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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 05 12 Newsletter – An Interview With The Trust’s Head Of Boating

Living on a Narrowboat News 12th May 2013

I’m always amazed how quickly you make new friends on the cut. After years of living and working in London where even my immediate neighbours were strangers, the easy going and approachable nature of most liveaboard narrowboat owners is truly refreshing.

I spent a very pleasant couple of hours on Monday evening with new narrowboat owners Keith and Gui (pronounced Gee as in geese) on their new Calcutt built Clipper. I first met Keith and Gui last October when they hired one of our boats for a week’s cruise on the Ashby canal. Like many of our hirers, they enjoyed the trip so much that they told me they were going to look into buying a boat of their own and adopting the nomadic lifestyle of continuous cruisers. Unlike most, their suggestion was more than idle talk.

Keith retired from his well paid but far too stressful job in anthropology three years ago. He’s been living with his partner Gui, an ex jet setting travel agent,  at her home in Portugal after leaving his native New Zealand. He loved the relaxed lifestyle in the Portuguese village on the coast about half an hour’s drive from Lisbon. He loved the lifestyle, but not nearly as much as he’s always loved the idea of cruising the canals and rivers of England and Wales.

They’ve been on their new boat for less than a week and they’re enjoying every minute of it. They drove to Calcutt from Gui’s home so they were able to bring a few “essentials” with them. I love port so I was in heaven when I sampled the three different types they brought with them, along with a delicious cheese made from goat, sheep and cows’ milk.

I don’t think there’s a better way of passing an hour or two than sitting on a boat’s deck on a warm spring evening, drinking fine wine, eating exquisite food and enjoying stimulating conversation. It’s what living on a narrowboat is all about.

The Wessex Rose Hotel Boat Update

Last Sunday I wrote about the just launched Wessex Rose hotel boat. At 70′  long, 12′ wide and 50 tonnes it’s a rather cumbersome boat to move through the network. Even though the Grand Union is a “wide” canal – it has locks which can accommodate two narrowboats at a time, or one widebeam – there are very few wide beam boats using it.

Although cruising on a wide beam boat is possible on the canal network, it isn’t always pleasant. The canals are usually very shallow away from the main channel which is kept silt free by the continual passage of narrowboats. A wide beam boat will often straddle the deeper channel, especially at bridge holes and narrow passing places, and necessitates ploughing through the muddy canal bottom.

I met the hotel boat as I cruised back from Braunston at a narrow spot with boats moored against the towpath. The Wessex Rose is to narrowboat owners what a nervous caravan tower on a winding country roads is to car drivers. There was a queue of frustrated narrowboat owners moving at a snail’s pace behind the barely moving monstrosity.

The hotel boat’s owners were highly stressed. Not only did they have to contend with dragging their new boat through the silty bottom, but they also had to absorb the tirade of comments from the boats behind them, the moored boats they passed and the narrowboats travelling in the opposite direction.

I met them at Flecknoe where they only had to deal with boats moored against the towpath. I suspect they would have had far more problems with both navigation and criticism from nearby boaters when they reached Braunston. The approach to the junction from all three directions has boats moored on both canal banks. There’s just enough room for two narrowboats to pass each other. There isn’t enough room for a narrowboat and a broad beam boat to pass. They owners looked stressed when I passed them. They would be approaching a nervous breakdown by the time they had negotiated Braunston.

The Wessex Rose is heading down to the K & A where they intend to take high paying passengers on relaxing short breaks along the rivers Kennet and Avon and the Kennet & Avon canal. There are some very narrow stretches on the K & A and plenty of moored boats. I hope that the passengers travelling on the hotel boat aren’t subject to the same stress as the owners.

An Interview With The Trust’s Head Of Boating.

On Friday I spoke to Sally Ash, the Canal & River Trust’s Head of Boating. I regularly receive emails and respond to forum posts about residential moorings and how to find them. I think I know the answers to site visitors’ questions but I thought it was about time I asked for confirmation. Sally was the perfect person to talk to.

When applying for a license for a narrowboat, owners are asked to either confirm that they have a home mooring or abide by the guidelines for continuous cruising. A home mooring can cost in excess of £2,000 a year, rising to two or three times that figure in and around London. Many boaters are either unwilling or unable to pay for a home mooring, or simply can’t find one which will enable them to legally live on board full time.

Online MooringsThe license guidelines state that a boat owner cannot stay in one place for longer than 14 days, or less as indicated on some visitor moorings. Some boaters, in a mistaken attempt to comply with the mooring guidelines, move their boats backwards and forwards between two points in order to stay in the same geographical location so that they are close to work or to schools. Continuous cruisers are required to move every fourteen days as part of a linear progressive journey although, to date, the distance that a boat needs to move as part of the journey isn’t specified because of the difficulty the Trust has defining locations on the cut. The Trust are in the process are in the process of defining clear geographic areas on maps which will be made available to boaters and which will enable the authorities to qualify distance moved.

Some continuous cruisers simply don’t move at all. They are referred to by the Trust as None Compliant Continuous Cruisers or NCCC. They stay in one spot on the towpath, often as part of a community of other NCCC boaters. Out of the 35,000 narrowboats on the canal and river network, 13.4% or 4,700 are registered as not having a home mooring and are therefore obliged to cruise continuously. Sally believes that as many as 50% are NCCC boaters.

Finding a suitable legal mooring for a liveaboard narrowboat is a considerable hurdle to overcome for many would be boat owners. There are relatively few residential moorings available either online (along the side of the canal or offline (in a marina). Most of the Trust owned canal-side moorings are defined as leisure moorings and are not supposed to be used for residential use. However, the Trust are quite relaxed about boat owners living on leisure moorings full time. They are aware of the shortage of official residential moorings and also feel that the canal is a more attractive and more secure environment than lines of empty boats.

While the Trust are happy to allow boaters to stay full time on their leisure moorings, they aren’t happy at all when boat owners over stay their welcome on visitor moorings. The Trust currently employs enforcement team of  50 officers who patrol the towpath to monitor boat movement. The areas of greatest concern at the moment are the Grand Union south of Milton Keynes , the south Oxford and the western end of the K & A. The problem is so acute in these areas that navigation is difficult and vacant visitor moorings are few and far between.

In order to deal with long term NCCCs, the Trust are about to launch a pilot scheme in the London area. The scheme will grant a license to existing none compliant cruisers which will allow them to legally “bridge hop” (move backwards and forwards between two or more points). This scheme will only apply to currently known long term  NCCCs. Any new boats using the network which flout the rules will be identified and ultimately served with enforcement notices.

So why is there such a shortage of residential moorings when there are so many vacant moorings, particularly in marinas? Sally says it’s all down to the local authorities. A leisure mooring doesn’t need planning consent. A residential mooring requires a change of land use. Many marinas are on green belt land so the local authorities are unwilling to give consent.

Local authorities are becoming slightly more flexible with linear moorings, The Trust are working with them to identify suitable residential moorings along the canal, especially in congested areas such as the Grand Union south of Milton Keynes.

The Trust acknowledge that they have a difficult task ahead of them. For many years NCCCs have been left to their own devices. There are many communities of static continuous cruisers. There are between 500 and 1,000 NCCC cases open at any one time. The Trust will, in extreme circumstances, remove these boats from the water. However, as the boat owners live on board full time, the courts are often reluctant to sanction boat removal and the boat owners subsequent loss of their homes.

The message is clear, if you live on your boat but don’t cruise and don’t have a registered home mooring, you are breaking the rules as the Trust are concerned, but they are prepared to talk to you to discuss a solution. But if you’ve only recently declared on your license that you’re going to cruise continuously, you need to make sure that’s exactly what you do.

New Forum Section

I’ve added the newsletter archive to the forum. You can find it here. Every week when I send out the newsletter, I’ll also post it on the forum. You’ll have all of the newsletters listed by date in one handy section, and you’ll be able to comment on the content in a place where others can respond. You can also use this section to ask for topics to be included in the newsletter. If there’s a subject you don’t think I’ve covered in enough detail, or at all, elsewhere on the site, please use this section to suggest its addition.

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

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.

  • Electric Boats – What do they cost to run? Why would you want one? There’s a huge amount of information for you here if you’ve ever considered an alternative to a diesel narrowboat engine.
  • Pram Covers – “Pram cover” is the term for a cover over the rear deck, usually on a cruiser stern narrowboat. Here are the pros and cons.
  • The difference between cruising on canalas and rivers – This is a very popular thread for very good reason. It’s packed with advice if you’re new to river cruising.
  • Checklists – What do you need to check before you set off on a cruise? There’s some very detailed information including a very useful post by fellow Calcutt moorer Graham who has issues with his mobility after an RTA many years ago.
  • Television Aerials – If you can’t live without your Corrie, you’ll need a decent aerial for your boat.
  • My New Life – I urge you to read this forum thread. If you dream of living on your own narrowboat one day, reading this post, written by a new liveaboard boater, may well prove the catalyst you need. It’s essential reading for any aspiring narrowboat owner.
  • Narrowboat Ownership – How do you prove that the person offering a narrowboat for sale is the real owner?
  • Tips For Continuous Cruisers – He’s making a bit of a habit of it; Pearley’s back with some great cruising tips
  • The Llangollen Canal – One of the country’s 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?
  • 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.

 

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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 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.