2013 03 11 Newsletter – Fitting Solar Panels

Living on a Narrowboat News 11th March 2013

Nothing’s ever as easy or straightforward as it should be. It’s so frustrating.

I’ve just had a Sterling Pure Sine Wave 1600w inverter fitted. It’s more than enough to run the smaller electrical appliances I have on board. It will run my laptop, iPad, two mobile phones and the television.  I could switch to a 12v television but as the one I have is perfectly serviceable and is fixed to the wall using a bracket designed for that particular television, I’m not going to change it. The inverter will also run a small vacuum cleaner if necessary. While the inverter is perfect for what I want, unfortunately the mains wiring I have in James is not. It needs replacing before the next BSS test if James is to pass.

rotten flooringAdded to the rewiring headache, I also need to get part of the original floor boards replaced. On Thursday we had a local flooring company arrive to remove the existing carpet and replace it with imitation light oak plastic planks. They don’t sound very attractive the way I’ve described them, but they look great and what’s more, they’re practical. They’re easy to clean and they’re waterproof. The proper name is Colonia English Oak.

All of the original ply flooring appears to be in very good shape considering the age of the boat and considering that it spent over a decade neglected on a mooring. but a section of flooring has suffered from the neglect. In the centre of the boat, aft of the galley there are side and roof hatches on both port and starboard. James originally had a wooden cabin with wooden hatches. The roof hatches perished during the decade of neglect and allowed water to drip onto the ply beneath.

There’s a section about two feet square which needs replacing. Of course, the replacement isn’t straightforward. When James was built, as with all boats, the flooring was laid before the fitted furniture in the cabin. Full eight by four feet ply sheets were fitted in place over the boat’s bearers. The section that’s damaged is between two bearers so if the section is cut out, there’s nothing to support the new piece. The solution is to fit a new section of ply over the damaged part and secure it to the surrounding undamaged ply. This repair will of course raise the level of the flooring by the thickness of the new ply. It’s not going to be a quick job to ensure that the repair doesn’t stand out like a sore thumb.

It’s a job for another day. In the meantime, Mark from Floors 4 Less has laid all the flooring apart from this one small area. He’ll come back to fit the small section once the remedial work has been done. He’s done a wonderful job and has justified his £250 fitting fee for a full day’s work. He was with us from 8.30am until 6.00pm and worked none stop throughout the day. Fitted Colonia flooringWe are very pleased with the work and at £640 including the fitting, it’s not a bad price.

Just to make sure that we didn’t have any peace and quiet on Friday, we also arranged for Tim Davis from Onboard Solar to fit his ever so popular 300w solar panel system for us. Tim has been professionally fitting solar panels on narrowboats now for just over a year. He did a huge amount of research before deciding on the configuration he uses now. His services have proven very popular. He’s fitted 150 systems so far with more and more orders coming in every day, and for very good reason. They work extremely well.

If you’re considering spending long periods away from a static mooring, solar panels offer you enormous benefits. We don’t live in the sunniest place in the world but, with recent technological advances, solar panels can provide you with free electricity even on dull winter days. Solar panels allow you to moor in a spot that takes your fancy for a few days without having to run your engine to top up your batteries. They should save me a fortune on marina electricity charges as I currently pay 20p a unit when I have my shoreline plugged in.

I had high expectations of Tim, and I’m delighted to say that he was a real pleasure to work with. In an industry where shoddy Tim Davis fitting solar panels on narrowboat Jamesworkmanship and poor standards are all too common, Tim provided an excellent service. He phoned me on Thursday to tell me that he was coming and at what time. He arrived on time, was polite and ever so friendly, worked exceptionally hard and fitted three 100w solar panels and the associated electrics in about three hours. And that included getting the wiring from the roof, through two cabins and into the engine room. James’ original cabin has been overplated with steel, so Tim had to drill though the steel, through the two inch polystyrene filled gap, through the original wooden cabin and into the engine room. There was a little good humoured muttering as he threaded the wiring through the cabin tops, but it didn’t take him long.

The solar panels are now installed and look quite attractive on the boat roof, but they’re not there to look pretty. They’re there to provide me with free power courtesy of the sun. How are they doing?

It’s early days yet but the signs are very good. I haven’t seen any sunshine since Tim installed them. On Friday the weather was about as dull as it’s possible to get with thick cloud and fog. However, the panels still produced something. 1.6 amps is better than nothing. Today, there’s still no sun but the day is brighter than when Tim was here. I’ve just checked and I’m getting 3.2 amps. Actually, I’ve just been outside and tilted the panels into where the sun would be if it was out, and now I’m getting 4.7 amps. It’s enough to power my fridge. Yippee!

While he was with me, Tim also reconnected the rev counter and the engine temperature gauges that are set into the pigeon box just in front of Tim in the photo. They were disconnected when the pigeon box was removed during the cabin overplating. Unfortunately the wiring wasn’t labelled when it was disconnected so Tim had to spend some time experimenting. He cracked it in the end though. I knew he would.

I also took advantage of Tim’s mechanical knowledge while he was here. I have a problem with my engine or rather, with my gearbox. When the boat’s moving the propeller is turning intermittently. One possible cause is low oil in the gearbox. I know it’s not that though because I’ve recently had it topped up.

Tim thinks that it is the gearbox clutch plate. He told me that if it’s the clutch plate that’s the problem, the symptoms will probably disappear when the engine warms up. I tried it. He’s right. All I need to do now is get a reconditioned gearbox fitted. Remember the B.O.A.T. acronym? Bet On Another Thousand. Don’t you just love boating?

A New Service For Potential Narrowboat Owners

I’ve had an idea. I hope you like it.

I regularly receive emails from potential boat owners. They’ve done their research. They’ve trawled the internet looking for information, subscribed to canal magazines and bought books. They’re ready to start looking at boats for sale in earnest… and they’re confused.

There are over 1,000 narrowboats for sale at any one time. Most of them are advertised somewhere on the internet, often on the excellent Apolloduck site. The prices range from less than £10,000 to well over £100,000. You can buy a boat that’s so new that the paint’s barely dry or one that’s so old that the paint is all that’s holding it together. There are boats with bedrooms at the front, bedrooms at the back and no bedroom at all, boats with cruiser, semi trad or trad sterns, boats with vintage engines or modern engines, boats with fitted furniture, free standing furniture or no furniture at all. There are even empty boats that you can finish yourself.

The adverts for the boats often include plenty of information. Too much information sometimes for those new to boating…

As I said, I’ve had an idea. Here it is.

I’m thinking about adding a new section to the forum. If you’re a potential narrowboat owner and you’ve reached the stage where you’re seriously looking at boats for sale, you can use this section to introduce yourself and let other site users know what you want to use your boat for. You can say whether you want to use your boat for limited recreational cruising or as a full time home on either a static mooring or for continually cruising the network. You can provide a link to the boat advert you’re interested in and ask current boat owners to offer the benefit of their experience.

There are hundreds of boat owners are now registered on the site. Some of them are very active on the forum. I will add observations about the boat for sale based on the information provided in the advert. I will ask other boat owning forum members to do the same. By reading the response to both your own posts and posts by other soon-to-be boat owners, you’ll be able to build up a pretty good knowledge of the terminology and the specifications to look for in a narrowboat advert.

What do you think? Is it a feature that you think you would use? I’m more than happy to set it up if there are enough people interested. It’s up to you to let me know one way or the other. I’ve created a very quick two question survey here. It will take you less than a minute to cast your vote.


Waterways World Stove Fuel Test

Morso Squirrel Multi Fuel StoveSince last week’s newsletter and the article about stove fuel, a number of site users have emailed me with additional information. I’ve created a dedicated post for the stove fuel test and additional comments. You can read it here.

Comprehensive Site Article Listing

There are dozens of helpful and interesting articles on the site, but have you found them all? I thought you might appreciate a list of the more popular articles that you can glance through and click on the ones that take your fancy. Here it is.

C & RT Tighten Up On Illegal Moorers

Historically “bridge hopping” – the practice of constantly moving a liveaboard narrowboat backwards and forwards between two points in the same area – has been largely ignored by the authorities. It’s against the rules but British Waterways didn’t have the resources, or the inclination, to tackle the problem.

Continuous cruisers don’t have to pay for a home mooring. As many moorings, even none residential moorings, cost in excess of £2,000p.a. it’s quite a saving but continuous cruisers have an obligation to cruise continually. They must move their boat, as part of a progressive journey, every fourteen days.

Bogus continuous cruisers often over extend their stay on short term visitor moorings, on water points and on the bollards reserved for boaters entering and leaving locks. We had one very annoying example at Calcutt last week. A “continuous cruiser”, complete with a roof overflowing with coal, logs, planters full of weeds, bikes and a wheelbarrow, chained and padlocked his boat to one of the bollards at the entrance to Calcutt Bottom Lock. (He clearly wasn’t the brightest of buttons. The chain was secured by a heavy duty padlock to the bollard at one end, but simply tied on to the boat with a rope at the other end). His boat prevented easy access to the lock for five days. His attitude demonstrated a complete disregard for other boaters.

The Trust recognises that it’s a nuisance caused by a minority group of boaters which causes problems for the majority of law abiding boat owners. They are taking steps to tackle the problem. Here’s the latest information from Damien Kemp in the Trust’s latest edition of the Boaters’ Update, and here’s the Trust’s interpretation of BW’s Continuous Cruising rules.

Popular Forum Posts

Now that the forum login problems have been resolved, forum posts and visits have seen a dramatic increase. There’s a wealth of information on the site in general, but if you’re struggling to find the answer to a particular issue, the forum is the place to find it. I’ve listed some of the more popular posts below but if you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask your question on the forum. If you don’t know how to create a post, or if you can’t log in, please let me know. I’ll be more than happy to get you up and running.

  • Day To Day Questions About Narrowboat Life – How can “newbies” find out the answers to questions about day to day life on a narrowboat? The answer is simple. Find out by reading this post.
  • Beds – The pros and cons of fixed doubles and cross beds. You need to read this if you are taller or slightly wider than average.
  • Flushing Out a Toilet Waste Tank – Emptying your pumpout toilet holding tank isn’t just a case of sucking out your unmentionables. You also need to flush water through the tank to remove the built up solids. Here’s how to do it.
  • Narrowboat Knots – Do you know your bowline from your buntline hitch, your cleat hitch from your clove hitch or your poacher’s knot from your square knot? No? It’s about time you did!
  • Free Narrowboat Heating – Is there any such thing? Read this post to find out
  • Narrowboat Furniture – Not everyone wants fitted furniture on their boat. Here are a few ideas if you want to add your own.
  • Weight on a narrowboat – How many people can you carry on a narrowboat, and how much luggage can they bring with them?
  • Narrowboat Finance – A Canadian hoping to move to the UK, buy a boat and cruise the network.
  • Internet Data Theft – Did you know that you can have your boat’s broadband allowance stolen? Here’s what you can do to prevent the theft.
  • Problems Powering An Inverter With A Generator – Why didn’t it work and what’s the solution?
  • Diesel Costs – You need it to run your boat and maybe your heating system. How much can you expect to pay for it?
  • Stove Top Fans – Are they worth the money?
  • Mooring Pins and Piling Hooks – What are they and when do you use them?
  • Water Pump Problems – What to do if your water pump appear to have a life of its own
  • Fuel Contamination – How do you know if you’ve water in your diesel… and what do you do about it when you have?
  • Anchors – What’s the best size and weight anchor for narrowboats on tidal rivers
  • Single Handed Boating for Ladies – Can a lady on her own pass safely through locks?
  • Different Types of Mooring – What’s the difference between residential and leisure moorings? How long can you stay on your boat with each type?
  • Which Ropes To Use? – There are so many different types available. Are the more expensive ones worth using or is it just a case of money for old rope?
  • Windows – Why do narrowboat owners tolerate condensation? Why don’t they have modern uPVC windows fitted?
  • Best Ex Hire Boats – Are you considering buying an ex hire boat to live on? Should you? Here’s some important information for you.
  • Liveaboard Conclusions – Mel Davies has been doing  plenty of research into her hoped for lifestyle afloat. Here are the conclusions she’s reached and comments from a few existing liveaboard narrowboat owners.
  • Handling Floodwaters – How safe is a river mooring during and after heavy rain? Can you stay on a river when the level rises? What can you do to minimise danger?
  • Narrowboat steel thickness – How thick is your boat’s steel? How long does it last?
  • Retro fitting a solid fuel stove – Where’s the best place to put your stove and what’s involved in fitting it?
  • Converting from a cassette toilet to a pump out – A pump out toilet is far more convenient to use than a toilet with a portable cassette but how easy are they to retro fit in a narrowboat?
  • Gas free boating – If you don’t fancy heaving unwieldy gas bottles into a difficult to reach bow locker, a gas free boat might be the solution
  • Winter on the cut – Are you able to cruise all year on your boat or should you find a mooring for the winter?
  • Transporting your boat – Sometimes you may want or need to take your narrowboat by road rather than cruise along the canal. Here’s an idea of the cost
  • Bike types and preferences – If you don’t have a car parked near your boat, you’ll probably want a bike, but which type of bike is best?
  • Towing a butty – I’ve upset someone. I didn’t mean to. Wainbody wanted to know the best way of towing an unpowered second narrowboat (butty). I came across as patronising when I replied. It was unintentional but to make amends I thought I would ask anyone with boat handling experience to reply to his thread with some constructive advice. If you can help him, please reply to the post.
  • The best flooring for a narrowboat pets –  What’s the best way to protect your floor from a dirty doggy?
  • The best time of the year to buy a boat – Is there a deal to be done by buying a boat in the winter?
  • The best length for a liveaboard narrowboat – What’s the best length to buy? What are the pros and cons of different length boats
  • ONE tip to offer a potential narrowboat owner – If you are already a narrowboat owner, you can share your experience. If you haven’t bought one yet, you need to read this thread.
  • Powering your computer on a narrowboat – Can you power your computer/laptop from the boat’s 12v supply or do you need mains power?
  • Must-have gadgets and necessities – The most useful/useless gadgets for life on a narrowboat
  • Choosing a stove for your boat – Are domestic solid fuel stoves as good as the ones designed specifically for boats? Which is the best one to buy?
  • Diesel heating for boats – How important is a solid fuel stove on a liveaboard narrowboat? Is a diesel heating system OK as a primary heat source?
  • Computers on boats – Can a computer be powered from your boat’s 12v system or does it need to be plugged into the mains
  • Receiving post on your boat – How does the postman find you when you’re cruising? How do you apply for a driving license, a TV license or a bank statement when you have no official address?
  • Bikes on board – Many boat owners do not have cars so they rely on bikes to get them to the shops (or the pub). Some use bikes to collect their cars after a day’s cruising. There’s a huge selection of bikes to choose from. Which are the best for your boat? To tell you the truth, I don’t know the answer. Can you point forum member Ainslo in the right direction?
  • VAT on narrowboat sales – Does the price of your narrowboat contain a VAT element? Can the VAT be reclaimed?
  • Internet access – How do you connect to the internet when you live on a boat?
  • Living off property rental income – Do you have a property that you indend to let while you cruise the waterways? Read this before you work out your budget.
  • How to find a narrowboat to live on – Here’s an article about choosing a liveaboard narrowboat, and a question about finding a narrowboat with a steering wheel.
  • Vertigo – How to deal with walking over lock gates if you’re frightened of heights.
  • Long term narrowboat hire – If you aren’t ready to buy a narrowboat yet, what are your chances of hiring a narrowboat for more than a few weeks?
  • Residential moorings and single handed boating – How do you handle a narrowboat on your own? What do you do about a mooring if you live on board and only want a mooring for part of the year
  • Too tall for a narrowboat? – Is a narrowboat suitable for you if you are above average height?
  • Dealing with condensation – Do all narrowboats suffer from damp? What can you do about it?
  • Solar panels – More information about portable and fixed solar panels
  • Heating systems – Hurricane and Mikuni heating systems discussed

Useful Links

Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat – Narrowboat costs explained in detail. My own maintenance and living cost on narrowboat James for a full year. Use this information to work out your own costs.
Find out what parts of the canal are closed and for how long. Essential cruising information for you.
Do you need to find a home for your boat? Here’s a comprehensive list of the narrowboat friendly marinas in the UK
Do you want to see where these marinas are on a map? Here it is.
Here’s a map of all the canals on the system to help you plan your route.
Newsletter Archive – Browse through a wealth of useful content in the newsletters over the last year.



Useful Information

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Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.