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 06 02 Newsletter – Pre Cruise Checklist

Living on a Narrowboat News 2nd June 2013

I’m moving house today. I’m not moving out of my home, I’m taking it with me. The ability to undo a couple of ropes and move your home to another location with a better view is one of the many wonderful aspects of living on a narrowboat. We actually have very pleasant neighbours at Calcutt but, if we didn’t get on with them, we would be able to move our home to another location where the neighbours were better.

We’re not moving permanently. We’re off on holiday for two weeks. A cruising holiday on James is something that I’ve been wanting to do for years. Unfortunately when I moved on board, James wasn’t in an acceptable condition to take anywhere.

The wooden top was in a very poor state of repair, as were the front and rear doors. The hatches over the rear doors and the port and starboard side doors were in an awful state. At some stage the original hatches had been replace by deckboard. The hatches had warped and the hatch runners had decayed to the point where I could poke my finger through them. The hatches offered no security at all. Anyone who wanted to gain entry to the boat could simply lift them off and climb in.

The onboard electrics were extremely basic. I had a starter battery and just one 110amp leisure battery. The single battery wasn’t enough to run the 12v appliances on board and couldn’t be charged because the engine’s alternator was faulty. I couldn’t use 230v appliances at all because the boat didn’t have an inverter.

The engine itself was in serious need of some TLC. The first time I took James out for on a day trip to Braunston I broke down with Sally and her two adult children on board. I walked back from Braunston to Calcutt with Sally’s daughter Maricar to fetch my car so that we could collect Sally, her son Michael and the dogs. I was very embarrased.

The cause of the breakdown was minor. The fuel filter was blocked. However, because the engine had been installed very close to the bulkhead between the bedroom and the engine room and the fuel filter was on the front of the engine, it was almost impossible to take off and clean.

The next time I plucked up enough courage to take the boat out the engine kept dropping out of gear. I managed to limp back to the mooring where one of out engineers had a look at it for me. It appeared to be another minor problem. The oil in the PRM gearbox was very low on oil. A PRM gearbox isn’t damaged if there is little or no oil in it. The gearbox simply stops working so doesn’t engage the drive.

With a fully topped up gearbox I took the boat out again. I had the same problem. This time I discovered that one of the gearbox hoses had perished so all of the oil recently added to the gearbox was in the bilge.

All of these problems have been resolved now. RCR have given the engine a thorough service (and told me that the engine should outlive me), I’ve increased the leisure battery bank from 1 x 110amp to 4 x 135amp, I’ve added a 1.6KW pure sine inverter to allow the use of 230v appliances when I’m “off grid”, I’ve added 300w  solar panels to keep the batteries topped up without running the engine even if I’m stationary fo r a few days and the major improvement. And to make sure that I have enough power to draw from while I’m stationary, I’ve increased the original leisure battery bank from 1 x 110amp to 4 x 135amp.

We’re now ready to thoroughly enjoy the two weeks ahead. We’ve spent time and energy making sure that we’re properly prepared… unlike two holiday hirers at the beginning of the week.

John and Jan hadn’t been on a narrowboat before. They had booked a Tuesday – Saturday break to try it out. Unfortunately they picked the wrong Tuesday to experience narrowboating for the first time. The weather was awful.

After a wonderful bank holiday weekend, the brilliant sunshine was masked by angry clouds. The rain was relentless. During the morning my “waterproof” Calcutt padded jacket had absorbed more water than a paddling pool so I had switched to my own Guy Cotten bombproof trawlerman’s oilskin smock top. There’s no chance of rain getting in. As it’s not breathable there’s also no chance of perspiration getting out, so it’s no good for wearing during strenuous physical activity but it’s marvellous for standing around talking. It’s perfect for instructing holiday hirers in the pouring rain.

Jan and John didn’t have effective waterproof clothing. In fact, they didn’t have waterproof clothing at all. Jan stayed inside the boat while I showed John around the gas lockers, the wet locker and the engine bay and told him how to operate the boat.

An instruction usually lasts about an hour. The first part details the safe operation of the hire boat and is followed by a hand’s on demonstration of how to steer the boat and how a lock works as we take the boat through one or more locks in the Calcutt flight.

John steered and stayed with the boat while I showed Jan (“Oh dear. I didn’t expect the locks to be such hard work”) how to get the hire boat safely through the lock. By the time I was ready to hand the boat over to them, they were both shivering so violently that they could hardly speak.

I suggested that they take the boat just past Napton Junction where there’s a lovely spot to moor. I advised both of them to have a hot shower and settle in for the evening. They told me that they couldn’t. They didn’t have any food with them apart from two packets of crisps. They needed to cruise to a pub where they could get something to eat. They planned to eat out every day so didn’t think they needed to bring any provisions. As they were heading towards the Ashby canal, the first pub en route was the Boat House at Braunston over two hours away.

I’m writing this section of the newsletter early Saturday morning. Jan and John are due back later this morning. I hope they’ve had a good time, but somehow I doubt it. Out of their fours days on a narrowboat, they spent the first three trying to cruise in pouring rain while, chilled to the bone, they searched for somewhere selling hot food.

A little forward planning would have made all the difference. A good set of waterproofs each and a stock of food would have allowed them to enjoy rather than endure a canal break. Relying on available pubs for food is a disaster waiting to happen. Boaters can’t guarantee that they can reach a pub during the hours that it serves food, or that it will actually be serving food when they get there. I suggested to Jan and John that they walked a mile from their mooring at Napton Junction to the King’s Head at Napton to get something to eat. They said that they would rather press on in the rain. I’m pleased that they didn’t take my advice because I found out later that the King’s head had been closed that night. I don’t know why.

Remember the five P’s. Proper Planning Prevents P*** Poor Performance. Effective planning doesn’t just apply to holiday hirers. Boat owners need to plan their trips too. As I said earlier, I’m out for two weeks starting today. I’ve planned the trip for a while to ensure that everything goes as smoothly as possible

Pre Cruise Planning

My planning has taken a long time for my first real cruise on James because of the condition of the boat when I moved on board. James was OK for a day trip – once the engine had been serviced, the fuel filter cleaned and the perished gearbox cables replaced – but the boat wasn’t suitable for even a short multi day cruise.

The electricity generation and storage was very poor. There was a too small alternator to charge just one 110amp leisure battery. James had a 230v ring main but it could only be powered by plugging in the shore line. I’ve now upgraded the alternator, increased the size of the battery bank and added 3 x 100w solar panels complete with an MPPT controller. In order to use the electricity stored in the new larger battery bank for running my 230v appliances, I’ve fitted a 1.6KW Sterling pure sine inverter. And to minimise the amount of power I use, and to provide far more effective illumination, I’ve replaced all twenty of the boat’s standard light bulbs with LEDs.

I’ve over plated the boat’s original wooden top with steel. Part of the work included adding a reinforced anchor point for the centre line, the most important rope on the boat and an essential aid to single handed navigation. I’ve added a cover for the cratch to provide additional storage space. I honestly don’t know what we would do without it.

All of the above has been preparation to bring the boat up to a standard where it can be used for comfortable cruising. After that I had to anticipate my needs for this particular trip.

One of the many wonderful aspects of taking your liveaboard narrowboat on holiday with you is that you don’t need to do any packing. I’m not leaving my home to go on holiday for two weeks. I’m taking my home with me. All I need to do is turn the engine on, unplug the shore line, untie the bow and stern mooring lines, and we’re off!

There’s no stress packing suitcases and wondering what clothes we need to take. I remember from previous holidays in UK that we used to take nearly every stitch we owned anyway. We had to take a range of clothing to allow for the English summer; cloud, sun, rain, hail and on one memorable break to north Devon at Easter, snow.

So we don’t have to worry about what to wear. We don’t have to worry about negotiating busy airports, busy roads approaching the airports, tiny seats on claustrophobic planes, unpleasant neighbours overflowing their tiny seats, remembering to take passports (and remembering, months in advance, to ensure that those passports are up to date), organizing holiday spending money, furiously saving holiday spending money, organising hotels or apartments and planning and paying for airport car parking. And then, when finally arriving at the holiday destination, exhausted from planning a break to recover from the exhaustion of a “normal” stressful life, being too tired to enjoy the break for several days.

This break is very different. There’s no stress involved at all. Providing I keep my “house” in good order, I don’t have to do much to prepare for a few weeks away. But I do have to consider the logistics of the trip.

Unlike Jan and John, the under prepared holiday hirers, we won’t be relying on canal side pubs to provide us with hot food every day. We’ll be eating on board. Eating on board will be far cheaper (and the quality of food is likely to be higher) but we need to know where we can restock.

Although we aren’t going to stick rigidly to a time table, we expect to take three days to get to the section of the Ashby canal we want to explore. The only decent supermarkets on the canal are at Market Bosworth. We could stop off in Rugby at some of the large supermarkets there but I want to spend as little time as possible in Rugby. I don’t like the town at all. We’ll pass through there as quickly as possible so that we can get back to the peace and quiet of the open countryside.

We’ve bought enough fresh food to keep us going until about Wednesday, and some tinned and dried food in case we want to stay longer.

I ran through my pre cruise check list on Sunday morning before we left.

  • 2 x windlesses
  • 2 x lump hammers
  • 3 x mooring stakes
  • 2 x mooring chains
  • British Waterways key (for the locking plates on the water points)
  • Anchor, chain and rope (I don’t need an anchor for this trip, but there’s one on board)
  • A sharp knife, bolt croppers and mole grips for removing obstacles from the propeller
  • Pole and plank on board and in good condition
  • Coal, kindling and firelighters in case the weather turns chilly. I don’t really want to have to light the fire in June but the early mornings can be a bit chilly and I don’t have a central heating system on James which can be used to provide a quick burst of heat as and when I need it.
  • A spare 13kg gas cylinder
  • Spare engine and gearbox oil
  • Spare grease for the greaser
  • Fuel topped up (so I can top it up again when we get back and work out how much fuel my engine user each hour)
  • Bow line, stern line and two centre ropes – all present and in good condition
  • Batteries topped up and holding a charge
  • A map of our cruising route. A good map (I favour Pearson’s) is essential for finding water points, winding holes – turning areas – estimated journey times and quiet mooring spots away from housing, roads and railways.
  • A good set of waterproofs, especially for the helmsman
  • A sense of adventure and anticipation

I discovered that I didn’t have everything I needed, including a means of charging the starter battery. The thought of not being able to start the boat when moored in the middle of nowhere induced a certain amount of panic. I’ve run out of time to tell you about it now. We have a five hour cruise to where I want to moor tonight. We’re currently a mile outside of Braunston on the Rugby side. Once we moor up this evening I’m going to write a post about the first day of the cruise. I’ll explain all about my problem there. Until then, I’m going to enjoy the sunshine and the countryside drifts by at a leisurely 4mph.

 

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.

  • Winter Stoppages 2013/2014 – The Trust carry out essential scheduled repairs during the quieter, cooler months. Here’s their planned stoppages for the coming winter.
  • A New Narrowboat Dog – Alan recently moved on board his own floating home. He loved his new boat but something was missing. Now he has a new best friend and he’s in love, although his new best friend has proven a bit of a challenge.
  • 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.

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