Life on a narrowboat can be as peaceful as it is idyllic BUT you need to understand the pros, cons, highs, lows, and day to day logistics in living on England's inland waterways. Let me help you find out all you need to know before you commit to what could be a very expensive mistake.
So you want to live on a narrowboat. Good for you. But before you spend your hard earned pennies, you need to think very carefully about the boat you intend to buy. Living on board full time is very different from a two week break away from work and your home on dry land. Answer the following questions honestly before you commit to a lifestyle that may just not be for you.
I’m sure that you’ve at least spent a holiday week or two on a narrowboat but how do you think you’ll cope on the boat full time? Will the never-ending chore of topping up your coal, wood, gas and water in all weather begin to get you down once the honeymoon period is over? Are you prepared to move your toilet or your boat to a waste disposal point in rain, ice and snow? If you don’t have a long term residential moorings will the legal requirement to move every fourteen days get you down? You know yourself better than anyone else. Be honest with yourself.
Do you want to cruise permanently along the canal system to explore all two thousand plus miles or do you want to moor in a fixed position and not move at all? The longest narrowboat you can buy is around seventy feet. Seventy feet is great for space but if you want to explore all of the system on your boat, you need something a little smaller. The shortest lock on the network is Salterhebble Middle Lock on the Calder and Hebble Navigation at 56 feet. However, the lock is 14’2″ wide so you can shoehorn a 60′ boat into it. Sixty feet then is the maximum boat length for you if you want to travel everywhere on the system.
Think about this very carefully. British Waterways who control most of the waterway system are very strict about a narrowboat owner’s status on the waterway. You must have a home mooring when you apply for your Waterways license. There are two exceptions allowed. The first is if your boat is removed from the water. It’s their equivalent of the DVLA’s SORN status. The other exception is if you are going to continually cruise the network. You still need a license but not a home base, but you must comply with their criteria for continuous cruising criteria. If you still need to travel to work continuous cruising status is not for you.
There are three different types of mooring; online, offline and marina. An online mooring is on the canal bank. An offline mooring is off the canal but not in a marina. A marina is a purpose built basin with a range of facilities to cater for your boating needs. There’s a full list of the narrowboat friendly marinas in England and Wales on this site. You need to think carefully before choosing a marina. Please read this article before considering one.
Many narrowboat owners – even the most enthusiastic cruise-nearly-ll-year-round boaters – like a break from life on the cut. They keep a home on dry land for such occasions and for the majority of their possessions that simply won’t fit on the boat. They also retain a postal address. Boaters with no home on dry land have to rely on relatives to receive their post and have to either sell possessions that won’t fit on the boat or put them into paid storage.
Are you going to begin this adventure on your own or do you intend to share your life afloat with your significant other? Have you ever spent a significant amount of time in a small space with them? Depending on the style of narrowboat you buy even on the longest 70′ boats you will be constantly sharing a living space no more than 60′ long an 6′ wide. That space has to accommodate both you and your partner, all of your clothes and possessions and maybe even a dog or two. Can you live comfortably like that?
There are three main styles of narrowboat. The traditional or trad, cruiser and semi trad. Each has a slightly different rear end. The traditional stern offers more covered living space but very little space at the rear to stand and steer. The narrowboat below left has a traditional stern. Astralis, the narrowboat on the right, has a semi traditional stern. Although they look very similar, you can see a cover over the visible portion of the boat. This is protecting the “walled” standing space at the rear.
Cruiser stern narrowboats have an open plan rear deck. They were developed for hire fleets so that there is space for hirers to socialise while they travel. The narrowboat below has a cruiser stern. Most narrowboat owners who spend most or all of their time on board choose a boat with a traditional stern.
Talking of comfort, which of life’s luxuries can’t you do without? You can have satelite television, electric kettles, hairdryers, microwaves, washing machines and dryers… but they all come at a price.
If you are going to be permanently moored in a marina you shouldn’t have a problem if you have access to a mains power supply (and your boat is fitted with a connection for mains power). However, when you leave your mooring and your mooring power supply you will have to rely on your boat’s electrical system. By default, your boat will have a 12v power supply which is sufficient for low power lighting and very little else. If you want to power any other electrical items, you will need to fit an inverter.
An inverter uses the boat’s engine to create electricity which is stored in a bank of batteries near the engine. The more power you need for your appliances, the bigger the inverter and battery bank requirement.
Do you relish the prospect of days spent oily to the elbow and alone with your engine? If you don’t, a classic maintenance intensive engine is not for you. Make sure that the boat you choose has a reliable engine that can be serviced at most of the hundreds of boat yards throughout the system.
Some narrowboats are “raw water cooled”. They draw water from the canal through the engine and then out of the exhaust. On occasion you will need to clear blockages from the filter. Raw water cooled engines are in the minority but check before you buy.
Many new narrowboat owners would like to make changes to their boat or to sell their boat and buy another of a different length or style. Selling a boat these days can be a lengthy affair. There are several thousand for sale at any one time. There are nearly 1,000 for sale on this web site alone. By thinking carefully about your own answers to the questions above, you can avoid a costly and inconvenient mistake when you buy your first boat.
At Roydon Mill Marina our aim is to provide first-class facilities for boat owners at competitive rates in an attractive, welcoming and safe environment.
A river of many roles, the 28-mile Lee Navigation has served various transport, waste disposal, flood control, mill power and pleasure boating needs. Today, it’s the centrepiece of the Lee Valley Park – a green corridor full of activities for all the family, and the ideal weekend escape for the busy Londoner. With London’s successful bid for the 2012 Olympics, the River looks set to become world famous as the thread that links several key venues. The secluded towpath is popular with cyclists and walkers, providing a relaxing green space hidden from the sprawl of London’s suburbs.
York Marina is based on the non tidal stretch of the river ouse just 4 miles south of the historic city of York. It is situated only a short distance from Naburn locks and serves both novice and experienced boaters equally well with many miles of safe scenic waterways – North to Ripon, and for the more adventurous the southern waterways and canal systems of the River Aire, Leeds-Liverpool Canal, Sheffield and South Yorkshire Canals, River Trent, Foss Dyke and Witham. The tidal Ouse will take you down the Humber, North Sea and beyond.
The marina is one of the largest inland marinas in the North of England and is situated in a stunning quiet rural environment. We have a great array of facilities on site for all your boating needs including sales and brokerage, boat yard services and a chandlery. Please use the navigation in the top right to find out more about the marina.
Why York Marina?
The proposed 220 berth river Witham marina at Cherry Willingham just outside Lincoln is currently at the pre-planning stage. Find out more about the new development by following the links below.
New Marina to Boost Local Economy – The Linconite 8th November 2010
Welcome to the website of Marine Services (Chirk) Ltd, we are a family run business operating two inland waterway marinas. Chirk Marina on the beautiful Llangollen Canal is situated in the middle of the 11 mile canal corridor granted World Heritage status by U.N.E.S.C.O. in July 2009, only the third site in Wales to achieve this status and putting it on an equal footing with such iconic structures as the Taj Mahal and Statue of Liberty.
At Chirk Marina we offer a wide range of boatyard services including moorings and boat sales. We are also excited to offer a prestigious new hire boat holiday fleet, Crest Narrowboats, who will be hiring out of Chirk Marina and our sister Marina at Festival Park from March 2010.
We are a small, family run, independent marina situated on a delightful stretch of the river Avon between Bath & Bristol. We offer long term moorings to both live aboard & non live aboard boaters. As a family run business we are able to offer friendly service with top quality facilities to all our customers. The village of Saltford offers 3 homely pubs, a village store and a post office. We are situated in a pretty valley between Bath and Bristol and access couldn’t be easier: the main A4 is only a 5 minute walk away with a frequent bus service to the main line train station at Bristol or Bath. The M4/M5 is only a 20 minute drive.
We have 85 moorings both on the river front & within the marina. The marina has a key only entry system & secure car parking for all our customers. We have a members boating club who organise many barbeques and other social events during the season.
For people living aboard we are able to offer a mail room facility.
We are a family run business that has been operating at Debdale Wharf Since 1974. The narrowboat marina is set in 25 acres of quiet, secluded, rural countryside 25 minutes cruising from Foxton Locks, on the Leicester section of the Grand Union Canal with 14 miles of lock free cruising. The marina has grown over the years to its present size, and can now accommodate approx 150 berths on secure, straight, linear style staging made of galvanised steel. In addition to the water berths, we also have a large hardstanding area with electricity and water points nearby.
We offer marina moorings, in a linear style, for any size Narrow Boat, as well as all the usual immediate services of Electricity to all moorers i.e. Water points, Calor, Coal, Diesel, Pumpout facilities; we also have experienced engineers and joiners that can see to any servicing or maintenance issues. This can be anything from yearly engine services to full fit outs, as well as everything in between. We also specialise in electric propulsion.
We are very proud of our Blacking facilities. Our static gantry has the ability to lift and safely secure a boat to above head height in order for bases to be blacked. Boats are then lowered onto sleepers for the sides to be accessed comfortably. It is fallacy to say that boats’ bases are kept clean by scraping the bottom of the cut, pitting is a huge potential problem that can be kept in check with regular blacking thus lengthening the life of the base plate considerably. We can take the hard work away from owners and black boats during the week to suit their cruising schedules or alternatively DIY weekends can be booked. Grit blasting is available also.
Another recent addition is our hard standing area. This extensive area can offer electricity to those who need it to carry out work ashore. For those who are intending to carry out longer term fit out ashore, we can offer the hire of a container that would be alongside the boat and can act as a workshop. Hire of many useful tools is also available. We use a 40 tonne travel hoist that transports the boats safely to their hard standing spot. Some of our customers use our hard standing for winter storage, which enables them to carry out winter maintenance at their convenience. They then go back into the water for their summer cruising.
And it doesn’t stop there! We are currently in the process of constructing a new building that will enable boats to come undercover for blacking, painting and/or maintenance work. We hope to have this facility up and running for next year.
I visited Debdale Wharf marina a month ago now. I should have written this review while it was still fresh in my mind. I thought I had time. I visited owner Nick Goode seven days before I was due to go on holiday for a fortnight. Unfortunately I had a problem with my visa which I only managed to resolve at the eleventh hour (actually, 24 hours before the flight) I wasn’t able to add this information to the site. I’ll do my best though.
I arranged to visit the marina after two very positive comments (below) by site subscribers. I asked Alan who made the initial comment to talk to Nicky to see if she was interested in spending an hour or so with me to show me the site. Nicky was interested and she was incredibly helpful from the moment I arrived.
The marina is located about 10 miles south east of Leicester on the Leicester section of the Grand Union canal roughly half an hour’s cruise from Foxton Locks. There are several ways to reach the marina by road but the most direct route, and the one I took, is via the busy A6 running from Leicester to Market Harborough.
As soon as you turn off the A6, you are on a single track gated road. I liked this. Getting in and out of the car to open and close three of four gates before reaching the marina can be viewed as a bit of a pain. However, I always think of gated roads as very rural, peaceful and quiet. The road helped to separate me mentally from the busy A6 so by the time I reached the marina I was in a very good frame of mind.
Nicky Goode enhanced that feeling. She gives the impression of a very kind, caring and accommodating marina owner. After a chat and a leisurely cup of coffee she gave me a guided tour of the site.
I have to say, if you are looking for a mooring based purely on aesthetics, Debdale Wharf probably isn’t for you. There are acres and acres of hardstanding adjacent to the marina. There are dozens of boats stored on the original hardstanding and a huge open space that has been developed to accommodate more boats. The storage is popular with boat owners who cruise infrequently and who want a cheaper option than in-the-water moornings. The hardstanding is also available for boat owners who want to work on their boats while it is out of the water.
There’s space at Debdale Wharf for up to 150 boats but the moorings are very close together. You need to do a bit of shoehorning to squeeze your boat in and probably need a little co-operation from your neighbour.
That’s the negatives out of the way. On a positive note, and my feelings where overwhelmingly positive about the marina, the facilities here are second to none. There’s a full time professional and highly respected painter on site, expert marine engineers and a highly skilled carpenter. Without exception, every member of staff I met here was extremely friendly. This is a very important consideration if you expect to spend extended periods on your mooring. Miserable marina staff can be a real pain in the neck.
If you like doing your own alterations and maintenance, the site has all the facilities you could ask for. You can work on you boat out of the water on the hardstanding or in the water in an area away from other moorings so you can hammer and saw away to your heart’s content. And once you’ve finished with your repairs and maintenance, you can black your own boat too.
Of course if you want to leave all the hard work to the professionals, they’ll be more than glad to help. Debdale Wharf don’t fit out many boats but they had one under cover that they’ve been working on for the last twelve months. It’s an old working boat on the outside and a super luxurious floating home with superb quality woodwork on the inside. True craftsmanship.
I said that the moorings are close together. They are. But the residential moorings, although still very close together, have a very tranquil feel about them. The marina landscaping was done by Mike Goode’s father forty years ago. The landscaping has matured now and has been further enhanced by nature loving moorers. There are bird feeders, and consequently birds, everywhere. Even though the marina isn’t the prettiest on the world, it may well be the friendliest. So if you like the sound of a really friendly marina with more facilities than you can shake a stick at, you need to pay Nicky and Mike Goode a visit. Be warned though, moorings are secured by invitation only. If Nicky doesn’t think you’ll get on with the rest of the moorers, you don’t stand a chance!
Shireoaks Marina is a relatively new and large marina on the Chesterfield Canal, situated in the little village of the same name, a few miles west of Worksop.
The Marina was opened in May 2000, along with an eight mile stretch of restored canal west of Worksop. Formerly the site of a barge loading area and the settlement pond of the Shireoaks Colliery, it was created as part of the canal restoration, itself part of a wider regeneration scheme after the closure of the British Coal colliery in 1991. The marina is operated by British Waterways – details of moorings etc from the Newark office – telephone number as above.
The marina offers visitor, residential and non-residential moorings, and provides about 60 secure berths with ample free car parking, toilets, showers, water and electric charging points, refuse and elsan (ie chemical toilet) disposal, a telephone and post box and pump out service. The cost of the moorings is around ?70 a metre depending on the type of mooring required. The basin is very spacious and also provides a winding (turning) point for boats. There is CCTV covering most of the marina.
There are also some facilities nearby in the village of Shireoaks, including a railway station on the Sheffield-Worksop line, a post office and newsagents, a small general shop and a butchers. Alas, the pubs in the village have recently closed, although there are some good ones in Worksop.
The marina comprises 89 berths each with its own metered electricity and water on fully secure pontoons incorporating non-slip decking that are serviced by two sets of toilet and showers. There are also nine Gold Service private showers and toilets for the sole and exclusive use of individual boat owners and their families and friend for which an additional charge applies.
The larger of the two facilities buildings contains in addition to toilets and showers the marina office and shop, laundry facilities and storage, with pump out and diesel sales on the adjacent wharf plus Elsan disposal close to the smaller building.
Kings Orchard Marina has been built to the highest standards throughout. Oak beams and limestone floors are prominent in the construction of the facilities buildings while the fixtures and fittings range from a sophisticated security key system to top of the range sanitary ware, a new high speed pump out unit and the very latest in fuel pumps.
There is ample free parking for moorers and their friends around the site
We believe Kings Orchard Marina sets a new benchmark for quality on the canal system. Why not contact our caretaker now on 01543 433608 to discuss availability of moorings and private bathrooms for your own exclusive use?
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Do you want to live on a narrowboat because you think it’s a low cost alternative to living in a house? Living on a narrowboat is a fantastic lifestyle choice but the cost is possibly a little more than you expected. In this article ALL of the costs are detailed and explained.
Below, I have detailed the general narrowboat costs that you will incur followed by some specific costs that I have faced since moving onto narrowboat James in April 2010.
Your narrowboat will probably be your largest financial investment after your dry land home. If you want a brand new narrowboat designed and fitted out to your own specifications you can pay in excess of ?100,000. You will be able to pick up a decent second hand boat of about 60′ suitable for living aboard for about ?40,000.
The majority of narrowboat owners have a boat in addition to a house. Some though fund the cost of their boat from the sale of their house. Whichever way you choose to fund your boast purchase, make sure you include any monthly finance repayment amounts in your calculations.
Here’s a great place to research narrowboat designs and prices. Last time I looked, there were eight hundred narrowboats for sale.
Insurance for your boat is a legal requirement. You can find a list of narrowboat insurers here. Please note that your intention to live on your narrowboat and the age of the boat will have an impact on the insurance cost so must be declared.
Your car needs an MOT both as a legal requirement and as a regular check to make sure that it is safe to use. Your narrowboat needs a Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) Certificate when it is four years old and every four years after that. Here’s some very good information about the examination, the likely cost and what you need to do to prepare for it.
You have to buy a British Waterways license if your narrowboat uses the canals of England and Wales. The fee is dependant on the length of your boat. At the time of writing (November 2010), the annual fee for 62′ long James is ?804.48 with an ?80 discount for prompt payment. You also need to pay a fee to use the rivers that connect some of the canals (e.g. the Thames). British Waterways is responsible for river Avon, Soar, Ouse, Severn and Ure. The Environment Agency controls river Thames, Medway, Nene, Great Ouse, Ancholme, Glen, Welland and Stour. British Waterways offer their Gold License which allows you to travel on all the waterways controlled by British Waterways and the Enviroment Agency. The 2010 fee for a 62′ narrowboat is ?967 for payment in full or ?1,039 if paid by direct debit installments. You can find more details about British Waterways licenses here
River Canal Rescue offer breakdown cover for boat owners. They offer three levels of cover; bronze, silver and gold ranging in cost from ?55 to ?160 a year.
Bronze cover simply registers your boat on their database. You pay additional fees for call outs and for towing you to the closest marina if they can’t easily repair your boat. Silver and Gold membership give you additional services and benefits such as an annual engine inspection (rather than a service).
It’s essential cover for you if you don’t like to get too close to your engine or if your craft is a little long in the tooth.
Mooring fees vary enormously but you can get an idea of the likely fees by the mooring location and the facilities on offer. A bankside mooring with no water or electricity is going to cost far less than a spacious mooring in a picturesque marina with all mod cons. At Calcutt Boats the fee for the older Locks marina is roughly ?2,090 for a 60′ boat. In the newer more spacious Meadows marina the standard piers are ?2,300 or ?2,683 for the 70′ moorings.
Mooring fees are usually based on a single advance payment. There are often options to pay quarterly or monthly but they ill cost you more. Please note that many marinas also charge an additional amount for “high usage” so make sure you check the small print before you commit yourself.
I don’t use diesel heating so don’t have any first hand experience. Work colleague and fellow moorer Anthony on his posh boat Second Sister does. He claims that he uses an average of 1/4 litre per hour over a 24 hour period or six litres per day. Diesel for heating is currently 78p per litre at Calcutt Boats.
I don’t get out much so use very little propulsion duel. I am reliably informed though that, when cruising, you will use 1 – 1.5 litres of diesel per hour. Propulsion diesel is currently about ?1.30 per litre
Please note that when you pay for your diesel, you will be asked to sign a declaration. Not all boats have separate tanks for propulsion and heating so the boatyard doesn’t know which part of your boat will use the fuel. Propulsion and heating diesel are identical but attract different levels of duty. The accepted split is 60% propulsion, 40% heating. So, if you put 100 litres into your tank, you will be charged 60 litres at the propulsion rate (about ?1.30 per litre) and 40 litres at the heating rate (78p per litre). However, some boatyards allow you to declare a different split. In theory, you can declare 100% for heating and pay for all of your fuel at the lower rate. In case of a government inspection though you need to be able to justify it.
Every two to three years you will need to take your boat out of the water to “black” the hull. Blacking is a term used for the process of applying several coats of bitumen or other coal tar based paint to prevent rust. You can paint the hull yourself or ask a boatyard to do it for you. Either way, your boat will need to be removed from the water so that the work can be done. You should budget ?400 – ?500 for both removing your boat and having the work done for you.
Just like your car, your boat needs to be serviced. And just like your car, the cost of those services can vary enormously. Here at Calcutt Boats, the cost of a service ranges from ?60 – ?160 plus parts.
The costs detailed below are real costs. Every narrowboat related expense has been recorded by me since moving aboard narrowboat James. Each narrowboat’s day to day running costs will vary depending on the boat’s age, condition and equipment on board and equipment usage so let me tell you a little about James.
In boating terms, James is an old girl. Built in 1975 with a steel hull and composite top, she’s 62’ long and has seen better days. James hadn’t been used more than two or three times in the previous ten years before I started to live on board full time in April 2010. Consequently she was in need of some TLC and was very damp.
Because she hadn’t been used or maintained for such a long time, the windows and roof vents leaked and there was water seeping into the boat through the skin. The solid fuel stove (which heats four radiators along one side), had a cracked glass plate and leaks in the flu.
All of the above meant that keeping warm and dry was a problem. The stove has now been refurbished and the windows and roof vents sealed. I think that there’s still a leak somewhere on the roof channelling water behind the cladding, which ends up under the floor of the rear cabin. Consequently I need to run a dehumidifier pretty much full time to combat the damp.
As I said, every boat has differing factors which will impact on the running and maintenance costs. In addition to the boat’s age and the condition, the type of equipment used and how much it is used will also play a part.
Whoever designed the heating on James liked to cover all available options. In addition to the solid fuel stove, there are four radiators – powered by the stove – plus gas heaters and an electric radiator. I also have a Dimplex greenhouse heater and a 1200w halogen heater for emergencies. There is a Paloma gas powered “on demand” heater which supplies an unlimited amount of scalding hot water.
The hob, oven and grill are all gas and are powered by two 13kg Propane cylinders. The two cylinders do me for about two months.
How much time you spend on board will have a direct impact on your fuel consumption, as will your eating and cooking habits. The costs I have listed below are based on the following…
On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday I get up at 05:15, shower, have a quick breakfast of tea and toast and work on the web site until 07:30. From October onwards the stove is burning coal twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Overnight and when I’m away from the boat I have the stove turned down as low as possible to ensure that it’s still alight when I return. The maximum period is between ten and eleven hours. I come back to the boat for lunch and a cup of coffee, then return after work just after 5:30 and generally stay there for the evening.
I use the gas for a shower every day, three or four kettle boils, toast in the morning, grilled meat or fish four times a week and a roast of some kind once a week. I don’t ever use the gas fires because they produce “wet” heat which contributes to the damp.
My electricity is provided via a metered shore supply which charges the boat batteries for lighting. The shore power also allows me to charge my laptop/phone/electric razor, listen to the radio (I don’t have a television), power two Dimplex Coldwatcher 500w heaters (on all the time) and run a 620w dehumidifier for two hours a day.
The graph below shows the actual costs incurred for gas, coal and electricity since moving onto James in April 2010. The costs are updated on the graph at the end of each month.
Your stove will burn either wood or coal. Personally, I steer clear of wood. It’s more bulky than coal so needs more storage space than I have available. My stove is also on the small side so I would struggle to fit logs in.
I use coal. I’ve tried a number of different brands and types but the ones I’ve stuck with is Pureheat. Pureheat is a manufactured smokeless fuel sold in 25kg bags of goose egg sized ovals. Pureheat produces more heat than wood or housecoal, burns away to a powder so doesn’t clog up the grate (and put the fire out) and is less messy. A bag of Pureheat usually lasts me just under three days although in December with so many sub -zero days and ridiculously cold nights, I was using a bag every two days. The cheapest supplier I can find charges ?9.50 a bag.
My gas consumption has remained pretty steady over the last ten months. I only use gas for cooking and to supply hot water dish and body washing so the cold weather doesn’t alter the amount I use. One 13kg cylinder lasts me a month and costs about ?22
My electricity costs dipped to just about zero in July. It was the only month as far as I can remember when I didn’t have to plug either heaters or dehumidifer in. I was also away from the boat for a week. The electricity costs appear to be very high for December. However, although December was very, very cold most of the reason for the increase is because I was away for ten days. I didn’t want there to be the slightest chance of the electricity running out so I put extra on the meter before I left. I then didn’t buy any more until 10th January (the graph shows May 2010 – April 2011)
Mobile of course. Reception varies wildly when you’re on the cut. I have very poor reception with Three on my mooring. I can only make and receive calls from one spot halfway between the dining and the seating area. I just about get a signal there. I tend not to use a phone much anyway (no friends) so my mobile phone cost is about ?15 per month.
A connection to the internet is one of life’s essentials as far as I’m concerned. I update the web site daily, send out newsletters, stream TV programmes from BBC iPlayer and the ITV and channel 4 equivalents, tweet on @narrowboatlife and search for information.
I use a mobile broadband dongle from Three. They have a coverage checker on their web site and even though the site indicates that there is limited connectivity for my postcode, I rarely have a problem with my connection. Sometimes my broadband is a little slow but most of the time I can stream TV programmes and films. Three offer pay as you go top ups of 500MB for a day or 1GB, 3GB and 7GB for a month. I use the best value 7GB top up which usually lasts me the full month (I’ve just checked on my current usage. I’ve actually used 6.5GB in twenty days. I know that is unusually high and is because I’ve watched a few data hungry films.)
So now you know what it costs to live on a narrowboat. At least, you know what it costs me to live on one. I’m sure that many narrowboat owners with newer, better insulated boats will pay less than me for heating fuel and electricity. But they will have paid more than me for their narroboat.
I hope you find this guide useful – and I hope the costs haven’t put you off. I love living on a narrowboat. I hope you do too.
I finished writing this post in February 2011, just over a year ago. I thought it would be a useful exercise to review the figures quoted above to see if they have changed after the second year of living aboard.
When I moved onto James two years ago, the boat was cold and damp in all but the warmest weather. The damp was due to water seeping – sometimes pouring – through the four joins in the roof and then dripping through the internal cladding in heavy rain. The plywood cabin sides had also seen better days. James is moored broadside on to the prevailing south-westerly wind so on the port (weather) side of the boat the ply had deteriorated so much that water leaked through the window surrounds in wet and windy conditions.
I didn’t want to replace the cabin because James is very well fitted inside with piranha pine cladding and plenty of cupboards and shelves. The best solution then was to overplate the existing cabin with 4mm steel. While the work was being done by local boat builder Reeves, I took the opportunity to fit a layer of one inch polystyrene between the existing masonite and the new steel.
The work was completed in early November and what a difference it has made. The new steel means that James is now totally waterproof and the additional insulation has made a huge difference to the boat’s heat retention. And the boat is now more secure too. In addition to the roof and sides, new rear, side and front doors and new rear and side hatches were fitted. The new steel side hatches replaced the old deckboard hatches that could just be lifted off (locked or not) to gain access to the boat.
I was very pleased with the work, and very pleased with the price. A new lease of life for James for just ?6,500 + VAT. Of course, that wasn’t the total cost. James had to be lifted out of the water and transported eight miles to Reeves in Bishops Itchington, about eight miles from the marina. The transport costed a staggering ?500 each way.
There was also a fair amount of preparation and post fitting remedial work that needed doing. All of the windows, the roof vents, chimney, navigation lights and headlight had to be removed prior to the work and then refitted to the new steel cabin when James returned. Of course, there was then a 2″ gap between where the windows had fitted into the masonite cabin originally and where they ended up in the new steel cabin. Roger, our carpenter, did a fantastic job fitting a hardwood surround to all ten windows.
As you can see from the graph above, from September 2010 to February 2011 I spent ?643.48 on coal. The expenditure was before the cabin was overplated and during one of the worst winters on record when, even with the stove operating at maximum capacity, I often had to resort to wearing a hat and two thick fleeces when I was working in my “office” twenty feet away from the fire.
This winter the weather has been much milder. In fact, of the three winters that I have been working at the marina, it’s the mildest by far. I think that there have been no more than 15-20 nights when the night-time temperature has been below freezing. Milder temperatures, no damp and more insulation around the cabin have had an impact on my coal use. From September 2011 to February 2012 I spent ?292.09
My gas consumption has remained pretty much the same. In the first year I spent ?163.16. The second year was ?194.14. The increase is due partly to the increase in the price of gas but more because of my increased use. My girlfriend Sally is now spending most of her time on the boat. She wasn’t even sure what a narrowboat was before she met me. She liked her clothes and had dozens of pairs of shoes, pairs of designer jeans and expensive handbags. Now she’s supremely happy traipsing along the towpath in her scruffiest jeans and wellies with her two spaniels Charlie and Daisy. Anyway, I digress. The increase in use is due to her having a shower twice a day.
My electricity costs are down too. I spent ?520 in year one and ?345 in year two. I use far too much electricity. Our carpenter, Roger, lives on board a similar length narrowboat to me and uses just ?5 a month to light his two table lamps. I don’t yet have an inverter so I am totally reliant on my connection to the marina supply for any mains appliances. I don’t have a secondary heating system on the boat so, when the weather is too warm to have the coal fire burning but to cold not to have any heating at all, I have to use my two Dimplex 500w greenhouse heaters.
I have an electric radiator in my bedroom at the rear of the boat. I used to leave it on all the time but over the last six months I have been turning it on just for an hour or two before I go to bed. I have also stopped using the dehumidifier now that the boat is no longer damp. That’s been a significant saving on electricity.
I didn’t quote any figures for repairs and maintenance in the original post because I didn’t keep very accurate records of expenditure in that area at the time. I do now. I can tell you that since June last year when I started to keep records of repairs and maintenance costs, I have spent ?942.73. Roughly half of this was on a new cratch cover. I paid ?450 which was an absolute bargain. A decent cratch cover normally costs about double that. I knew several boaters who had used this guy and who spoke highly of him. He was as good as they said he was. It’s excellent. If you want his name and number, please let me know.
What have I spent the rest on? Normal boaty stuff I’m afraid and stuff that you are likely to spend money on too. I bought paint, sanding discs, white spirit, paint brushes, two new padlocks for the front and rear doors, two spare ignition keys, varnish, a coat rack for the engine room, a power monitor to find out what each appliance was costing me to run, a new Porta Potti to replace the one that was marked by red hot sparks when the new steel work was done, a replacement for the Chinese hat that blew into the marina, a new coal shovel and brush and a set of jump leads so that, if my starter battery fails, I can still start the boat from the domestic batteries.
My next planned expense will be the fitting of an inverter. I would be lost on the cut without one and, this year, I hope to spend more (some) time cruising. But I don’t want the inverter just for cruising. While I’m moored on the marina, my batteries are being constantly charged through the shoreline. I understand that a common problem is with the batteries of boats that have spent months charging their batteries from a mains supply. You need to get into the habit, even on a mooring with a mains supply, of charging batteries from the engine for several days at a time just to check the battery health. I can’t do that at the moment so I’m going to have to raid my piggy bank soon.