested in alternatives to houses and other fixed abodes. This page’s audience grew exponentially following my update in June 2020 and continues to be extremely popular.
Having lived on board for over nine years (as well as two six-month trips in 2009 and 2010 and excluding August 2020 to August 2021), we can provide a reasonably balanced overview of the costs involved. While not as frugal as many, we do our best to budget sensibly. We’re of the OLLI mentality – One Life Live It.
In August 2020, we flew to New Zealand to see Barry’s family and spend some time exploring the country’s beauty. We’d planned this trip for many years before COVID-19. However, it was meant to be for six months. We remained until early August 2021, then returned to Areandare. At the end of November 2022, we return for another visit of up to six months.
As of September 2022, we’ve collated another 12 months of narrowboat living costs. It’ll be interesting to see how much they’ve increased since the last one-year figures for 2019/20.
Our figures apply to living on a narrowboat. In May 2022, we were approached by LeBoat, who suggested the following article could also be useful to some readers –
“You may have dreamt of owning your own boat since childhood, or started considering it after a few holiday cruises. Before going ahead, there are several costs that should be carefully considered. Here’s a list that will help you estimate to day to day running and maintenance costs of a boat, to ensure that everything goes smoothly!”https://www.leboat.co.uk/blog/real-cost-owning-boat
Their article outlines the costs of owning a cruiser boat rather than living aboard, but some readers may find it interesting.
Living On A Narrowboat – How Much Does It Cost & How Can We Afford It?
There is a LOT of information in this post! To help you navigate it, I’ve included a list of contents:
A Modest Income And/Or Savings Is Essential
To fulfil our dream of living differently, we sold the home in Gisborne we’d jointly bought in 2008. The proceeds bought our narrowboat, were used to satisfy Barry’s UK Spousal Sponsored Visa savings requirement and helped support us for some years. The small inheritances from the deaths of our respective parents topped those up, and Sandra has her 22 years of NHS pension invested in New Zealand. We’ve had to dip into this investment a few times to have sufficient funds for Barry’s UK citizenship.
Barry claimed his NZ pension in December 2020. His outstanding photography in the form of almost 50 different waterways-related Greeting Cards and his four series of UK Digital Jigsaw Puzzles are available to buy through this website and other outlets. He’s recently added the first NZ Digital Jigsaw series too. It’s superb! By January 2022, he successfully claimed the British pension (NZ and UK have a reciprocal agreement) and gets the maximum of £185.15 a week paid weekly. He’s also got the ‘elderly person’ (OMG!) free bus pass.
Sandra is a self-employed Senior Account Manager for Ad-Extra, building and managing Google and Facebook Ads for small businesses. This is her dream job as she can do it from anywhere in the world that has an internet signal. She also enjoys the challenge and the brain expansion – and is rather good at it!
Regular and Expected Costs
It’s worth noting we ‘usually’ have no ‘home’ mooring. We’re continuous cruisers. There are several things to consider for us to comply with the requirements of this way of life, which you can read more about via the links below:
“To grant a boat licence for a boat without a home mooring, we must be satisfied that you will use it for ‘bona fide navigation’. ‘Bona fide’ is Latin for ‘with good faith’ and is used by lawyers to mean ‘sincerely’ or ‘genuinely.’ We usually refer to ‘bona fide navigating’ as ‘continuous cruising.’ Our terms and conditions set out the legal requirements of continuous cruising.“
“You’ll need to continually move from place to place on a journey, rather than just shuttling back and forth between places and remaining in a small area. For more information, please see our guidance for boaters without a home mooring”2022 Canal and River Trust Continuous Cruising Guidance – https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/licence-your-boat/continuous-cruising/continuous-cruising-your-questions-answered
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 £609.61 (if you pay ‘promptly’) for a boat up to 18′ long (5.5m), to £1,365.42 ( for one up to an incredible length of 77′ 1″! (23.5m)) – for a 12-month licence at 2022/23 prices. You can get a 2.5% discount if you pay for your licence before the previous one expires.
If you want to venture further afield, onto rivers such as the Thames, or the Nene, you’ll need to purchase a Gold Licence. The 2022 fees for this for a boat up to 16′ 8″/5.09 metres £633.46, to £1,656.82 for a boat up to 75′ 9″/23.09 metres, if paid in full. Direct Debit instalments are understandably more costly.
Environment Agency Licence
The other possibility is a time-limited licence from the Environment Agency. Check out this page for more information regarding short-term licences for varying waterways and for use at sea (!): https://www.theukrules.co.uk/rules/boating/register-a-boat.html
Trade Boat Licence
If you’re going to trade from the boat, you’ll also need to apply for the appropriate business/trading licence from CRT, 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
The Business Boat Licence Canal and River Trust Regulations Checklist pdf may be helpful – https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/media/library/5804.pdf
Some important points to consider include (September 2022 CRT guidance):
~ The Canal and River Trust does not reserve mooring for roving traders, it is often difficult to find mooring in urban areas, this may well restrict the number of days you are able to trade. You should consider this within your business plans.
~ If you allow customers to board your vessel to inspect or purchase goods or to discuss or receive services you will need to provide evidence that you hold a Non-private Boat Safety Scheme Certificate.
~ You must keep all items associated with your trade on your boat at all times. You may place one A-frame style advertising board on the land next to our boat when you are open for trading, providing that it does not cause a nuisance or obstruction.
~ Please note that if you trade from any one location for more than 28 days in any one calendar year planning consent may be required for the trading activity from the Local Planning Authority.
Licensing as a Business Boat cost us £1,128.22 at the end of July 2022. This amount has increased by £197.12 in five years.
Our previous year’s costs were 2017/18 £931.10; 2018/19 £954.37; 2019/20 £983; 2020/21 £1,037.62; 2021/22 £1,113.37.
Many roving traders choose to join the Roving Traders Association (RCTA), but it is not compulsory to do so. Check out their website, and chat with other roving traders to see if it would benefit you. https://www.rcta.org.uk
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 (which we’ve used for many years) in 2022 was £177.65. In 2020 it was £150.20 – less than in 2019 (£166.35). For 2022 we paid an additional £66 for trade insurance and £66 for items costing over £250. In 2020 it was 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.
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. Additionally, there’s now supposedly the option of a composting loo – though how effective/ethical these are has brought even more discussion and disagreements. In fact, they are NOT actually composting toilets at all. But we’ll come to that further down …
Pump-Out Toilets (our preferred method)
One of these options will cost you to empty it at frequent intervals, depending on the size of your tank and the number of people depositing waste into it. With two of us on board, we can generally last three weeks between pump-outs. Barry uses the term ’40 person days’ to calculate the time to the next pump-out. 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; 2019/20 £337.50; 2021/22 £450.55. Making our average annual cost, over eight full years, to be £309.44. This is a £20 increase on the previous average of £289.29. Incredibly it’s almost doubled since we started recording it in 2013.
The larger increase in 2018/19 (>£100), we believe, was a combination of:
1/ An abundance of visitors on board (we probably pumped out more than we needed to, as it can be somewhat scary wondering when the 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 leaked, which meant the liquid (water) filled the tank faster. Luckily Barry mended it! In 2020 we spent over £100 less.
We’ve noticed a big difference recently. The past 12 months increased by £113.05 from the previous figures of 2019/20. CRT pump-out cards used to cost around £16; now they’re £20. Another change has been the frequency of our grandsons staying on board which will have also contributed to the ‘person days’.
We have a cassette toilet on board for ’emergencies’, which we used for the first time in 2017. We’d certainly recommend having some form of ‘backup’ 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 onboard at the time. Fortunately, we could moor next to boaters’ facilities for the two nights it took to sort out. Replacing the cost of the necessary components 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 them. Maybe it’s something you get used to? If you had to. We’d rather not thank you.
Separator (composting) Toilets
Composting toilets, in the true sense of the words, as we’ve long suspected, is not possible on a narrowboat. What IS possible are ‘Separator (composting) Toilets‘. There’s a tremendously informative list of FAQs on the CRT site that were prepared with input from boaters Kate Saffin, Helen Rose and Master Composter, John Cosham, all of whom have a composting toilet system.
“The increasing number of boaters with separator toilets, with no means of composting, has led to an increased use of binning the solid contents in Canal & River Trust waste bins. This increases the risk of cross contamination of other content, which is otherwise sorted and mostly recycled, and can result in the whole bin being sent to landfill.”https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/go-boating/boat-services-and-directory/water-points-and-sewage-disposal/separator-composting-toilets
Thankfully the Canal and River Trust were on the case in late 2021 and published the following statement:
“If you’re considering getting a separator/compost toilet for your boat, please only do so if you have the ability to completely compost the solid waste from your toilet yourself or have access to somewhere that will do this for you. If you don’t have the ability to do this, then getting a composting/separator toilet is not the best solution for you. Pump out and elsan facilities are available across our network that boats with tanks or cassette toilets can use instead.
If you currently have a separator/compost toilet on your boat and are not able to completely compost the solid waste from your toilet yourself or have access to somewhere that will do it for you, then the alternative disposal method of bagging and binning it is not an environmentally sustainable way to deal with this waste. Bagged solid waste disposed of in bins can also lead to cross contamination of other content, which otherwise is sorted and mostly recycled, and can require that the whole content of the bin needing to be disposed of in landfill. Sending waste to landfill adds costs as landfill taxes are charged.
If you have a separator/compost toilet on your boat and have been putting bagged and binned waste in our waste bins, you need to find an alternative way to dispose of this waste. We appreciate that you might not be able to do this straight away, and in the interim small quantities of securely bagged waste can be disposed of in Trust bins if there is no alternative. We respectfully ask that you only do this as a last resort. From the end of December 2021 we request that no bagged solid waste from separator/compost toilets is disposed of in Canal & River Trust waste bins. We will continue to work with boaters and others to identify a sustainable solution for the disposal of this waste.“Boaters’ Update 12 Mar 2021 – Composting/separator toilets – https://canalrivertrust.org.uk/enjoy-the-waterways/boating/boating-blogs-and-features/the-boaters-update/boaters-update-12-mar-2021
Thank goodness for that we say. We’ve never understood how on earth it can be seen as acceptable to put bagged faeces into a public bin. We truly hope no boater persists in doing this; it’s disgusting …
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 diesel price ranges hugely. It ranged 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! However, it’s been creeping up over the past 12 months and has recently ranged between £1.21 and £1.84 (!) a litre.
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 remained pretty stable until this year, with an average of £1,235.37 per year. In the year 2021/22, we spent £1,365.52. We suspect this will continue to rise …
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 of our boat through John Plummer at Solar Afloat (no longer trading, sadly). The difference in battery life was noticeable, and we decided to take the plunge and buy another. Our fridge on board was 240 volts, 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 is £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’d noticed an incredible difference. We no longer needed to run the engine daily (though we still have to for cooking in the electric oven or using the washing machine). The batteries are all kept charged using solar panels. Even if we leave the boat for a few days. This continues to be the case.
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 must 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 years 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; 2021/22 = £363.14. An average of £335.99 per year. It’s possible that the increase of 2019/20 was due to my daughter Kim living on board from the end of March 2020.
For the 2016/17 to 2018/19 winter seasons, we worked at Calendar Club for three months, so that would’ve reduced usage. Interestingly though, the most recent figure has not increased from the 2018/19 one. We haven’t bought coal since April …
We have radiators in every room, run by an Eberspacher Diesel Central Heating unit – which obviously uses diesel! It had been working very intermittently since we bought the boat in 2013. A few of years ago we had the fan motor replaced for £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 two years ago and bought a new control unit for £350. It continues to function fantastically since then, even without the engine running and is reliable. Thank goodness! However, with the increasing cost of diesel we will need to be mindful of this.
Barry does all our engine maintenance which saves us money. He changes the oil about every 4-500 hours, as well as the oil and fuel filters. About every 800 hours, the gearbox oil also needs 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.
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.
Areandare’s bottom was blacked for £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).
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 November 2020, Areandare was taken out of the water and had her hull ‘shot blasted‘, then zinc and double epoxy coated.
The whole process cost us £5,470.34, which is rather a lot of dosh! However, we shouldn’t have to take her out of the water again for blacking for around ten years. Every time we’ve had her hull blacked before, it’s been winter time, and we don’t feel there was enough time for it to dry sufficiently.
Boat Safety Scheme
This is a type of narrowboat MOT. To comply with regulations, you need to have a current Boat Safety Certificate (BSC) and renew it every four years – and most importantly, to be as safe as possible! It used to cost you around £150.
However, we had to have our BSC done while we were in New Zealand in 2021, and it cost us £222. A considerable increase! Debdale Wharf used J G Marine Services Ltd. We also had a bill of £557.93 for several items that were required to be done before the certificate could be issued. Of course, if we were living onboard at the time, Barry would’ve done this remedial work himself.
Our previous BSC was in February 2017 and was undertaken by Adrian Pye, for £130. We suspect he gave us a generous discount – unfortunately he’s not doing BSCs anymore.
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 must 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, I’m afraid. We consciously decided to base ourselves in the northwest of England for 2021/22, to be close to my daughter and grandsons. Also, while I’m earning a relatively good income, updating aspects of the boat that were wearing out.
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; 2019/20 £2,259.82; 2021/22 £2,315.71. Since returning from New Zealand in August 2021, we’ve bought a new washing machine (as the one that came with the boat gave up the ghost!), purchased a new mattress (we had ‘inherited’ the other one so it was at least nine years old), and had a brand new cratch cover made and fitted by ‘Cratch Covers & Canopies‘ in Nantwich (the old one was torn, mouldy and patched up with tape!). Making an average of £1,881.83 a year.
No wonder the acronym for BOAT is ‘Bring On Another Thousand’! Maybe it should be ‘bring on another TWO thousand’ …
For cooking, we have a four-ring 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; 2021/22 £116.99. It’s brilliantly cost-effective. An average cost of £63.06 – an increase of £13.85 on the previous £49.21 per year. We suspect this figure will rise exponentially in future.
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 we won’t ever use Sainsbury’s again! 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 expected. 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 their shocking service.
Whenever possible, we’ll use Aldi or Lidl as, in our experience, they are both vastly cheaper than the others. We don’t find the quality of fresh food any less than other supermarkets. Interestingly, Aldi has recently overtaken Morrison’s (who were bought by US private equity firm Clayton Dubilier & Rice in 2021, so I shall be avoiding them now I know that) as one of the ‘Big Four‘.
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’. During the 2020 lockdown, I grew 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. In 2022 I’ve successfully grown a variety of fresh herbs from seeds.
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 depends on how many visitors we’ve had on board. We certainly don’t scrimp on food, and I believe it’s one of life’s most precious pleasures. As a guide, last year we spent an average of £89.93 a week – an increase from the previous £74.34 a week.
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 CRT 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. Which meant we were close to my eldest daughter and grandsons). This cost us £1,171.92.
Then Worcester Marina from 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 mooring costs (£5,77.72 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.
Through the winter of 2019/20, 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.
From August 2020 to August 2021, Areandare was moored at Debdale Wharf Marina in Leicestershire. She was taken out of the water in November 2020 and stored on hard standing. The costs can be found here: https://www.debdalewharf.co.uk/moorings-and-services-prices/ – for us, it was 52p per foot per week on a quarterly payment in advance. As opposed to 78p per foot per week when she was in the water.
During the winter and spring of 2021/22, we moored a few times on the visitors’ mornings at Tattenhall Marina for £10 a night. It’s such a luxurious feeling for us to have electricity and hot water ‘on tap’!
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.
I have an iPhone 8 on contract with Three. I’ve got unlimited calls and texts, with 12GB of data (that can be tethered) for £12.54 a month.
Barry has a Huawei P30 light. It’s got a brilliant camera, which is why he chose it. His plan is with Vodafone, so if we have a limited Three signal, we generally have some with Vodafone. He has unlimited texts and calls (which he hardly uses!) and 100GB of data for £12.86 a month.
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 used to have Three Huawei mobile wifi devices 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. This now costs us £22.99 a month.
We don’t have a car. Some liveaboard boaters choose to. However, it’s quite a challenge for continuous cruisers as you have to find places to park and then return to it when you move the boat, and then take it to wherever you’ve moved to and find somewhere to park again! Additionally, it’s a big expense unless justified, and I personally detest driving on the increasingly busy British roads.
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 in February 2018 when we decided to give the car to my sister, and of course, mum died in May 2018.
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’ve now included in the App. We try and shop around for the cheapest fares, which generally come 12 weeks in advance – it’s worth planning trips.
I travel 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; 2021/22 £1,169.15. An average of £969.39 per year.
We’ve got ‘Senior Railcards’, which give us 30% off fares. It’s a shame we no longer get free bus passes at 60 – but Barry has had one since turning 66 in December 2021, which helps.
Pre-pandemic, we often hired a car when it was too complex and costly on public transport. In 2019/20, we vastly increased the costs for this, having no access to mum’s car anymore. Car hire and petrol in 2018/19 cost us £2,152.29.
We used Enterprise for hiring and earned sufficient points to be Gold Tier members. Occasionally we’d have enough points to pay for a day or two of hires. However, one of the challenges is having a credit card and a physical address – which we fortunately have. Otherwise, it gets rather complicated, we’ve been told. One of the things we liked about Enterprise was they collected you from wherever you are (within reason!) and take you to the car hire office. Then return to 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 2020, when the service at the Chester Branch was horrendous. They’d moved location the week we first rented, which wasn’t ideal. The next time, a week after, they’d had time to settle in – but it was no better. Since the pandemic, the cost of car hire from Enterprise became unaffordable as they sold much of their stock. Checking again in September 2022, it looks like they have cars again – with a three-day weekend hire for a mini costing £108.90. Far higher than it used to be.
The other important note 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 used for around £50 a year), 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 definitely simpler and cheaper for us to continue without a car of our own.
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 £159 per year (note that the fine for watching any form of live or catch-up 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! We had an email a few years ago from the TV Licensing department requesting we add the following to this post:
“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.”
Then in October 2021, in response to a readers’ comment (see below), we added more information to clarify when you DON’T need a TV licence even if you have a TV:
“You don’t need a TV Licence if you never watch or record programmes as they’re being shown on TV, on any channel, or live on an online TV service, and you never download or watch BBC programmes on BBC iPlayer – live, catch up or on demand.
This applies to any provider or device you use, including a TV, desktop computer, laptop, mobile phone, tablet, games console, digital box or Blu-ray/DVD/VHS recorder.“https://www.tvlicensing.co.uk/faqs/FAQ99
It’s a bit of a minefield …
This is where the ‘Bring On Another Thousand’ acronym comes into its own once again …
You never know when you may have to find some money 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., 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’ 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 also need to be considered – including the size and age of the boat or whether you’re having one custom built. Like many things in life, many of the experiences you’ll have are as cheap or expensive as you make them.
I’m happy, as usual, to receive comments from fellow narrow boaters about anything I’ve missed out on. Please feel welcome and encouraged to comment below and tell us what your costs are compared to ours – we may be missing bargains …
Many people have already commented and provided valuable advice over the years (you’ll find the comments interesting). Some have been very negative. As I’ve said, it’s all a matter of perspective and experience.
I’ll update this page whenever I know updated or amended information.
(Last update 15th September 2022)
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