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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2014 03 30 Newsletter – Earning Money On The Cut

After I stepped off the plane at Heathrow after my month away in the sun, the frigid air reminded me why it’s so good to get away from the British weather occasionally. However, after a couple of days of rain during my first week back on the boat, the weather improved so much that I was working in a T shirt for at least a couple of hours on most days. Early signs of a long hot summer, I thought to myself. I always make that mistake in February or March.

This week I have been dressed up like a mummy; polo shirt, padded work shirt, padded waterproof coat (about as waterproof as tissue paper), buffalo hide gloves, fleece hat, trousers and wellington boots. On Wednesday afternoon the weather moderated a little. The sun came out and the outer layers came off as I sat basking in the unfamiliar warmth as I sanded down a wharf-side fence I planned to paint. I was very happy. Unfortunately I didn’t look behind me.

If I had glanced up I would have noticed a solid bank of black clouds creeping up on me from the north. The first I knew of the approaching storm was sudden twilight and pea sized hail bouncing off the back of my neck. The hail, mixed with sleet, lasted five minutes but left a coating of white across the site. Then the sun came out again, and then there was more rain. What a strange country we live in.

I went shopping for shrubs on Thursday. Last week I cleared an area of waste ground at one end of the wharf and removed several self seeded ash and an equal number of blackthorn from two overgrown raised planters. One of the planters is above a rockery between the wharf and our chandlery. I wanted something eye catching as a centre piece for the planter so I’ve chosen a magnolia soulangeana or a tulip tree as it’s often known. Magnolia are prohibitively expensive so the only one I could get within my budget was about three feet high. It will need a few years before it fills the planter so I have surrounded it with mahonia. Mahonia media lives up to its “winter sun” name with bright yellow flowers between November and February.

The second planter is next to the end of the old single Calcutt Top Lock close to where Pat and I installed the cafe decking last year. The powers that be wanted “something prickly” in the planter to stop out of hours site visitors from climbing over it to access the wharf. After spending an hour with pickaxe and crowbar to uproot an established laurel from the edge of the planter, I moved the liberated plant to the front and then planted five berberis behind to keep trespassers out.

I was quite pleased to get the planting out of the way. I had a cup of coffee before returning to our equipment shed to get what I needed for my next mission to find that an unexpected 250 saplings had been delivered by the nursery owner who provided us with our woodland understorey last November.

He had just finished a big project planting thousands of saplings at a wind farm. He had two hundred and fifty left over and knew that we could find a home for them at Calcutt Boats. I added planting a mixture of rowan, field maple, oak, crab apple, wild cherry, hornbeam and fifty wild roses whose name I can’t remember to my list of things to be done sooner rather than later.

Earning A Living While You Cruise

The Holy Grail for many existing and aspiring narrowboat owners is to continuously cruise the canal and river network without a care in the world, stopping when and wherever they please, and generally enjoying a rich, rewarding and stress free life.

Unfortunately, funding such a lifestyle is a problem for many.

I think, although I can’t find any figures to support this at the moment, that there are just over 4,000 narrowboats registered for continuous cruising. However, at least half of these are considered to be none compliant continuous cruisers. These boat owners are also knows as “bridge hoppers” or “continuous moorers” and are on the Trust’s hit list.

Non compliant continuous cruisers are boaters who have declared on their license that they do not have a home mooring because they constantly move around the network. However, the only cruising they do is between two or more locations which need to be fairly close together so they can stay within easy reach of work, schools or healthcare. By doing so they avoid the cost of a residential mooring which, outside London, can be up to £3,000 a year. In London the cost can be double what boaters pay elsewhere.

If you aren’t familiar with the rules regarding continuous cruising you can find out more here.

Of the estimated 2,000 genuine continuous cruisers, most have retired from a life of toil and use either pensions, savings or income from investments to support their leisurely wanderings. A minority, a very small minority, manage to combine constant cruising with earning a living.

Some have a physical place of employment which they must visit to carry out their work. They comply with the continuous cruising guidelines by commuting up to thirty or forty miles from their boat. Others have agreed with their employer to work part time in the office and part time from home (boat). A few use technology to the full and work entirely from their boat for an employer who can be just a just around the corner or, in Monique McNaught’s case, 8,188 miles away.

South African technical writer Monique is moored at Calcutt at the moment. She purchased her narrowboat Pern towards the end of last year. Since then she’s been here while we’ve made the modifications necessary to her boat so that she’s able to work comfortably from her floating office as she cruises the network. Until recently, “cruising the network” involved being moored on a comfortable berth on Calcutt’s Meadows marina until the dreary winter weather improved.

Yesterday, with the thermometer nudging twenty degrees here in rural Warwickshire, Monique decided that enough was enough and set off for pastures new. Before she left, she kindly agreed to share her thoughts on earning a living from the comfort of her boat. Here they are…

“After working for a South African software company for over 10 years, I decided to pack up, come to the UK and live on a narrowboat.  Fortunately the company has a progressive outlook and allows employees to continue working for them as contractors. They currently have programmers, testers and now a technical writer who writes the online help for their programs (me!) working in Canada, Australia, the UK and Ireland.

For me, working from a narrowboat is the same as working from home except that I’m less likely to have friends dropping in for coffee or asking me  to go out somewhere with them. When you work from home on land, people tend to forget that although you are at home you are actually ‘at the office’. This is unlikely to happen when you’re moored alongside a canal, however, it’s important for others sharing the boat with you to understand that you are ‘at the office’ and to keep interruptions to a minimum.

Working away from the office requires you to be disciplined enough to actually sit down and produce the required work. It’s very easy to be distracted or to find something that desperately needs doing immediately, however the ‘no work, no pay’ basis of a contract is usually quite motivational!

If you enjoy the companionship of your work colleagues, then you could find working from home very lonely. Make sure that you are comfortable in your own company and don’t need the continuous human interaction with co-workers. I know some people who are horrified at the thought of not spending time with other people in the office for more than a few days at a time.

Companies are generally loathe to let their employees work from home because they think they’ll lose total control over the amount of work being done and the hours being worked.  This is not true, as productivity can be measured.

If you work for a progressive company and your job can be done away from the office, then suggest working from home on two or three days a week. This gives both you and the company an idea of how well the arrangement works.  If it does, then you could extend this to working from home on a full time basis, either as an employee or, more likely, as a contractor. Depending on the terms of the contract, you could also work for other companies.

With the availability of current technology, many office type jobs can be done from a narrowboat. Consider how many people sit in offices all day and ask yourself whether they actually physically need to be there. Apart from software programmers, testers and writers, people providing telephonic support, telesales and telemarketing come to mind.

Good luck!”

Monique suggests that there is an opportunity for telephone support and telesales workers. She’s right, providing that you are moored in an area where you can actually get a telephone signal. Mobile phone reception is notoriously poor on the canal network. In my limited experience, if you can’t get a phone signal you can often connect to the internet and if you can get a reasonable connection to the internet you can use Skype’s internet to land line and mobile telephone service.

One or two work entirely from their boats but rather than work remotely for an employer, they earn a living working for themselves offering physical services to other boaters.

I know two established and very successful service providers quite well. The first is Tim Davis on NB Shepherds Rest. I’ve detailed his case study below. He’s the victim of his own success. He retired from high flying corporate life to live a life of leisure on the waterways as a continuous cruiser. He couldn’t help himself though. Before long he had designed a robust and very effective solar power system, sourced good quality parts and offered a narrowboat solar power fitting service. Now his service has become so popular that he’s had to stop continuous cruising so that he can moor close to the storage until which he needs to hold his stock. I’ve also heard a rumour that he’s had to employ someone because he can’t cope with the demand. Slow down Tim. You’re supposed to be enjoying some stress free boating!

The second service provider is Matty Smith. I’ve told you about him in the last few newsletters. His range of services is all encompassing. He can sort out your electrics, fix leaks, do some basic carpentry, fix basic problems with your engine or do Martini style boat moving for you (“Anytime, any place, any where!”). He is also so busy he can’t cope with the demand. In fact he’s so busy he hasn’t had time to invoice me for his last visit, hasn’t had time to even speak to the other moorers here who would like to use his service and, most importantly, hasn’t been able to tell me when he can come back here to complete my list of outstanding jobs.

I’ve also been swapping emails this week with a boating friend who has recently decided that retirement doesn’t suit him so he’s set up a business from his boat offering what appears to be a very popular service with fellow boat owners. Allan repairs boat covers including cratch, top box, pigeon box, side and read door and hatch covers. Allan also mentioned in one of his emails to me that he makes insulated curtains for  portholes.

Allan is very happy with the response he’s had to his new business. Like Matty Smith, Allan will be able to earn a living as he continues to cruise the network. He hopes to be able to build his customer base by word of mouth so he asked, as I have a particularly big mouth, if I would give him a mention. Here it is…

Alan Cazaly is currently moored just north of Milton Keynes. If you have a cover on your boat which needs repairing, you can contact him on 07835 228283 and if you want to find out more about Allan and his continuous cruising lifestyle, here’s a case study I did on him two years ago. How’s that Allan?

There’s a huge opportunity within the boating community for you if, like Tim, Matty and Allan, you’re good with your hands. There appear to be a large number of boat owners, often not live aboards, who don’t have the time to do the work themselves or those who live aboard and who, like me, are completely incompetent.

I spoke to a potential boat owner a few weeks ago about earning money while living afloat. He told me that his pension would go a long way towards supporting him as he cruised but that he would need to top it up slightly as he travelled. I suggested that with his engineering background and knowledge of engines he would be able to find the work he needed among the boating community. He agreed that fixing the engines wouldn’t be a problem but said that crawling around the confined spaces of a narrowboat engine bay wouldn’t suit him.

The work is there if you want it but working on a narrowboat moored by the side of the canal is not going to be the most comfortable place to work so you need to be adaptable and fairly hardy.

Over the last two years I’ve been slowly adding case studies of liveaboard boaters to the site. There are now forty nine (let me know if you would like to be number fifty). Close to twenty five percent of them earn some or all of the income necessary for a gypsy lifestyle from the comfort of their boats. I’ve listed them below. I’ve included my own case study. Although I’m not yet a continuous cruiser, the goal I set myself four years ago – to become self sufficient from the guides I write so that I can cut my ties to a particular geographical location and cruise where I please – is edging closer to completion. Here are the case studies.

Clay Hammer – I was until I was made redundant in August this year. Now I’m ‘freelance’  and looking at rekindling my photography and web development expertise as well as starting some wood turning.

Lorien – Yes I am an Area Manager for a charity and my partner has his own business.

Antioch – Yes. I’m a freelance writer and run my own copywriting business. I also invigilate for exams at a local FE college. And I home educate my two younger children.

Shepherds Rest – Up until recently I was a time served boat builder.  I now run Onboard Solar which specialises in solar power systems for boats, providing an all-in-one service:  making sure you get the right sized system, supply of all the components, professionally fitted to your boat by myself, all for a fixed price!  I also work in tandem with Baddie the Pirate who is a liveaboard boater who supplies LED lighting for boats.

Blue Moon – Yes, I’m a graphic designer

Hobo – Freelance writer

Snowdrop – Writes children’s books

Tournesol – Keith was in the Navy for 26 years and then the prison service until he took early retirement and I was a professional counsellor working for the NHS and East Kent education authority before I took early retirement. I started a non-profit-making website called Counselling In France in 2003 and that is still going and growing all the time, plus I run a small business designing websites called Windoweb so I am still doing that, although that is mainly for enjoyment as it makes very little profit. I also run a small sideline selling porthole doilies from a website and I also sell as we go along with the help of a board on the roof – people see the doilies in our portholes and stop to look at the ones I have for sale. We are 60 and 65 this year so we are feeling a bit better off with old-age pensions kicking in, which is just as well with the price of diesel!

The Watchman – I’m a freelance writer. I write for magazines such a BBC Wildlife, the Spectator, most of the boating magazines and many more besides. I also write text for museum displays and my first book ‘The Liveaboard Guide’ is due to be published any day now. Its a nots and bolts guide to living afloat, warts and all, and it has lots of anecdotes and case studies and stories too. This helps to give the reader a real flavour of what boat life is actually like; the lifestyle and the types of people who are suited to it.

Far Star – Having retired from my stressful administration position, I now spend my days painting canal artwork – small projects of household goods, including Buckby cans. From spring to early winter I also work as a part time jobbing gardener – tending gardens for folk who can no longer manage it. It is very satisfying work, but would not make me a living. I am very lucky that with Ian working, I am able to do this.

Osprey – Phil is retired. I am a freelance musician and I work part time. I do two days teaching a week in term time, run two music websites, play for weddings and work for an examination board.

James – This is my own case study. Although we are close to achieving our objective of cruising the network while we continue to earn a living, we aren’t quite there yet. Sally has the income from her property and I have the income from the sales I make through this site.  Shortly after I set up the site I committed to the long term goal of achieving a pension from sales of something or other.

Four years later, I have written and published four guides, developed a bespoke narrowboat lifestyle budget calculator and put everything together in a very reasonable package. There aren’t enough people interested in the lifestyle or, more importantly, prepared to spend the small amount necessary to find out how much the lifestyle will cost them to earn me a living but it helps and the income is growing slowly. A  while ago I calculated my hourly rate for working on the site considering the time I’ve put in so far and the expenses I’ve incurred to get where I am. I had to go and have a rest in a darkened room when I realised that the average burger flipper earns about four times as much as me!

Making Money Online

If none of this real work suits you, you can try one of the bewildering number of money making programmes you will find on line instantly by making the simplest of searches. One of the better known ways of making money on line is by becoming an affiliate and earn prodigious amounts of money for  promoting other people’s products. There are a few who make a very good living online by doing this but the majority fail.  I tried it years ago and failed miserably. I know one or two boaters who have also gone down the affiliate route recently. They failed too.

One of the better known affiliate programmes is offered by Amazon. If you refer anyone to Amazon and they buy a product, you get 5% of the sale price. The percentage rises slightly as the number of sales you make in a given period increases.

I am an Amazon affiliate. I don’t push products which I don’t use myself and as Amazon aren’t a great source of boating equipment, working as an affiliate for them earns me virtually nothing at all. Take this month for example; so far I have earned the princely sum of £2.92. This year, nearly three months gone, I have earned £27.63. That’s from one of the more popular boating sites on t’internet with 24,586 different people visiting it during the first quarter.

My greatest ever Amazon success was when I recommended the most comfortable footwear I’ve ever had and which is perfect for use on the boat – Crocs (Yes, that is an affiliate link). I earned myself just £8 after I mentioned them in a newsletter which went out to nearly 5,000 people and where the main subject was keeping your feet warm on board.

I’m never going to get rich from Amazon.

There are one or two genuine opportunities on the internet where you can earn a little extra money for doing searches with a particular search engine, watching promotional videos and filling out surveys. One such opportunity which is totally above board is Swagbucks.

Swagbucks is never going to provide you will a full time income but you can earn a little extra money in exchange for completing daily Swagbucks tasks; internet searches, completing surveys and watching videos. I’ve spoken to one enthusiastic boater who has been using the service for nearly a year. He says that with very little effort, once you know a few tips and tricks, you can hit your daily targets while you are sitting in your pyjamas eating breakfast. The boater in question has earned an extra £300 in the last nine months. So has his partner. He says that once he has retired from full time employment, each of them will earn £600 a year from the service without much more effort than they are putting in at the moment.

A word of caution. Earning money through this site requires a reasonable internet connection to watch the videos which earn you points and filling in the surveys requires to to give marketing companies your contact details. I had a quick play around with the service but, because I was in a hurry, I entered my bona fide email address and mobile phone number. Before I realised what was happening, my email inbox was filling with unwanted offers and I had several phone calls from companies following up on my expressed interest. I ended up with an appointment with Optical Express to discuss several thousand pounds worth of laser eye surgery and a very persuasive call from a smooth tongued salesman offering me a great deal on breast implants for Sally. I subsequently cancelled the Optical Express appointment and I’m still waiting for the right opportunity to discuss the subject of the other offer with Sally.

If you are interested in using the service you can sign up for free here. You can even get off to a flying start with a bonus if you enter “FreeGiftCards” (without the speech marks) in the box labelled “I have a sign up code” at the bottom of the signup form. Once you have signed up, you can find out the tips and tricks you need to maximise your earnings by reading this thread on the Money Saving Expert web site.

There you are. I hope I’ve given you a few pointers in the right direction if you are considering trying to earn a living afloat. If you’re already earning money while you cruise the waterways, maybe you would like to share your story with others. Email me to tell me how you do it.

After all that hard work, even if it’s only reading about it, you need a rest. How about a short break on a boat?

My First Holiday Afloat

To many bricks and mortar home owners, many boats appear quite basic and lacking in the levels of comfort and convenience taken for granted in a home on dry land. However, standards in both build quality and on board facilities have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.

Forty years ago. regular site visitor Julie Phillips and her then husband hired a cruiser for a belated honeymoon on the canal network. If you have ever thought that the facilities on an average narrowboat are a bit basic, after reading Bev’s account you’re likely to change your mind. Here’s her story…

“Ah, I can remember it well. The first holiday in a narrowboat. It was enough to put anyone off canal holidays for life.

We’d been married for six months and were taking a belated honeymoon in September 1974. My only experience of canal holidays up to that point were the occasional canoe weekends down the Grand Union not far from Alperton, Wembley. Eskimo rolls were not to be recommended!

Having picked up (almost literally) our fibre-glass cruiser from near Stoke Hammond on the GUC, we were going to head north-west to Warwick. The boat was fitted with an outboard motor and the living accommodation was spartan, to say the least. We were somewhat disappointed to discover the first night that the double bed was, in fact, not. The middle section was missing, so we ended up sleeping in separate bunks for the whole of our ‘honeymoon’ fortnight. Not exactly what we had planned. The galley consisted of a sink (that doubled as a wash basin) and minute cooker. Opposite that was the heads. Actually it was a bucket with a loo seat on the top and boy did it stink. However if you kept the door shut and the sliding window open it wasn’t too bad. The saloon was our two bunks (minus the table) that disappeared under the lower front section of the deck. Headroom was limited, as I am not very tall I could stand upright inside the cabin, but my husband had to stoop once he got past the cooker. The aft deck had a seat for the ‘captain’ to steer from and a bench seat that was a third berth?! It would only have been useful for a very small child.

Having set off, we discovered the first of many little foibles about this craft. It did not steer in a straight line. If fact it did not steer, and neither did we. We used to wend our way up the cut, veering from side to side and never did manage to get it to go where we wanted it to. I’ve subsequently sailed in yachts with outboards and have never had the same problem as we had with this boat. However, we made it up past Cosgrove and decided to call it quits for the night. It was at this point that I was pestered by a wasp. My husband shouted to me to stand still, that way I would not get stung. Oh, how wrong he was, and how much did I tell him such, once he had ministered first aid to my stings!

The next morning we set off and after much banging and crashing decided it was easier if we both disembarked and hauled the boat through the locks. I have done this recently with a 62 ft steel-hulled narrowboat and I have to say the fibre-glass one was much easier, the only thing it had in its favour! We spent time wandering round the museum at Stoke Bruerne and having lunch in the café before venturing into the Blisworth Tunnel. The candle on the front of the boat didn’t give us much indication as to where we were going and, added to the weaving motion and the fact that the tunnel is not straight, made things, well, interesting. Then we met our first steel-hulled working boat coming in the opposite direction. To say that we were s**t scared was putting it mildly. It felt as if we had been pushed half way up the side of the tunnel. They were not taking any prisoners and didn’t slow down at all. By the time we made it through to the other end we had encountered over 8 boats coming towards us and none of them filled us with any desire to meet another one. We moored up at Blisworth and had a stiff drink, or two, in the pub before turning in for the night.

Following our experiences in the Blisworth tunnel, we decided on different tactics for Braunston. We moored up in the cutting just before the tunnel and got up extremely early the next morning, ran through without meeting another boat and then moored up for a cooked breakfast the other side.

We had an uneventful trip down through Braunston and out along towards Napton until we got a plastic bag wrapped round the prop. My husband, who was steering, insisted I took the bow rope and jump off onto what appeared to be a nice flat dry area on the off-side. You probably know what happened next! I didn’t have much choice actually, as we were heading in that direction and we couldn’t steer at this point. I jumped off onto this nice flat dry bit of crust and sank up to my knees. My husband thought this was hillarious and I nearly divorced him (actually it would probably have been an annullment, bearing in mind the sleeping arrangments!). Having removed the offending bag from the prop, he then managed to extract me from the mire, leaving behind my costly and virtually brand new Scholl sandals in the mud. Moral, wear wellies all the time, or cheap sandals.

The rest of our journey up to Warwick was quite uneventfull. We had got fairly used to the steering and only weaved a little bit by this time, usually when there was someone coming towards us. Leamington Spa was explored, as was Warwick itself and then we had the return trip to contend with.

All went well, we used our trick of going through the tunnels early, but came unstuck at Blisworth when it seemed that others had the same idea. However we came out unscathed, shame about the boat though. It was at this point that the weather, previously sunny with only the occasional shower, decided to test our waterproof clothing. The outfits were fine, the boat was not. The front window leaked like a sieve. By the time we realised we had a problem, one set of bedding was soaked, mine. His was fine, typical. In a gesture of goodwill, he suggested we both tried to cram ourselves into one 2ft bunk. Needless to say, neither of us got any sleep (no sniggering) and I ended up sleeping on the cabin floor up by the sink to avoid the bucket catching the water pouring through the window.

The next day we went past the Navy, well, it looked like a small, very small, frigate, actually. I think there was also a submarine but am a bit hazy on that. We decided to moor up at Wolverton where, rumour had it, there was a swimming pool. Having found it, it appeared that we were the only people there, apart from the staff who were in the process of closing it down. Having had a swim, I was looking forward to a lovely hot shower, especially as I was getting a bit whiffy. It’s ok having a good wash down but with no bath or shower for 10 days I was definitely in need of one. It soon became apparent that they had turned the heating off at the beginning of the week and I ended up with an extremely cold shower. As it was still raining and we were not far from the boatyard, we decided to take the boat back two days early. Then we went into Milton Keynes and splashed out on a projector and screen so that we could view all the slide photos we (ok, ok, HE) had taken of our never-to-be-forgotten honeymoon, followed by a quick drive back home to a lovely hot bath, dry clothes and …………….. well, you can fill in the rest!!

But we were hooked on the canals, so for our next holiday in 1976 we decided to go for the safer option and had Wild Sorrell II, a steel-hulled narrowboat from Calcutt, the first of many, but that’s another story.”

Can you remember your first trip or the experience which hooked you on narrowboats? Would you like to share the experience with other narrowboat enthusiasts? Please email me if you have a story to tell.

Legal Advice For boat Buyers

Two weeks ago I published some information about the logistics of buying and paying for a boat.

Earlier in the week I was trawling through the latest edition of Waterways World when I noticed an advert offering advice on the subject. I emailed the solicitor responsible for the advert asking him if he would like to submit an article for the site. He kindly agreed. Here it is…

REPENT AT LEISURE? – A Guide to Buying a Used Canal Boat

PETER CROWLEY, Solicitor*

Introduction – An Everyday Story of Canal Folk

 Your nest-egg is burning a hole in your pocket. That first narrowboat holiday last year was idyllic and now all you want is to be able to repeat that idyll on demand by “investing” in your own boat to potter contentedly around the waterways of the United Kingdom.

 You’re a grown-up. You think carefully about major decision-making. You are no mug. Of course you aren’t.

 You buy the current Canalcraft Monthly (the name is fictitious, of course) and trawl the “Boats for Sale” pages, drooling a little.

 One new-ish boat in particular takes your fancy, offered by a broker some distance away. So you drive over to have a look at it lying afloat in what is – even to your relatively unpractised eye – a rather down-at-heel marina. However it’s love at first sight and after a brief test run you agree to buy it. But, being no mug, not until you have checked that it has a CE mark showing compliance with the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD). It has, with just over a year of its four-year validity still to run.

 The broker points out the one or two minor-looking repairs that he says will be done by the present owner before the boat is delivered. In particular the engine is smoking a bit so he’ll get the timing adjusted.

 You sign your deposit cheque there and then, and stump up the balance a week later, becoming the proud owner of your dream boat.

 Except your dream quickly becomes a nightmare. Several hours later the engine’s smoking like mad; after several days the boat has developed an ever-increasing list; the batteries don’t hold their charge, and when you sleep aboard you wake up in the morning with a foul headache. Oh yes: and a month into your ownership there’s a persistent bloke from a bank who’s turned up at the boat twice, saying that there’s a mortgage secured on the boat and he’d like his money – like, now, please.

 You ask the broker to take the boat back and give you a refund, but he says you’d agreed to buy the boat “as seen” (which is news to you), so there’s nothing he can do for you. And the bloke from the bank is getting very persistent. You don’t really know who the previous owner is: all your dealings were with the broker. The only paper records you have are the broker’s receipts for the deposit and balance.

 Another boat-owner puts you in touch with a reputable repair yard. Tsk-tsking as only repairers looking at a lucrative job can, they tell you the engine is clapped-out and will need replacing or at least a complete overhaul, there are several leaks through various defective skin fittings and the propshaft, and the LPG system is leaking and lethal. And so on. Fixing the defects could cost nearly as much as you paid for the boat.

 In despair you turn to an appropriately-experienced solicitor for advice – and over a thousand quid of solicitors’ fees later the bank’s still on your back, and your dream boat languishes at its mooring, its licence revoked by the Canal and River Trust (formerly British Waterways), running up insurance premiums and mooring fees, going nowhere and driving you to despair.

 So how to avoid such disasters? Read on!

 Shop Around

 Try not to fall in love too quickly. Look at several boats at several places. Get a better feel for the market and the sort of prices similar-looking boats are going for. If you lose a season’s owner-cruising, what the hell? You’ll be that much better placed to make an informed and therefore safer choice when the time comes.

 Look and Listen

 The word gets around about bad boats and bad people. Force yourself to visit local canal-side pubs and ask about the boat and/or its seller or broker. If there are any horror-stories they’ll soon come out. It’s up to you whether you believe them or not.

 Go onto the internet if you can. Especially if you’re contemplating buying from a commercial owner or a broker you might find comforting or worrying news from a “blog” site. Don’t be fooled by glossy websites: it might just mean that the proprietor’s 13-year-old son’s a bit of a computer whiz.

 Ask your prospective seller (if he’s a commercial owner) or the broker for some references from previous customers. He should be happy to come up with a couple of satisfied contacts. If not, why not?

 The Value of BSSCs

 Since 1998, with limited exceptions, boats used within the European Union must be built to comply with the RCD. Compliant boats are “CE marked” and have various accompanying documents.

 Very generally speaking, a Boat Safety Scheme Certificate (BSSC) is compulsory for all non-CE-marked canal boats, and for CE-marked canal boats more than four years old which aren’t totally open to the elements and only have an outboard engine without any heating or electrical systems. If in doubt, contact the Canal and River Trust, which administers the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS), or look on your computer.

 In many ways a BSSC is equivalent to a car’s MOT certificate – it demonstrates that, on that date, the boat has been examined and found to comply with certain specified safety requirements. It absolutely isn’t a guarantee of the boat’s general satisfactory condition – or that that safety compliance will continue: it is the owner’s responsibility to maintain that compliance throughout the BSSC’s period of validity, just as it is with an MOT’d car.

 The BSS examination is of the tick-box type, each section’s questions dealing with compliance with the relevant safety (the crucial word) aspect – engine and fuel system, electrical and LPG installations, ventilation, and so on. Don’t expect a BSSC to confirm that all safety-related aspects of the boat are satisfactory. That’s not its function. Look at the website and familiarise yourself with its scope. Within that scope, the examination requirements are pretty comprehensive.

 However, it appears that there is a lot of competition for this work; so sometimes, in my experience, some examiners (they are all self-employed) sometimes don’t do their job as thoroughly as they should because they feel that their fees are uneconomical for the work that would be involved in doing a conscientious examination. They rely more upon their experience (or presumed experience) and/or their relationship with the seller or broker than actual item-by-item, box-by-box, examination of the BSS-covered systems.

 The good news is that the BSS requires its examiners to have professional indemnity (PI) insurance in place. So if your boat’s BSSC has been issued negligently, you may be able to get some redress from the examiner and his insurers if you can establish a link between the defective BSSC and the financial losses you have suffered.

 The BSS may also take disciplinary action against a negligent examiner, ranging from retraining to de-certifying.

 Get a Survey

 Any sale contract should be on terms that completion of the sale is subject to a satisfactory survey of the boat. It’s your fundamental safeguard. If the seller is reluctant for any reason, walk away.

 In particular because of the relatively limited scope of the BSSC examination, a sensible prospective buyer should always arrange a pre-purchase survey – and not by the chap who issued the BSSC. Better to spend a couple or three hundred quid (or whatever) on an independent survey on a boat you then decide not to buy, than to go ahead without a survey and buy an over-priced pup. If you want the surveyor’s opinion as to the market value of the boat, be prepared to pay extra.

 And don’t ask your seller or the broker to recommend a surveyor: there is too much risk of a conflict of interest, however well-intentioned the advice you are given. Ask around, or go to one of the professional bodies like the Yacht Designers and Surveyors Association (YDSA), who will put you in touch with local and appropriately experienced surveyors.

 Check that your surveyor has valid PI cover. Ask to see the current insurance certificate – he should be happy to demonstrate to you that he takes his professional duties seriously enough to provide for the unlikely possibility of his fouling up.

 If he is a YDSA surveyor, he will definitely have PI cover: it’s a requirement of membership.

 If he isn’t a member of a body like the YDSA, ask for a couple of references, and contact them. They’ll be boat-owners and therefore by definition be happy to talk to you about their experiences.

 Pre-purchase surveys come in many shapes and forms, from the quick still-afloat once-over to a very thorough nooks-and-crannies exercise, complete with opening-up panels, open-water trial and haul-out for an osmosis check or ultrasonic thickness-testing.

 It’s your choice; but, obviously enough, more work means more fee. But maybe more peace of mind. Up to a point, your surveyor should be able to advise you as to a prudent level of inspection, dependent in large measure upon the age and type of the boat and the sort of use it appears to have had. But of course he’ll very properly tend to err on the side of caution, because the more he does the better the chance of revealing any hidden defects.

 Get a Contract

 Despite the old saw that it isn’t, a verbal (“oral”) contract is worth the paper it’s [not!] written on. The only thing is that because there’s no written record of what precisely was agreed, verbal contracts can be open to misunderstanding or even downright misrepresentation. Written contracts are a much better idea when you’re spending a lot of money.

 So if you’re buying through a broker, insist upon a written, preferably standard-form, contract. Take it away and read it very carefully; and see the penultimate paragraph of this section. If you are in any doubt, ask an appropriately-experienced solicitor for advice.

 If someone is holding himself out as a broker and doesn’t have a standard-form contract instantly available, be afraid, be very afraid. He could be a cowboy.

 If you are buying direct from a private individual or through a broker, you must get (and preferably visit or otherwise check out) the seller’s home address, and insist upon that subject-to-satisfactory-survey clause, and a contract provision that if the survey reveals any defect or defects that (I suggest) could in total cost 5% or more of the agreed price to remedy, then you can reject the boat and get your deposit money back, or the seller must get the work professionally done himself within a sensibly short time before the sale is completed and the balance payable.

 It’s an obvious point, but you should remember that recovering money from private individuals can be very much more difficult and expensive than from established businesses. Lots of money for lawyers; lots of grief for clients. Avoid getting into that sort of situation if you possibly can. Unless you’re a paid-up masochist, being involved in litigation is hell.

 Always ask for some proof of ownership and provenance – for example the bill of sale or other receipt for at least the previous two sales. And rather like with a car-purchase, seeing a “full service history” with the right customer name gives more peace of mind.

 It’s always a good idea to formalise the sale or purchase of a boat by means of a proper Bill of Sale, even if the boat is not registered. Use the UK Ship Register’s form MSF 4705, downloadable from their website. Usefully, MSF 4705 includes a warranty (a contractual promise) that the boat is “free from encumbrances” – i.e. it has no outstanding debts that could interfere with your quiet enjoyment of the boat.

 But always bear one absolutely vital thing in mind: you can have the best contract known to man in your hand, but its protection isn’t a guarantee that the other party will be willing or able to perform it, or pay your valid claims under it. Hence caveat emptor (let the buyer beware).

 Check with the UK Ship Register if the boat is a registered as a British ship in Part 1 of the Register: if it is, then for a canal boat or any fairly small pleasure craft this will probably be because it is the subject of a current “marine mortgage” and the lenders have insisted upon Part 1 registration so that they can protect their interest in the boat by getting it noted on the boat’s entry in the Register. In this case you will take on the burden of the mortgage upon purchase unless it is discharged and the Registry informed before completion of the sale to you.

 Be warned, though: the practice of a lender insisting on Part 1 registration is declining, with the lender taking the risk of unsecured default. So the absence of Part 1 registration isn’t a sure-fire indication of the absence of an outstanding mortgage that could come and bite you later.

 By this point in this section, if you haven’t despaired and slit your wrists, you will be relieved to read that the Royal Yachting Association (RYA) has a form of contract for non-business parties that should make your job easier. It is aimed at yachts, but can be easily “cobbled” to suit a canal boat. I strongly recommend that you use it, or something like it. But you’ve got to join the RYA to get your hands on a copy.

 Think how much paperwork is involved in buying a car from a garage. Why should this be any different? You’re probably paying a lot more for your boat than you would for a car – quite possibly with much less come-back if she’s a dog; so be prepared to wade through a bit of bumf before you sign on any dotted lines. Both parties should be satisfied that their interests and rights are properly protected. Be suspicious of the quick-sale merchant.

 If It Still Goes Pear-Shaped

 In my nightmare scenario at the beginning of this article, our unfortunate owner has several things to do if he is to have any hope of achieving a less-awful outcome.

 The first thing he must do is to take as many photographs of the boat in its defective condition as he can, and make a comprehensive but sensible list the defects, so that there is a contemporaneous record to show to people. If the photos carry a date, so much the better. Photos taken months after the event, or after repairs have begun, are much less useful.

 Then he should contact the seller and demand – nicely at this stage – that the seller take the boat back and refund the price, or (if the defects are less serious) get them fixed. If the buyer meets with a refusal or prevarication, he’ll almost certainly be in for a fight, with all the attendant grief and expense. If only he’d read this article before buying!

 Faced with the likelihood of a dispute, formal or otherwise, he must then get the boat surveyed – not by the original surveyor, in case his negligence has prompted the purchase – to get an expert and unbiased view of what the defects actually are.

 The surveyor might be able to include an estimate of the cost of repairs in his report, but in any event it is advisable to get at least two estimates from repair yards, based upon the surveyor’s findings. (Quotations are better if possible, but it’s likely that any reputable repairer will baulk at committing himself to a fixed figure in case other, hidden, problems appear as the work progresses.)

 If he thinks it is worthwhile, our unfortunate buyer should then send the seller copies of the report and estimates and invite him – firmly, this time! – to reconsider his refusal to put things right, or face legal proceedings. Give the seller 14 days to comply.

 On Day 15, if he has heard nothing constructive, our buyer should consider whether or not the size of his claim warrants the commencement of legal proceedings. Dithering will simply delay the day when he can breathe a sigh of relief and put a terrible experience behind him. I recommend that you find a solicitor who knows about pleasure craft. He might charge you a bit more per hour (note that lawyers do charge: they aren’t registered charities!), but hopefully he’ll get the right result more quickly and save you money and grief as a consequence.

 Be warned: if your claim is worth less than £10,000 it will be allocated by the Court to the Small Claims “track” – in which case it’s very unlikely indeed that your legal costs (apart from Court fees) will be recoverable from the seller if you succeed. Factor that in.

 And above all remember my “litigation is hell” warning above. It eats you up, both financially and emotionally. If you can afford to walk away – walk away.

 The Lessons

 Don’t rush into a purchase. Make sure you’re 110% satisfied that the boat you want is everything it’s cracked up to be, and that the price is right.

 Be prepared to pay for the advice that gives you peace of mind.

 Establish that the person giving you that advice has PI insurance in case he gets it wrong.

 Don’t forget that “used” means just that – it’s been used. You can’t properly expect new-build condition throughout – unless that’s what the seller tells you, and it’s reflected in the contract and the price. And even then, don’t be fooled: the boat might be advertised as a couple of years old but the engine might be a Fred Dibnah’s-delight 1947-vintage model, in its umpteenth hull but still hopefully chugging happily away. If you want an unblemished boat, buy new. In boat-buying as in everything else, you pays for what you gets.

 Happy cruising!

 *Peter Crowley is a Consultant to solicitors Swinnerton Moore LLP in London. He has nearly 40 years’ experience as a maritime lawyer, including 25 years of pleasure-craft litigation. He acts for builders, buyers, sellers, repairers, insurers and surveyors. He gives clients effective and cost-effective advice. That way he sleeps at night.

 Peter can be contacted on 020 7236 7111 or peter@swinmoore.com

© Peter Crowley 2014

…And just to finish off, some further information from Sean Milligan regarding loans and boat registration…

“My experience with buying and selling boats is limited to sea going vessels. However, I would suggest that anyone doing so on the canals would do well to search the RYA website as it has a lot of relevant information including standard contracts for purchasing a vessel and bill of sale. The RYA has an inland waterways section so membership may well prove worth while as it gives access to more information and legal advice.

I did once secure a bank loan on a boat, strangely enough with the Clydesdale Bank. However, this facility is only available for a boat that is on the full register of British shipping – commonly refered to as “part one” as this allows mortgages to be recorded. The simpler Small Ships Register (SSR) does not provide any proof of ownership, so can not be used to secure finance. Registration is only a legal requirement if a vessel is going foreign so it is very unlikely that anyone would register a narrow boat.”

Last But Not Least…

Last week I published links to two new bloggers on the site. Ian Canham has added another fascinating episode to his adventure. He spent two weeks stuck in the heart of Manchester surrounded by the noise and lunacy which is part and parcel of living in a major city. In this post he manages to escape from the dirt and the danger and heads towards the tranquil life he hopes to achieve on board.

I Need Some Help!

Each time I write a newsletter, I tick another subject off the list of things which those new to boating have told me that they want to read about. The hardest part of the process isn’t the writing itself, it’s constantly thinking of new content for each issue. The trouble is, I don’t know what you want to read. I think I keep the newsletters reasonably interesting but I don’t know for sure. That’s where I need your help.

Can you let me know what you would like to read in the future? Are there any areas of narrowboat life you don’t think I’ve covered enough or areas which I’ve missed completely? Please let me know what you want to read about. Thanks for your help.

Newsletter Index

I created the site just over three years ago to provide a source of information for anyone interested in narrowboats and the possibility of living on one full time.  The site has grown to encompass a comprehensive listing of inland marinas in England and Wales, dozens of articles, a forum and regular newsletters. I’ve already created (below) indexes of the site articles and the more popular forum posts. I thought it was about time I created an easy to use index of the newsletter content. Here’s the index so far.

23rd March 2014

Sharing your narrowboat space – The practicalities of sharing living accommodation the same size as a large shed.

16th March 2014

Paying for a narrowboat – What practical steps can you take to ensure you’ve established legal ownership and how do you deal with the transfer of monies between buyer and seller?

9th March 2014

Narrowboat Knots – At my first lock on my first cruise I watched my boat drift into the centre of the canal along with my twelve year old son. If you want to avoid the same embarrassment and potential damage to both your boat and your self esteem, you need to know how to tie your boat securely in a number of different situations.

2nd March 2014

Toilets is a subject often discussed by narrowboat owners but they usually talk about either pump out or cassette toilets. There is a third type though and it’s one which is both environmentally friendly and cheap to run. Here’s all you need to know about composting toilets.

23rd February 2014

Boat owners who live on board are considered to have a pretty simple and basic life by many living in bricks and mortar homes. Compared with the lifestyle of the farmers I’ve been staying with in the Philippines though, my UK life seems overly materialistic and expensive. Cou

16th February 2014

Here’s an account of my very first winter on board and that of one of the site’s subscribers, Nigel Buttery. They’re very different experiences. My first winter was the coldest on record. Nigel’s is one of the mildest winters we’ve had for a long time.

I’ve also included to links to my Philippines blog. I spent the whole of February living in a rural farming community on the island of Negros.

9th February 2014

Have you ever wondered how a narowboat is built. Here are the first two parts of a very detailed account of the building of a Sea Otter aluminium narrowboat. You’ll be particularly interested in Sea Otters if you don’t fancy the constant battle with rust that you have with traditional steel narrowboats.

2nd February 2014

Condensation is something all boat owners have to deal with. Here’s an explanation of why it occurs and what to do about it. I also tested a remote boat monitoring application in this issue.

26th January 2014

Cold floors, cold air above the floors and cold hull sides. It’s a combination which can cause your bottom half quite a bit of discomfort. Here’s what I do to deal with the problem.

19th January 2014

Weil’s disease – It’s an often talked about and often feared aspect of living, working or playing close to inland waterways but just how dangerous is it and what can you do to keep yourself safe?

12th January 2014

If you’re on a budget maybe a self fit our sailaway is the way to go for you. Here’s the story of a wide beam self fit out to give you inspiration (or put you off completely)

5th January 2014

Planning for the year ahead – Written plans and goals have always been important to me. They help me see into the future. Here’s what we’ve planned for our lovely floating home in 2014.

29th December 2013

The practicality of hosting Christmas afloat – How do you achieve a floating festive event (and do you really want to)?

Liveaboard case study, The Pearl – Tony and Jane Robinson believe in forward planning. They stated their narrowboat fund thirty years before buying their own boat. Now the two retired education workers moor in a marina for the winter then explore the waterways during the warmer months.

22nd December 2013

Narrowboat Storage Space – How much space is there to store your worldly goods on board a narrowboat? Here’s a video walk-through of my own boat James.

15th December 2013

Roses and Castles Canal Art – What is it and why do boaters spend so much money decorating their boats with it?

8th December 2013

Fitting secondary double glazing – Fitting the panels is a simple operation for those with the most basic DIY skills, something which I sadly haven’t developed. As you might expect then, the fitting didn’t go as well as it should.

Narrowboat videos – I launched the Living On A Narrowboat YouTube channel

1st December 2013

Secondary double glazing for your boat – The pros and cons of double glazing on a boat and why secondary double glazing is a much better bet and a fraction of the cost.

Living on a narrowboat vidoes – My first hesitant steps into the world of video production for site content

Can you either live or holiday on a narrowboat if you have a disability? – Here’s what you need to know.

24th November 2013

Winter fuel allowance – Do you qualify for one if you live on a boat?

Case Study – NB Progress. Kim Wainwright recorded her journey on the forum from nervous anticipation to current liveaboard boat owner. Here’s her story.

17th November 2013

Narrowboat central heating – I don’t have any. All that is about to change. Here’s the system I’m going to install and why I’ve chosen it.

10th November 2013

Narrowboat running costs – I compare my own running costs to those of a prominent YouTube video blogger and detail my exact costs for October 2013

3rd November 2013

Popular narrowboat terminology – Hundreds or words or phrases used to describe parts of boats and the waterways they cruise through.

27th October 2013

The wind chill factor – How strong the wind is blowing and which direction it’s coming from can determine how difficult it is to heat your boat. Here’s what you need to know.

Case study – Another couple from down under living the dream on the inland waterways.

20th October 2013Condensation. It’s a common problem on boats. Here are a few suggestions how to keep your boat’s interior dry.

A new organisation for liveaboard boaters

13th October 2013

On demand water heater problems – Discover a common fault with these water heaters and what you can do to resolve the problem.

Know your firewood – Not all timber burns well. Find out which is best and which to avoid.

6th October 2013

Managing your boat’s water supply. You can use your water supply as and when you need it when you live in a house with all mod cons. You can pretty much do the same when you’re on a marina mooring with a water supply just a hose length away. It’s a different kettle of fish when you’re on an online mooring.

Liveaboard case study – A prime example of mooring without a water supply on tap.

29th September 2013

The folly of using unseasoned wood as a fuel – Here’s essential information if you plan to use logs you find to heat your boat for free

Creating lasting memories of your cruises – Slightly off topic, but please bear with me. You’ll have some wonderful adventures as you travel throughout the network. They’ll be adventures worth remembering but will you remember them? I have a very poor memory but instant and total recall of all my cruises is just a click away.

22nd September 2013

A tragedy at Calcutt. Sudden Oak Dieback hits our 1,500 twenty year old oak trees

Forum private messaging – Now you can email other forum users from within the site

15th September 2013

Managing your water supply

An American blogs about his travels

1st September 2013

Solving engine room leaks – A simple solution to a dripping stern tube

All about the weed hatch – Removing debris from your propeller

8th September

A disaster – I inadvertently deleted this week’s newsletter and there wasn’t a backup on the server. What a shame. It was all about the damage you can do to your boat if you don’t watch what you’re doing in a lock. You would have loved it!

25th August 2013

Effective fly killers for boats

The downside to living on a narrowboat

Liveaboard Case Study – American Richard Varnes has taken a year out from work to cruise the canal network and write about his adventure. Here’s his case study and a few stories from his journey so far.

18th August 2013

CART Guide Approval – The waterways’  governing body is now promoting the information packages available from this site. Yippee!

Narrowboat Insurance – A summary of insurance quotes from the major narrowboat insurers

Liveaboard Case Study – Keith and Nicky downsized their property in Jersey, used the released capital to buy their 57? “go anywhere” narrowboat and now live on their boat full time while they continuously cruise the canal network. They’re ridiculously young to retire, and I’m very, very jealous

Downsizing from a 3 bed semi to a narrowboat – What do you do with a lifetime’s accumulated possessions?

11th August 2013

A free download – Living On A Narrowboat: 101 Essential Narrowboat Articles

Narrowboat tips – Handy hints from experienced narrowboat owners

The cost of a continuous cruising lifestyle – How one liveaboard boater manages on a shoestring

4th August 2013

The perfect narrowboat washing machine? – It’s low cost and doesn’t need plumbing in, but does it actually clean clothes?

The cost of a continuous cruising lifestyle – How much does living the life of a water gypsy really cost?

28th July 2013

The cost of living on a narrowboat – An article in the Daily Mail… and why most boaters disagree with what they said.

21st July 2013

Hire boat expectations – Fully understanding what facilities will be available to you is essential if you’re going to enjoy a narrowboat holiday. Here’s what not to do.

14th July 2013

Fenland river cruising – Another boater’s maiden voyage to whet your appetite.

7th July 2013

Anticipating winter weather – You may well be enjoying unusually warm winter weather but the winter will be with us all too soon. Now is the time that you need to plan for the cold weather ahead.

30th June 2013

Keeping your stove glass clean – Maybe you think it’s an odd subject for the summer but you can’t trust the English weather. Late June and the stove was still on now and again. At least now I have a crystal clear view of the fire I shouldn’t need to light.

Traffic chaos caused by Braunston’s historic boat rally – On a day with high winds and a canal full of working boats returning home after the rally, I had the pleasure of taking some very nervous hirers out on the cut.

23rd June 2013 – The cost of a two week cruise. If you live on your own boat, what’s the real cost of taking it away for a two week break?

Case Study – Mary Anne swapped dry land home rental for floating home ownership. Now she loves life afloat and works from home.

Life as a continuous cruiser – The Holy Grail of narrowboat ownership. The ability to travel where and when you like. Peter Early tells all.

16th June 2013

The Ashby canal cruise part two – We spent a bit more time on the Ashby before heading south again, joining the Coventry canal, this time following it into Coventry’s rather depressing and disappointing city centre, then retracing our steps back to Calcutt

Most popular narrowboat names – Here’s the definitive list of the top 200 most popular narrowboat names and a resource you can use to find out if any other boat has the same name as yours

Considerate boating – An article prompted after a near head on collision with another boat trying to avoid a fallen oak.

9th June 2013

I was on holiday for the first two weeks of June. Sally and I cruised from Calcutt to Braunston, north along the north Oxford where we joined the Coventry canal briefly before taking a very sharp right turn onto the Ashby canal. Here’s a daily report of the first week of our holiday.

2nd June 2013

An encounter with two poorly prepared holiday boaters and my own impending two week cruise encouraged me to put together a pre cruise check list

26th May 2013

Laptop hacking – An update on the problems I encountered after buying a brand new laptop which I suspect was tampered with before I bought it.

Diary of a new narrowboat owner – Frequent forum poster “Our Nige” finally moved on to his new floating home. Here’s his story

19th May 2013

My comments about an encounter on the Oxford/GU section between Napton and Braunston sparked a debate about the pros and cons of wide beams on the cut.

Keeping dry – You don’t really need to limit your cruising to sunny summer days. There’s something very special about standing on the back deck in the pouring ran protected by a set of bomb proof waterproofs.

Do you really need a car? Living on a narrowboat is all about enjoying a simple and stress free life. Sally and I had a car each. Mine cost £2,000 to run in the previous 12 months so I decided to get rid of mine to see if I could manage without one.

12th May 2013

An encounter with a wide beam boat and why they aren’t suitable for much of the canal network

An interview with the Trust’s head of boating. Sally Ash talks about the Trust’s approach to the thorny issue of residential moorings

5th May 2013

Narrowboat fuel tanks – How much do they hold

Meet one of your legless canal side companions

The canal network’s largest floating hotel

28th April 2013

Narrowboat blogs – My own first cruise, Our Nige takes his new home on its maiden voyage and a chance for you to have your very own blog section on this site.

21st April 2013

The Trust target illegal moorers but just what does the Trust consider to an illegal mooring?

Identity theft – The ongoing saga of my hacked laptop

RCR engine servicing – River Canal Rescue (RCR) are well known as the waterways equivalent of the AA but did you know that they will also come to your mooring to service your boat?

14th April 2013

The perils of exceeding your monthly broadband data allowance. Learn from my mistakes.

7th April 2013

Narrowboat security – A spate of burglaries from boats and a break in at my former family home encouraged me to write this article

Case study – You need to committed to sell your home to fund the purchase of your narrowboat. That’s what Mick and Marlene have done.

31st March 2013

Case study – Sarah lives on wide beam Antioch on the Leeds Liverpool canal. She can do man things with her hands. Here’s her story.

Be inspired – There are always reasons why you don’t make the move from bricks and mortar to steel and water. Here’s an anecdote which demonstrates once and for all that there really aren’t any worthwhile excuses.

24th March 2013

Here’s an example of what happens when you really don’t understand how your narrowboat works.

Essential boating equipment – Here’s a low cost item which has paid for itself over and over again.

Whilton marina boat sales – Sometimes things aren’t what they appear to be. This alleged fact about the boat sales at Whilton has come to me from several different sources.

17th March 2013

Where can you find residential moorings? Here’s a great place to start

Getting rid of unwelcome visitors – Geese used to regularly disturb a peaceful night’s sleep where I moor. Not any more. Here’s my solution

Know your narrowboat costs – Detailed costs for my own boat for February 2013

Half a dozen boaters now have access to their own blog section on the site. You can too. Here’s how.

11th March 2013

James’ upgrade – Adding solar panels and replacing carpets with oak effect laminate flooring

3rd March 2013

Stove fuel test – What works best; coal, wood, briquettes or something else entirely – Here’s my own take on a Waterways World test

Essential stove maintenance – Here’s what you need to do to make sure that your stove always performs well.

Internet connectivity – I use the internet four or more hours every day. This is the setup I have on my boat to make sure that I’m always connected.

Detailed running costs for my own boat for January 2013

20th February 2013

The real cost of going cheap. An in depth look at the cost of my 36 year old boat, and how much I spent (and still need to spend) before it will be a comfortable full time cruising boat.

8th January 2013

Case Studies – I put together 21 of the best case studies and analysed and summarised the data in this low cost guide. If you want ton save yourself hundreds of hours of research and costly mistakes, you need to read this guide.

Case Study – Mike’s circumstances are similar to my own. He moved onto his boat after a failed marriage. He’s upgraded from a 27? GRP cruiser to a 50? narrowboat

24th December

Narrowboat electrics part 2 – The concluding article from Tim Davis

I asked newsletter subscribers to send me detailed breakdowns of their bricks and mortar expenses so I could compare them with the cost of running a narrowboat. Quite a few subscribers obliged. I added the breakdowns to my narrowboat costs guide and the budgeting application.

18th December 2012

Understanding narrowboat electrics – Another excellent article from Tim Davis

Satellite television for narrowboats – Information from a system installer

2nd December 2012

Low cost narrowboat ownership – A low cost solution to the problem of funding your first narrowboat

Solar power – All you need to know about installing solar panels on your boat. Written by the inland waterways most popular solar system installer

Case Study – Mr. Solar Panel Tim Davis writes about life on board his own narrowboat

21st November 2012

First tests and reviews of the budgeting application

The best aerial for a narrowboat television

6th November 2012

The first release of the new spreadsheet based narrowboat budgeting application

28th October 2012

An unscheduled dip in the marina prompted me to write about safety on the waterways

Living on a narrowboat – Through the eyes of a young lady who would clearly prefer to be somewhere else

17th October 2012

I started to develop the narrowboat budgeting software. This newsletter detailed the concept and the progress to date

14th October 2012

Practical flooring for narrowboat dogs

Case study – Mike and Mags use a double redundancy payment to pay for their new floating home

30th September 2012

The best tip for a wannabe narrowboat owner – Advice from existing boat owners

18th September 2012

I published my guide Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat. When this newsletter was published it was only available as a Kindle edition. Now it’s available in both Kindle and PDF format and is bundled with Narrowbudget, the site’s bespoke narrowboat budgeting application.

VAT on narrowboat sales

20th July 2012

Dealing with pests on a narrowboat – spiders and swans

Posh boats – My personal favourite: S.M. Hudson

7th July 2012

Repeat prescriptions, diesel heating systems and solar panels

10th June 2012

Survey – Do you want a forum on the site? (You already know the answer to that!)

27th  May 2012

How to clean your stove glass – One of the real pleasures of a living fire is watching the flames on a cold winter’s eve. Here’s what you need to do to ensure you can actually see the fire.

Smoking on board – An alternative to smelly smoke

13th May 2012

DIY narrowboat painting – I’ve broken down the complete cost of painting your own boat and

Dealing with wind on the river – A guest article from liveaboard narrowboat owner Alan Cazaly

29th April 2012

DIY narrowboat painting – I spent three weeks in April painting my boat. Here’s the first of my progress reports

15th April 2012

Life on the river Cam – A guest article on the pleasures of river life by wide beam liveaboard Luther Phillips

Case Study – Freelance writer Anne and her South African farmer partner John reveal all

Case Study – Toni cruises constantly with ex husband Allan. They cruise together but they live apart… on separate boats

 1st April 2012

As a result of the article about the downside of living on a narrowboat published in the 18th March newsletter, I asked liveaboard narrowboat owners to complete a survey to give a balanced view of the issues raised by Pauline. Here are the survey results and a much more positive article by liveaboard narrowboat owner and frequent forum contributer Peter Early.

18th March 2012

The downside of living on a narrowboat – This was a very controversial post. Liveaboard Pauline Roberts wrote about the less pleasant aspects of life afloat… and attracted a storm of comments

Case study: The Woodsman – Pauline Roberts again giving an insight into the life that you may think she doesn’t like.

4th March 2012

Reviewed: The Liveaboard Guide by Tony Jones. A great guide to living afloat

eBay Narrowboat scam (and a little bit of flack for me from another forum)

Case Study: Author Toby Jones on his own liveaboard narrowboat

A review of Debdale Wharf marina

22nd January 2012

Two more case studies. One of them waxed lyrical about life on the waterways and enjoyed every minute of her life afloat. Now (April 2013) she’s selling up to follow another dream in Spain.

8th January 2012

The first four narrowboat case studies published

I’ll start with myself; Paul Smith, living on my own, moored in a marina and working full time. Narrowboat James case study

Meet Peggy. She has a husband and two small children, works full time and cruises the network during the summer months. Narrowboat Violet Mae case study

Fancy spending your retirement cruising the waterways of England and Wales? Meet Barry and Sue Horne. They’re living the dream! Narrowboat Adagio Case Study

Here are another working couple. Lina and Warren cruise the cut with their two cats.Narrowboat Olive Rose case study.

2nd February 2011

Article – Living on a narrowboat in winter

1th January 2011 – 1st Newsletter

Dealing with the coldest winter on record
Digital reading – A detailed review of the Kindle, the perfect solution for book loving boat owners

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.

  • Aluminium Boats – They don’t rust so why don’t you see more of them on the inland waterways?
  • Ironing Board On Board – How do boaters manage a crease free life?
  • Freezing Water – How to stop your pipes and pumps from freezing in the winter
  • CRT & Continuous Cruising – The Trust and their enforcement of the rules
  • Heat – Advice for the owner of a cold boat
  • GPS Devices and Canal Mapping – Are there any decent ones available for your narrowboat and do you need them anyway?
  • Battery Monitors – Replacing your leisure batteries is one of your more expensive maintenance costs. Here’s some detailed information about a device for looking after your batteries
  • Survey Costs – How much should you pay to have your boat removed from the water for a survey?
  • Battery monitors – Gimmick or essential boating equipment?
  • Engine size and performance – Most engines are suitable for pottering about on the canal but what size engine do you need if you plan to cruise on rivers?
  • A Big Inverter Or A Suitcase Generator – What are the pros and cons of either option?
  • Who Owns Your Boat? – How do you find out if there’s still finance attached to your boat when you buy it.
  • Boat Shares – A low cost alternative to outright narrowboat ownership. Advice from a current share owner
  • Plumbing In A Back Boiler – Advice Offered
  • Inverter Installation – What do you need and can you fit one yourself?
  • Getting Rid Of Space Wasting CD’s & DVD’s – The solution is to digitise your collection. Here’s how to do it.
  • Depreciation – How much does a new narrowboat lose in value as the years go by?
  • The Cost Of Continuous Cruising – How much does the nomadic lifestyle really cost?
  • 12v Narrowboat Washing Machines – Is there any such animal?
  • “Chiggers” – It’s a mite you can pick up from the ever growing population of Canada Geese. Beware!
  • Post & Postal Addresses For Continuous Cruisers – You need an address in order to receive post and open bank accounts, register for doctors and hospitals etc. How do continuous cruisers with no fixed abode manage it.
  • Keeping Cool On A Narrowboat – How to keep people and pets cool in the summer
  • It’s Official: There’s No Need To Pay Mooring Fees – Or so this Daily Mail article claims. You may disagree. I do.
  • 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.
CRT (Canal & River Trust) maintain the waterways. Here’s their site.
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.
Find out more about narrowboat central heating costs here.

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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.