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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 06 23 Newsletter – The Cost Of A Two Week Cruise

Living on a Narrowboat News 23rd June 2013

I’ve been back in the real world for a week now. In my previous life as a stressed out business owner, going on holiday usually wasn’t worth the hassle. Even for a two week break I had to spend weeks preparing for my time away. As a small business owner I had to be all things to all men so preparing for a holiday was a nightmare. I had to make sure that staff wages were paid on time, ensure that all outstanding invoices were paid, organise and schedule work for my field based staff, make sure that the office staff knew what they were doing and deal with dozens of outstanding queries and problems. By the time I finally left for my holiday I was usually exhausted. And then when I returned from holiday there would be a new list of problems to deal with.

These days I don’t earn very much but, oh boy, is my life easy. I have no staff to organise, nothing to plan for while I’m away, and absolutely no stress or heartache when I return. I lead a simple life and I love it.

Wildflowers At Calcutt Boats

So I’ve enjoyed my first week back after my holiday. Yesterday I spent a couple of hours mowing a footpath around the edge of two of our wildflower meadows. The grass and flowers were about three feet high so my mower was like a boat sailing on a sea of yellow and purple. And then after my “hard” day’s work I came back to a boat caressed by waving reeds and vivid yellow iris. What a way to earn a living!

Cruising In Your Own Boat – The Cheapest Holiday You Can Buy

I’ve been thinking about our two weeks away over the last few days as I’ve updated my accounts. One of the aspects of a holiday on your own boat is how little it costs you compared with, say, a traditional two week holiday abroad.

A two week holiday in the sun costs you plenty. You need to pay for insurance, the cost of the accommodation, the cost of the flight, airport parking or travel to and from the airport, travel insurance, something nice to wear when you go out, when you go to the beach, when you travel too and from your destination and, of course, lots and lots of spending money while you’re away. In the carefree days before I had children, a two week holiday in Spain for the two of us cost at least £2,500.

Compare that to the cost of two weeks away we’ve just enjoyed on our own boat.

There’s no airport parking, fuel costs to and from the airport, travel insurance or cost of accommodation. And there’s very little need for spending money.

For me it’s enough of a treat to be on a tranquil mooring in beautiful English countryside. I don’t feel the need to dress up and spend a fortune on a meal which, in most cases, I could have cooked better on the boat. I don’t feel the need to dress up and I don’t feel comfortable on the boat wearing “smart” clothes. I would much rather just stay on the James or on the canal or river bank beside the boat, enjoying home cooked food and beer and/or wine at supermarket prices.

Our two weeks away cost us very little more than we would have spent during two weeks at any other time of the year. We used diesel for propulsion which we wouldn’t have used normally. We used a total of 67 litres over 42 hours cruising or 1.6 litres for each hour we travelled. The diesel cost £81.74. Added to that we spent £123.75 on eating out. We didn’t go to any fancy restaurants for dinner in the evening. We had a few fairly low cost pub lunches and a coffee at a waterside cafe every other day.

They’re the only additional expenses for a wonderful two week holiday in beautiful rural England. Less than a tenth of the amount we used to spend on pretty standard foreign holidays.

It’s not just the cost that’s an issue. A holiday abroad, for me, was always stressful. Maybe you feel the same way.

Your location is usually static for the duration of your holiday so you have to ensure that you choose the right accommodation for your stay. It’s always a bit hit and miss because you have to rely on other people’s subjective reviews to find out what it’s like.

Finding the right accommodation is only half the battle. You’ve got to get there first. The journey usually involves a stressful drive to the airport worrying about whether you’ll get there in time, whether you’ve remembered your passports, flight tickets, insurance documents, foreign currency and travellers cheques and your airport parking booking form.

Then you have to endure the tedious wait at the terminal, an even longer and more tedious period on the plane, yet another wait at your destination airport while you collect your baggage, find your transport to the resort and then sit in it for another hour or so. It’s exhausting.

I know where I would rather be these days. The weather is often frustrating in England, but when it’s good, it’s just unbeatable. Our recent two weeks away was typical of a two week period in June. We had four or five days of very warm weather. The rest of the time we experienced some cloud – a lot of cloud – some heavy showers, a period of very blustery weather and some decidedly chilly days.

The weather really didn’t matter. On the hot days we cruised for shorter periods and spent longer moored enjoying stunning views of rolling countryside as we relaxed on the towpath. If the weather was too cool to sit out, we cruised instead. We didn’t have to worry weather we had the right clothes with us because we had all of our clothes with us. We took our floating home on holiday.

As you can probably tell, I love just about every aspect of narrowboat ownership. Super cheap holidays really is the icing on the cake.

New Liveaboard Case Study – Etive II

Mary Anne, fed up paying rent to unappreciative landlords, took out a personal loan and bought herself a floating home. Now she runs her own business from the boat. Just look at the view from her new office!

Life As A Continuous Cruiser

It’s the Holy Grail for many narrowboat owners; the ability to wander along the canals and rivers, without a care in the world, stopping as and when you choose enjoying a life filled with variety and adventure. It’s a goal achieved six years ago by retired narrowboat owner Peter Early. Just over a month ago he started writing weekly blog posts for the site. You can read them here. A word of warning though – if you are disenchanted with your current lifestyle, Peter’s posts are going to turn you green with envy!

Smoke Detectors – Why You Should Have At Least One On Your Boat

In my humble opinion, every narrowboat should have a solid fuel stove as the backbone of their narrowboat heating system. Modern stoves are easy and safe to operate but, of course, there’s always a risk of fire. A smoke detector is essential. Here’s a short article on the subject of smoke detectors and links to a comprehensive online supply.

 

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.

  • Visitor Moorings With Shore Power – Sometimes you need to hook up to the mains when you moor for the night. Where can you find these moorings?
  • Steam Power – Are there any steam powered narrowboats on the network?
  • Lightning – Is there a risk of your narrowboat being struck by lightning?
  • Overplating/Replating – What’s the difference between the two and what’s involved in having the work done?
  • The Logistics Of Buying A Boat – A fascinating account from a potential narrowboat owner as he tried to get a boat out of the water so that it can be suryeyed.
  • 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.