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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 24 Newsletter – Essential Boating Equipment

Living on a Narrowboat News 24th March 2013

Why is the weather such a popular topic in the UK? Because you don’t know what’s going to happen from one day to the next! Easter is less than a week away and parts of Britain are without power, roads are impassable due to snow drifts and you can’t cruise down the Llangollen canal because of fallen trees.

Providing your boat is up to scratch though, the weather doesn’t really matter. However, It’s very important that you spend time, energy and money to ensure that it’s fit for all seasons. James wasn’t an acceptable winter home when I moved on board. It is now. There’s a cruel east wind blowing snow horizontally across the marina as I write this, but I’m just wearing a polo shirt as I sit and type. I’ve taken the time to understand how everything on board works. If anything on the boat didn’t work effectively, I had it changed. I’m useless at the practicalities myself but one of the many wonderful virtues of the boating community is the willingness to help fellow boaters. I’m never stuck for a helping hand or two.

The importance of understanding your boat, how it works, and why sometimes it doesn’t, was brought home to me by the email I received last week. This new liveaboard boater clearly hasn’t spent any time trying to resolve what are probably fairly simple issues.

“My partner and I moved onto our narrowboat in November. All the possessions we knew we wouldn’t need or be able to squeeze onto the boat were sold. The moving day came and we were so excited.

Its been a serious shock to the system I can tell you. Don’t get me wrong, I love the boat, the people in our marina and the peace. What I don’t like is the rain! We have residential moorings in [removed to protect privacy] and the river and surrounding areas rise rapidly. When will it end? My dreams are steadily being shattered.

Heating is a multi fuel stove which is fine for heating the living room and galley but as the bedroom is 55ft away it’s absolutely freezing! We can only figure out how to use the radiators when the engine is running. I’m sure it can be done just on the gas but I havent been able to understand the huge manual that comes with the Alde yet. The pump out toilet blocked with terrible consequences so a porta loo has to suffice now. The chimney had to be swept etc etc.

Please tell me that this will get better. We want to live the dream. Please tell me this isn’t what every winter is like onboard. Surely the summer will make up for it?”. 

I imagine that the Alde simply isn’t lit. The radiators are being heated by the engine when it’s running but nothing’s heating them when the engine is switched off. Aldes are quite common heating systems. I imagine there will be fellow boaters or marina staff who can offer a quick solution to the problem, or at least confirm whether the Alde is working or not. If it’s not working it needs fixing. There’s no excuse here for remaining cold and uncomfortable on the boat.

The pump out loo blockage is something else which should be fairly easy to resolve, rather than abandoning the system completely and switching to a Porta Potti. As for the chimney, sweeping the flu is a basic part of narrowboat maintenance.

Living on a narrowboat is a great lifestyle but you need to put a little more effort in than you do on dry land and understand what you’re doing. That’s why I created this site, to help you understand the ins and outs of living your floating dream.

An Apology For My Poor Speling!

Last week I was careless. I thought I had run the spell checker before I published the newsletter. Clearly I didn’t. I had a friendly email pointing out the error of my ways and the fact that I had spelled residential three different ways. I’ll be more careful in future but if you do spot any errors, please let me know so that I can correct them.

Essential Boating Equipment

There are some bits of kit that you should have on board at all times; a pole, plank and boat hook, two or three mooring pins or chains, a lump hammer (some boaters prefer a sledge hammer for hard ground in the summer) and, to get you through the locks, a windlass or two. Windlasses have a habit of ending up in the water. They are kicked in after being left on the lock side or fly in after being left on the paddle. It’s a careless and expensive mistake to make, but what can you do once it’s in the water? You can use one of the essential tools in your boat’s emergency kit… a powerful magnet.

The 2013 Equipment and Chandlery Guide in Waterways World’s April magazine features a super powerful magnet available for £26. It’s under two inches tall but is capable of lifting 50lb. You can use it to retrieve your windlasses, mooring pins, keys (most boaters have dropped a key or two into the cut), your prized folding bike and, if you’re feeling particularly public spirited, a shopping trolley or two. It’s called the Maxigrab Magnet and is available here.

The Crick Boat Show

It’s the UK’s number one narrowboat show. Four days of live music and entertainment, a chance to meet thousands of fellow boaters and the opportunity to view the latest masterpieces from the leading narrowboat and widebeam builders in the industry. The New & Used Boat Company have set a record at Crick this year. They will have seven of their boats on display.

This year the show is on from 25th – 27th May. I’ll be there on 27th. The last day of the show is my favourite day. It’s bargain day. Since January I’ve been compiling a list of none essential items tha t I need/want for James. I’ll be there on Monday 27th with my shopping list in one hand and my debit card in the other. Exhibitors don’t want to take stock home with them. If you wait until Monday afternoon, there are some marvelous savings to be made. Midland Chandlers usually have a large amount of stock at the show. There stand is the size of one of their stores. They don’t like to take anything back with them at all so on Monday afternoon they will consider all offers. It’s possible to get up to 40% discount on their list prices.

Tickets for each day are £9 in advance or £12 on the day. Three day tickets are £20 in advance or £26 on the door. You can find out more and buy tickets either by visiting the Crick Boat Show web site or by calling 01283 742962

Stove Fuel Test Update

Two weeks ago I mentioned that, after reading the Waterways World fuel test in the March edition of their magazine, I bought two sample bags of wood briquettes so that I could conduct my own tests on a real liveaboard narrowboat. One bag arrived within a few days but the second, the Ecofire Heat Logs only arrived this week after going missing in the post. Here’s what I thought of both fuels.

Your Own Narrowboat Blog

Last week I offered site users some space on this site so that they could create a blog, a journal, of their own journey from narrowboat dream to actual ownership. Three narrowboat owners have taken me up on the offer so far. I’ve created a new section on the forum so that site visitors can read and comment on the blog posts. I’ve also included some information that may be of interest to you if you would like to start your own blog.

Whilton Marina Boat Sales

I received an email from a site subscriber yesterday. He was responding to one of the regular series of emails I send out with the intention of (hopefully) pointing potential narrowboat owners in the right direction. He suggested that I needed to know more about the way that Whilton Marina boat sales operate before I recommend them as a potential source for their new boat. I’m not saying that the information he provided is accurate but, coincidentally, I was given the same information by a respected boat builder this week. In the spirit of providing you with as much information as possible so that you can make up your own mind, I have copied the email I received on the Whilton Marina page of this site. I’m also more than happy to include a response from anyone at Whilton.

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.

  • The Llangollen Canal – One of the countries most beautiful canals discussed
  • Deliveries to your boat – Excellent information from regular forum contributor Pearley
  • Mobile Broadband – All you need to know about internet connectivity on board
  • Internet Data Theft – Did you know that fellow boaters can steal your internet data allowance?
  • Boat Planning & Design – Is there any free software available to hel you plan your dream boat?
  • 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.