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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 07 07 Newsletter – Enjoy The Summer, Plan For The Winter

Living on a Narrowboat News 7th July 2013

It’s hard staying focussed enough to write the newsletter this time of the year. In the winter it’s easy. The early mornings and evenings are dark and cold so it’s a pleasure sitting in my cosy “office” listening to the wind howling and the rain beating against the window. The last week has been far, far different. Last night after I finished work I tried to write a little more for today’s newsletter but I just couldn’t do it.

I looked at the thermometer. Twenty four degrees at 7.30pm. I looked out of my window at the sun kissed reed fringed peninsula next to James’ mooring, closed my laptop, grabbed a folding camp chair, my Kindle and a bottle of Theakstons Old Peculiar and spent the rest of the evening with an unread Kindle on my lap as I sipped my favourite beer and listened to the birds on a very tranquil marina.

I love living on James all year round but lazy summer evenings are the icing on a very rich and fruity cake. The early mornings are hard to beat too. I’m trying to settle down to finish the newsletter off. It’s 7.30 on Sunday morning. We’ve just finished our Sunday treat, a full English breakfast. Sally’s just left for a twelve hour shift at the care home where she works in Daventry, I’ve made my second cup of coffee of the day and my laptop’s fired up and ready to go.

I don’t think I’ll start just yet though. The sunshine’s calling me. It’s hard to resist, as are the imploring stares from the two eager spaniels at my feet. I think we’ll just have a quick walk through the meadows before I begin…

Anticipating Winter Weather

The weather is beautiful at the moment and set to continue for at least the next week. As the thermometer threatens to head north of thirty degrees, the shops are full of happy sun bronzed boaters buying cool beers and beef for barbecues. It’s the time of year for sitting in the shade doing nothing much at all and watching the world go by. It’s this kind of weather which confirms that you’ve made the right decision to abandon your bricks and mortar in favour of steel and water. It’s wonderful, and I love it.

All too soon though we’ll be facing shorts days and long, dark and cold nights. Nights when sub zero temperatures cause the water to freeze and cause you, the happy summer boater, all kinds of problems you might not have anticipated. Forewarned is forearmed so as you sit in the shade sipping your Pimms, here’s some food for thought for the year ahead.

Over the last three years I’ve been living on my own boat the winters have varied quite significantly. The first winter, the winter of 2010/11, was by far the worst. James was very poorly insulated at the time  and the warped hatches, with gaps wide enough to insert a finger or two, allowed the icy winds to howl through the boat.

There were several conscutive days with a daytime high of minus six and a decidedly chilly minus eighteen overnight. The temperature in my bedroom at the far end of the boat from the stove was rarely above zero. In the engine room just a thin plywood bulkhead away from my bedroom I often discovered up to a quarter of an inch of frost on the pine cladding.

For six weeks the marina and the adjacent canals were impassible due to a layer of ice five inches thick. One morning when I was feeling particularly adventurous I walked on the ice around James. My twelve and a half stone didn’t cause a crack or a creak.

For the full month and a half we couldn’t offer a pump out service. Boats couldn’t reach the pump out station because of the ice and the tap and the rinse and sewage hoses were frozen solid. One moorer was desperate for a pump out. He lived on board, his sewage tank was full and he didn’t have a cassette toilet on board. We offered to help him smash his way through the ice from his mooring and across two marinas to the pump out station.

Navigating through thick ice is a dangerous affair. Pushing through anything more than half an inch of ice will do a better job of removing the protective hull blacking than a shot blaster. But removing the protective paint is the least of your problems. It’s not uncommon for boat owners to punch holes through the steel when negotiating thick ice.

We managed to get him to the far side of the marinas but the cost was high. The owner was fortunately moored stern in so he didn’t have to try to turn when he backed out of a mooring (something which is very difficult indeed in the ice). I helped him move the boat. It was an exhausting affair. Engine power alone wasn’t enough to break the ice so I had to stand in the well deck punching holes through the ice at the front of the boat with his pole. Before we had gone three feet I had snapped the pole in half.

I swapped the wooden pole for a ten foot scaffold pole. For the next hour and a half I would smash a dozen holes in the ice around the bow before the owner would back up thirty of forty feet so he could ram the ice. The need to get his boat across the marinas quickly became an obsession. He gritted his teeth, his eyes glazed over, his knuckles turned white as he gripped the tiller and it was full speed ahead and damn the consequences.

The consequences were that his long suffering wife poked her head through the hatch more and more often as his charges became wilder and less controlled. The resulting crashes into the unyielding ice caused anything inside the boat which wasn’t screwed down to leap off shelves and out of cupboards. Cups and glasses were smashed, his wife fell over twice and an insecure fire extinguisher flew off the wall. Each step closer to the pump out machine was a step closer to irreparable damage to his marriage.

We reached the pump out machine after an hour and a half. Getting the equipment working and doing the pump out took another hour and a half. Ten minutes later he was back on the mooring. The following morning he was frozen in again and planning to have the boat blacked again the following spring.

Most of the time a pump out toilet most boaters would agree that a pump out toilet is the best option on a boat. During the winter the need to move your boat in order to get rid of your waste can present a problem. You don’t have the same problem with a cassette toilet. You can leave your boat where it is and walk with your cassette to a nearly Elsan point. You’ll probably want to have a trolly available though. I use a Porta Potti. The waste tank holds 21 litres so the full tank weighs over 40lb. I don’t like carrying it very far.

There isn’t a problem emptying a cassette in freezing weather but there is often a problem rinsing it out. Unless the rinse hose tap is protected you’ll just have to make do with emptying the cassette contents.

Liquid waste management isn’t the only problem you’ll have in the winter. You need to be able to top up your boat’s water supply on a regular basis. I top up my tank roughly every three days, but topping up is easy for me with a tap just 20′ from the boat’s water tank. In the winter it’s not much more difficult. We turn off the above ground taps at the end of the piers and ask moorers to use better insulated below ground taps which don’t freeze even after the coldest nights.

This facility is only available to moorers in the newer Meadows marina. The original Locks marina has taps which are above ground. They are insulated as much as possible but they usually freeze in the colder months. Ten minutes with a kettle full of boiling water normally thaws them out enough to use.

Moorers at the marina are lucky because all of the boats have taps available just a hose length away from their boats. They don’t need to move their boats to top up the water supply. Boat owners on online moorings often aren’t quite so lucky. Some online are fully serviced with accessible water and electricity but many have neither. Electricity has to be generated on board and water has to obtained from the nearest water point.

Liveaboard blogger Peggy Melmoth illustrates the problems she faces in the winter trying to fill up at a Trust water point in the winter in this charming video. Have a look at it and ask yourself whether you would be prepared to endure this painful water collection process every day when the canal is iced over. I know if would very quickly drive me mad. Maybe it’s one of the aspects of narrowboat life which has encouraged her to sell her boat (I’ll tell you more about her boat sale in a minute).

Maybe you aren’t going to spend the winter on your boat but you still need to be aware of the problems cold weather can cause you.

If you’re going to leave your boat for any length of time over the winter you need to make sure that you either “winterise” your boat or make sure that your boat is warm enough to prevent any water from freezing. Every year we are asked to repair substantial damage to at least one boat caused by freezing water.

Winterising your boat involves turning the water off and draining the system down so that the expended frozen water can’t damage fittings. Winterising your boat is the route to go down if you’re going to be away from your boat for weeks or months at a time. If you are going to visit your boat quite regularly, you won’t want the hassle of winterising and de-winterising every time you visit so hating your boat is maybe the way to go.

In order to heat your boat while you’re away for extended periods, you’ll need access to mains electricity. I use two Dimplex Coldwatcher 500 greenhouse heaters. They stop any water on the boat from freezing even in the coldest weather but I have to run them via my shore line. They wou

Liveaboard Narrowboat For Sale

Peggy Melmoth has been living on her 70′ narrowboat Violet Mae for thirteen years. Circumstances and two young children have dictated that she leaves the water and moves onto dry land. Her boat’s for sales so if you would like to find out more about a ready made floating home, have a look at the details on Peggy’s web site. She says the interior is both beautiful and spacious but admits that the exterior needs a little TLC

Login update

Over the last year or so I’ve been trying to integrate two different software applications so that users can just use one login form for the forum, Narrowbudget (the sites bespoke narrowboat budget calculator) and any purchases made on the site. I’m afraid to say that I’ve failed. The two applications don’t want to “talk” to each other so all too often users were changing a password for one section of the site but it wasn’t being updated elsewhere. It’s been a frustrating experience for me and for quite a few site users. If you’re one of them, please accept my sincere apologies.

Forum LoginI’ve decided to go back to basics. There will be two login forms but most site visitors will only need the login form for the forum. It’s the standard WordPress form which requires your username and password. You’ll find it on the main forum page here. You access the form by clicking on the Log In button on the right hand side of the page. If you can’t remember your user name or password, you can click the “Lost Password” link at the bottom of the form. You will receive an email notifying you of your user name and a link to rest your password if you’ve forgotten it. Once you’ve successfully completed the form you’ll be redirected back to the forum. From now on you should use this form as your default login form.

 

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.

  • Overcrowded Waterways – More and more people are choosing a life afloat. Are the waterways becoming congested?
  • VAT On New Narrowboats – Can you knock 20% off the cost of your new narrowboat?
  • Lock Techniques – How do you handle a narrowboat in a lock on your own?
  • Narrowboat Burglary – Two boats burgled at the same location. Where is it and what can you do to minimise the risk of theft from your own boat wherever you are?
  • Insuring Your Car When You Live On A Boat – A boat owner had his car insurance cancelled when he told them he lives on a narrowboat. How does he approach other insurance companies?
  • Remedies For Sooty Stove Glass – For me, one of the great pleasures of living on a narrowboat is a winter evening in front of a flickering fire. Here’s how you can keep your stove glass clear so you can see the fire in all its glory
  • 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 wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.