Learn about life afloat the easy way

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.

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2013 03 17 Newsletter – Getting Rid Of Unwelcome Visitors

Living on a Narrowboat News 17th March 2013

Yippee! It’s grass cutting time again. On Wednesday last week I cut the site grass for the first time this year. It’s a sign that spring in on the way. The grass doesn’t start to grow in the new year until the weather warms up a bit. I know it’s been cold in the last week with a biting wind and the occasional snow flurry, but the bright sunshine with just a hint of heat has been enough to fool the grass.

At this time of the year, I have to be careful where I cut. Snowdrops and daffodils are everywhere.  It’s the first wave of floral colour at the marina. The first of many. Calcutt is a beautiful place to moor in the spring and early summer. We have three of the richest wildflower meadows in Warwickshire. In fact, they’re so rich in flowers and grasses that they have been designated SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest).

Mating SwansI have the pleasure of spending my days riding around on a mower through them all. In a month or so, I’ll be riding through carpets of cowslips and daisies in the beautiful spring sunshine waiting for our resident swans’ babies to arrive. The signets usually hatch in early May. At the moment Mr. & Mrs. Swan are busy romancing each other. It’s beautiful to watch. Unfortunately, there’s a part of their mating that drives me mad.

Removing Problem Geese… The Easy Way

At this time of the year the cob (the male swan) is very territorial. He doesn’t want any competition on his turf which, as far as he’s concerned, is Calcutt’s Meadows marina. He tolerates the mallards, moorhens, coots and grebes, but he truly hates the Canada geese. So do I.

There’s nothing pleasant about Canada geese. They’re noisy, far too numerous and very, very dirty. Each Canada goose eats about four pounds of grass every day. Three pounds of that comes out the other end to make walking along the towpath or riverbank where they congregate quite unpleasant.

When I moved onto James, there were about a dozen resident geese. They were extremely noisy. Continuous honking during the day wasn’t a problem but they were exceptionally annoying at night. There were many nights when I lay awake for hours because of their incessant noise. A dozen geese were bad enough, but they enjoyed it so much they invited their friends. Two hundred of them.

You can imagine the mess that two hundred Canada geese make with each of them dropping 3lb of waste every day. Each weeks they dropped two tons of faeces around the marina.

I tried everything I could think of to get rid of them. I took our work boat, a 50′ narrowboat, for a spin around the marina to chase them off. They just swam out of the way and climbed onto the acre grass and tree covered island in the middle of the marina. I moored the boat on the island and ran like a lunatic through the trees to chase them off. They flew back onto the water. I surged around the marina again with the boat, so they climbed back onto the island. I climbed back onto the island, chased them off and then peppered them with windfall horse chestnuts. They didn’t mind.

I walked around the marina at night, powerful torch in hand, trying to scare them off. I scared off the coots, mallards, moorhens and grebes, but not the geese.

I investigated Canada geese scarers on the internet. I could buy imitation dead geese or a static flashing light that mimicked the eyes of

A Canada goose

their natural predator, the coyote. These bird scarers were horribly expensive though so I didn’t try them. What I did buy from the internet cost me just £20 and worked instantly every time I used it.

It’s breeding season and our resident cob likes to chase Canada geese all day and all night. We have a breeding pair of swans. We also have a breeding pair of Canada geese. I don’t usually have a problem with geese these days, but during the breeding season the breeding pair of geese return to do battle with the cob and with me.

Last night I head the geese’s none stop honking at 2am as the cob chased them. I dressed in warm clothes – it was minus four – grabbed my torch and my secret weapon, and took the dogs for an unexpected but very welcome night time walk. I used the torch to identify the geese and fired my weapon at them.

My ever so effective geese scarer is a military grade green laser. I’m not sure why it works on the geese and not on the other water fowl, but it works incredibly well and what’s more, it doesn’t harm them. One quick flash, an instant collective panicky honking and they all take to the skies.

The laser only works at night when the bright green beam is visible, but it’s at night when I want them off the marina. So last night the dogs enjoyed a walk in the dark and I restored calm to the usually tranquil marina. The mating pair will return tomorrow during the day so I’ll be out again tomorrow night, and the night after, and the one after that…

Know Your Narrowboat Costs

Let’s get this straight. Living on a narrowboat comfortably is not a low cost alternative to a bricks and mortar home. The cost is comparable to living in a three bed semi when you take all of the costs into consideration. If you’re thinking of moving onto a narrowboat just because you can’t afford to get onto the property ladder, don’t do it. Living on a narrowboat is a lifestyle choice, and a wonderful one at that, but it isn’t cheap.

Not so long ago, we had a narrowboat for sale here at Caluctt which could have been turned into an acceptable home if a huge amount of time and money was spent on it. The boat was in a terrible state; the engine needed a major overhaul, the inside was damp and mouldy and the roof leaked. Surprisingly, it was sold within a month of coming to us. The three male purchasers had clubbed together to find the modest asking price. They were quite honest about their intentions. They were going to move on board immediately and use the boat as a floating home “somewhere in Birmingham”. They didn’t have any money for the license, for moorings or for repairs and maintenance. I’m fairly sure that this tired old boat will end up illegally moored, unlicensed and unloved along the towpath somewhere in England’s second city. The boat will undoubtably cost them less to “maintain” than a home on dry land but their lifestyle won’t be legal, pleasant or comfortable.

Maintaining a narrowboat properly isn’t cheap. A narrowboat’s steel exterior needs protecting from the elements. The hull needs painting every three years, the cabin every 7 – 10 years. Even if you’re not going to do much (or any) cruising, the engine needs maintaining so that you can run it daily to charge your batteries. Your batteries will need replacing every 3 – 5 years and your canopies on your front and/or rear decks will need renewing periodically.

Keeping your boat warm is no cheaper than keeping your house warm. Most narrowboats have heating provided by solid fuel stoves, diesel or gas central heating systems, or a combination of both. Contrary to popular opinion, you can’t easily heat your boat for free using wood that you find on your travels. Unless logs are seasoned (left to dry) for a minimum of six months under cover, they use as much energy evaporating the moisture they still hold as they do producing heat. You simply don’t have the space inside your narrowboat to store enough wood.

Before you spend any more time or energy on your narrowboat plans, you need to be absolutely certain that you fully understand the cost of maintaining your dream home. To give you a head start, I’ve written a post detailing the exact expenses I incurred on my own boat during February 2013.

A Place To Search For Moorings

residential moorings are hard to find. You’ll probably spend as much time looking for a mooring, especially a residential mooring, as you will looking for a narrowboat. Very few marinas have official residential moorings but some unofficially allow liveaboards. I was told today that Mercia marina “has no problem with liveaboards” although their web site doesn’t give any indication that they offer official residential moorings.

The majority of residential moorings on the canal network are linear moorings along the canal, usually on the “offside” on the opposite side from the towpath. You’ll have to do a bit of work to find available online moorings. You’ll see them sometimes advertised in the waterways magazines, and sometimes advertised here on Apolloduck. You need to sort the wheat from the chaff or, in this case, the coastal from the inland moorings, but there are some interesting ones there.

A New Service For Potential Narrowboat Owners

Last week, I introduced an idea I had to help potential narrowboat owners decipher the terminology they’re faced with when they through a narrowboat’s advert. I though it was a good idea, but there aren’t many site visitors who agree. I asked readers of last week’s newsletter to let me know if they thought the idea would help them. Only 0.5% of newsletter recipients completed the two question survey so, at the moment, I’m not going to spend any more time creating the service. I’ve copied the introduction to the idea below as well as the link to the survey. If you are seriously thinking about buying a narrowboat, please just take a minute to cast your vote.

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.

Your Own Narrowboat Blog On Livingonanarrowboat.co.uk

If you’re a regular visitor to this site, you’ve probably read about my transition from bricks and mortar to steel and water and the challenges I’ve faced since I moved on board. Although the story of my life afloat will have given you some idea of life in a floating home, I feel that this site could offer a far more comprehensive and rounded view of the liveaboard lifestyle.narrowboat blogging

I moor in a marina. I’m very lucky. Everything I need is close at hand. I have an unlimited water supply (which is never frozen) and access to 230v electrickery on the pier. I can buy coal and gas at reception whenever I need it, and transport it easily to the boat. I have a choice of two Elsan points where I can empty my cassette, and a choice of two manned pump outs if I had a pump out toilet. I’m very lucky to be able to moor here because most marinas don’t allow liveaboards. They aren’t allowed here either. I’m only allowed to live on board because I work here.

Your situation will almost certainly be different. You’ll either have to consider the life of a continuous cruiser, find a canal or riverside residential mooring or, heaven forbid, take your chances on the canal without an official mooring.

I want this site to reflect all aspects of liveaboard life, so I’ve had an idea.

If you are in the process of selling your worldly goods and investing the proceeds in a narrowboat, I would like to offer you your own blog on this site. You’ll have your blog address, something like http://livingonanarrowboat.co.uk/NBWillow and a ready made audience to read what you’ve written. This site is currently number five in the waterways site rankings and enjoys in excess of 7,000 weekly visits.

Please let me know if you’re interested. All that I ask is that you can write reasonably well and that you’re committed to your dream of owning and maybe living on your narrowboat. I particularly want to hear from you if you’re going to be a continuous cruiser. I don’t get the chance to cruise very often because I still need to work. I want this site to include content from boat owners as they cruise the length and breadth of our wonderful canal network, complete with the adventures they’ve had along the way. Please email me if you’re interested.

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.

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.

  • A Narrowboat Checklist – What checks do you need to carry out before you set out on a cruise?
  • Tunnels – How do you navigate them? Who has priority?
  • The Llangollen canal – Here’s a view that you’re never going to see from your narrowboat.
  • Windows Or Portholes – Round or square, which is best? Is it just a matter of personal preference?
  • 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
Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia now wander Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 32' Dutch motor cruiser.