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 07 06 – Practical Experience For Lone Boaters

My knob’s fallen off. Sally’s not very happy about it, but it’s all her fault.

During her time off she likes to twist it regularly throughout the day. Even after a tiring twelve hour shift she can’t resist giving it a tweak as soon as she walks in the boat. I suppose it was bound to happen sooner or later.

What can you expect from a £99 twin tub washing machine? I ordered a new knob for £4.99 but I just wasted my money. It wasn’t the knob which was worn, it was the spindle it fits on. Other than the broken knob, the washing machine continues to entertain Sally for much of her free time. She’s pinched a pair of pliers from my tool bag for for missing-knob-spindle-turning. I don’t miss the pliers. I’m not entirely sure what they’re for anyway.

I won’t be delving into my tool bag next week either. James is booked into narrowboat hospital again. The disconnected gas water heater is going to be removed to give us some more storage space, not that we need it really any more. James has more cupboards, drawers, shelves and hidey holes than the majority of boats I’ve seen, but we’ll always find a use for another two or three shelves, and they will look much better than a rusting thirty seven year old heater.

Two gas heaters will also be removed; one from the bedroom and another under the port side hatch. The heater in the bedroom has been used half a dozen times in the last four and a half years. The one under the hatch hasn’t been used at all. Although in the early days I could have done with a little more heat in the very cold bedroom, the cost of running gas heating appalled me. I’ve spoken to a number of boat owners with gas heating, often owners of ex hire boats where gas heating is the only heat source on board, who have confirmed that a 13kg cylinder (costing £27 here at Calcutt) lasts just three days. This is twice the cost of coal to heat my own boat for a similar period.

So the gas heaters will go, and once they have been removed, I can finally get the shower door fitted which we’ve had stored in our container since March. We haven’t had it fitted until now because of the difficulty we would face once it was fitted trying to access the gas water heater which is in quite a tight space behind the left hand side panel of the shower cubicle. At the moment if access is needed to it, the left hand panel slides out to give access to the heater. The new shower door would obstruct the side panel though and make access to the heater very difficult indeed.

Now that we’ve decided that we’re not going to replace the heater, we can have the shower door fitted firmly in place. We’ll have a decent shower cubicle then instead of one fronted be an insubstantial and high maintenance shower curtain. I can’t wait!

We’re having some other small jobs done at the same time. They’re simple jobs for most competent DIYers, but I’m not one of them I’m afraid. I fitted two fender hangers to the starboard side last year but just drilling six holes in the side of the boat and then riveting the hangers in place took me two hours and cost me three £5 drill bits. I’ll let the experts to fit the fender hangers on the port side.

I also need to have the navigation lights fitted properly. They should be simple to fit for anyone with half an ounce of intelligence, but that clearly excludes me. When the the ply cabin was over plated with steel a couple of years ago, the old navigation lights were removed and the wires were made safe. I bought two new navigation lights to go in their place. What could go wrong? All I had to do was put the red light on the port side, the green on the starboard side, attach the wires and secure the lights to the cabin sides.

I managed to get the colours on the right sides but failed miserably with everything else. The original wiring was the correct length for fitting lights to the old cabin but the new cabin was two inches further away. The wires wouldn’t reach so they needed extending. At that stage I realised, as usual, that I didn’t have a clue what I was doing and decided to just screw the unwired lights to the cabin so at least they looked OK, even if they didn’t work. Two broken drill bits, an hour and much swearing later, the navigation lights were in place. I was quite proud of myself… I was quite proud of myself for about a year before a boat owner I met at a lock casually asked if I spent much of my time reversing at night. I didn’t have a clue what they were talking about, so the smiling gent gently pointed out that my navigation lights were on upside down so the lights were pointing backwards.

I don’t like DIY.

I don’t like DIY, but I really enjoy working on the grounds here at Calcutt, even if I’m not getting as much done as I would like.

I’ve been neglecting my beloved island this year. The island is a jewel in the Calcutt crown. The half acre wildlife haven in the middle of Meadows marina, about fifty metres behind my mooring, has flourished since the marina was watered in 2006. It’s home to ninety white poplar, willow, alder, field maple and horse chestnut.

Four years ago when I first visited the island, it was an impenetrable mass of head high thistles. I spent two weeks hacking them down and chopping out their tough roots with our Kawasaki strimmer’s circular saw attachment. Over the following two years I visited the island twice a month during the spring, summer and autumn to spend two or three hours mowing the grass with our Honda Weedcutter mower.

The close cropped grass was a huge improvement aesthetically and also provided a comfortable and safe haven for the marina’s wild fowl. The mallards, coots and swans began to use the island regularly, and then the Canada geese moved in.

Canada geese have few redeeming features. They can be aggressive, they’re noisy and they are world champions in the poo department. A single goose eats four pounds of grass every day, and passes three pounds of it out the other end. Each goose produces nearly half a tonne of fecal matter every twelve months. In the autumn, we have flocks of up to two hundred birds landing on the marinas looking for food and somewhere safe to sleep.

The new arrivals are fairly easy to scare away. A quick flash over the water with my laser pen is enough to cause an instant collective terrified honk before the flock takes flight and heads for the closest alternative water either at Ventnor Farm marina on the opposite side of the canal from us or the forty acre Napton reservoir next door.

New arrivals are easy to scare away but our summer geese, our resident breeders, are a different kettle of fish. Their breeding instinct is stronger than their flight instinct so even if it’s dark enough for the laser to be effective, which is only from about 10pm to 4am at this time of the year, they take flight initially but return to the marina within half an hour.

So the breeding Canada geese, about twenty of them, moved on to the island and made it their home. Between them, the flock were eating about eighty pounds of grass a day so they kept the island grass short. I love spending a few hours on the island but the logistics of getting a mower there are a bit of a pain.

First I have to borrow one of our hire boats if there’s one available on the wharf. I need some help to lift the 150lb mower onto the back deck, take the boat down through Calcutt Middle and Bottom locks, usually on my own, and usually cursing while I try to steer the boat in and out of the locks while straddling a four feet high machine which takes up most of the back deck, radio for some assistance to lift the mower off the other end when I reach the marina entrance, pick up my assistant, moor on the island, lift the mower off the boat, return my assistant to the shore and return to the island to cut the grass. Two hours of grass cutting takes at least half a day to complete.

The resident geese and their healthy appetite meant that I stopped visiting the island quite so often and then, this year, stopped going there at all.

The geese only eat the succulent tender grass. They don’t touch many of the coarser grasses and weeds. The vegetation which they don’t eat grows and spreads into the close cropped areas until there’s not enough tasty grass to attract the geese and not enough open space to allow them to graze without worrying about predators sneaking up to them under cover.

When I visited the island on Tuesday for the first time this year, the island was goose free, but it was a mess. Much of the grass was hidden under waist high stands of thistle and cow parsley.

Overgrown Meadows marina island

Waist high cow parsley on Meadows marina island

Meadows marina island beautiful again

Two hours with the Weedcutter mower and then another half hour tidying up with the strimmer and the island was looking pretty again. Before I loaded the mower back onto the hire boat’s rear deck, mallards and coots climbed onto the island to once more bask safely in the sun.

Don’t worry little birds, I’ll make sure I visit you regularly again from now on.

Discovery Day Update

I ran another discovery day on Friday. It wasn’t what I expect will be the more usual format in the future, but it’s the second of its type I have done so far. Rather than hosting the day on my own boat, I met boat owner Martyn Jones on his own boat on his canal-side mooring near Braunston marina.

Martyn has owned his 60′ boat for a year now. He wants to take it out more often on his own, but he’s been very nervous about tackling locks as a lone boater. In fact, he admitted that he hadn’t had much to do with locks at all. When he brought his boat back to Brauston he had quite a lively introduction to boating. He negotiated a dangerously high river Trent, dodging uprooted trees as he made his way from the raging river to the quieter canals, endured snow and freezing temperatures and fumbled with the tiller with numb hands for three days before he could get his new home to travel in a straight line.

Steering the boat clearly wasn’t a problem when he set off confidently from his mooring at 8am on Friday for the short cruise to the bottom of the Braunston flight.  Martyn’s main objective was to become comfortable with operating locks on his own so I made sure that our day’s cruise included plenty of locks and plenty of variety.

Our first lock was very interesting. There were plenty of boats still moored in Braunston following the rally the previous weekend. There were too many of them on the approach to the bottom lock. It was certainly a case of “in at the deep end” for Martyn as there was nowhere at all for a boat  going up the lock to moor. The bollards below the lock were occupied by a day hire boat which was being worked on. The only solution for a solo boater would have been to tie up to the day hire boat while setting the lock. There were two of us though, so rather than try and explain to the guy on the day boat that Martyn was practicing locking on his own, I stayed with the boat while Martyn worked the paddles.

Lock two was unobstructed by moored boats so I demonstrated how to step off the boat as it enters the lock and walk beside it using the centre line to lead the boat in. It was then that we reaslised that Martyn had a bit of a problem.

Martyn had solar panels fitted to the boat soon after he bought it. One of them was fitted close to the anchor point for the two centre lines which meant that when the boat was in an empty lock and either centre line was held taught by someone standing on the lock side, the rope snagged on the bottom of the solar panel. We couldn’t use the centre lines without breaking the panel or pulling it out of its brackets. The solution for the rest of the cruise was to remove the solar panel.

In the third lock we were joined by another boat. We were delighted to have another crew to help us, especially as the man knew everything about boating and was more than happy to share his extensive knowledge with us, loudly and in exhausting detail.

He exited the lock ahead of us ready to go into the fourth lock which his long suffering wife had kindly prepared for both boats. He was about to enter the open lock when his boat was pushed back by a tidal wave which surged over the top gates and crashed into the lock. Two hire boats coming down had left all the paddles open behind them in the top two locks.

Mr. Know-it-all let rip at the lady approaching the lock ahead of the two hire boats. “If you don’t know how to work a lock, ask for some help you stupid woman!”, he shouted up at her. She looked as though she was about to burst into tears. “I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t have a boat. I’m just taking my dog for a walk!”

We negotiated the final two locks without incident, and without let up from Mr. Know-it-all. He pulled over for a cup of tea above the flight. We wanted to stop too so that we could prepare for the tunnel but made sure that we moored far enough ahead to discourage him from giving us any more advice.

The tunnel preparation involved simply turning the lights on inside the boat and making sure that the curtains were drawn back so that the light would help illuminate the tunnel walls, turning the headlight on and checking that it was working, and making sure that we had a torch handy.

Martyn’s first tunnel was negotiated without a hitch, even if passing a difficult to see approaching boat in a tunnel which appeared barely wide enough to accommodate one boat did cause a twitchy moment or two.

With six locks behind us, Martyn was feeling slightly more confident but in the interest of adding as many locks and as much variety as possible to the day we turned left at Norton junction and headed for the three narrow and four staircase locks of the Watford flight.

At the top of the Watford flight we turned in a lively breeze at the winding hole next to the M1 and joined the queue to go back down again, much to the surprise of the three lock keepers on duty.

The Watford flight was great practice for Martyn. The flight also provided him of an example of how to annoy the usually placid and every so helpful lock volunteers. We were waiting for a particular boat to reach the bottom of the staircase locks before we could take Martyn’s boat up. While we were waiting we helped the lock keepers get the boats through. They pointed to the boat we were waiting for, indicated the guy who had been standing at the tiller all the way down the flight, and then pointed inside the boat at his wife who had also been inside the boat since they arrived at the flight, apparently cooking dinner and oblivious to all the hard work that was being done to allow her and her equally stationary husband to descend.

Lock keepers are always willing to give anyone a hand if they need it. This couple may have had health issues which prevented them from working the locks but they didn’t appear either frail or disabled, and they certainly hadn’t told anyone that they needed a hand. They had simply stayed on their boat and expected the locks to magically open in front of them and close behind them. The lock keepers weren’t happy.

The Watford flight was an interesting exercise but we were both glad to get away from the noise of the M1, A5 and busy railway. The trip back to the junction then through the tunnel was pleasant but uneventful but we had the opportunity for even more variety when we arrived back at the top of the Braunston flight.

Two 30′ GRP cruisers where ahead of us waiting to go down. An elderly guy from the lead boat walked back to us and told us pleasantly but very firmly that we could join them both in the lock providing we were very careful indeed with our steel monster. We promised to keep as far away from them as we could and agreed to go into each lock ahead of them to minimise the risk of crushing their fragile hulls with our fifteen tonnes.

It was a great partnership and, as I pointed out to Martyn, would have been very welcome indeed if he had been on his own. We now had a six strong crew to work the locks and four boaters on the two cruisers who had been around the block a few times and worked very well as part of a team. The men stayed on their cruisers, one of the wives helped me set the locks the boats were in then walk on to the next lock to get it ready while the other wife stayed behind to close up after the boats left. We flew down the flight.

I closed the last lock while the two cruisers headed towards the junction and the possibility of a mooring for the night then Martyn and I said goodbye to our twenty sixth lock of the day before negotiating the narrow channel a couple of hundred metres back to the boat’s mooring.

It was a full and eventful day and one which, I’m delighted to say, Martyn was very happy with. He wanted to practice single handed locking. By the end of the day, he was flying through them without hesitation and without any help from me. He’s now confidently planning a few solo cruises for the near future.

I emailed Martyn yesterday to ask for some feedback on the day. Here’s what he had to say…

“Thank you for yesterday and for putting up with me (the idiot who can’t tie knots).
I would like to say that you covered everything (and more) I asked of you and answered all of the questions that arose throughout the day. It was indeed a very busy cruise with 26 locks of varying types, either going up or down, with some unusual incidents thrown in. It was exactly what I needed to enable me to have the confidence to tackle them single handed, so beware, you will see me and the annoying Jake in your area pretty soon.
The day, I felt, was conducted in a very patient, professional and informal way, with plenty of chat and laughs had by us both. It exceeded my expectations, with the programme organised by you to suit my particular needs.
I would genuinely recommend the training you are offering to anyone, whether it be for your discovery day or for someone like myself who wants help with specific parts of narrow boating.”

The Discovery Day calendar is filling fast so if you want to experience a day on board a narrowboat equipped for living on board full time, spend a day asking me as much as you want about living afloat and what you need to do to join the happy few and get some boat handling experience at the same time, you can find out more here. There’s a constantly updated list of free dates at the bottom of the page.

Visiting Calcutt Boats

I created this site in February 2010 four months after I started working at Calcutt Boats part time and two months before part time became a very welcome and always enjoyable forty five hours a week. Over the past four and a half years that I have both lived and worked at Calcutt Boats marina I have spent thousands of hours adding content to the site and developing a number of products.

The site, and the number of people who visit it, has grown enormously. The management at Calcutt Boats are fully aware of my activities on the site and don’t have a problem with it at all. Unless, that is, those activities interfere with the work I do for them. Sometimes, inadvertently, they do.

There are just under 5,000 subscriber to the weekly newsletters. Many have reached the stage where they are actively looking for a boat. Some own boats already. Boat owners and buyers often turn up at Calcutt Boats’ reception asking for me. The company doesn’t complain about it to me, but I know it drives them mad.

I can see their point. I am employed by them to look after the site’s landscaping. Every time I stop what I’m doing to talk to someone, they’re paying me for doing nothing. In the past when I was an employer, the situation would have irritated me too.

Don’t get me wrong, I want to meet you. As a few of you can testify, I’m quite fond of a pint or two, and I can talk the hind legs off a donkey. However, I walk a fine line. When I’m being paid by Calcutt Boats to look after the grounds, I need to concentrate on doing that and not on building relationships with virtual friends.

If you want to pop in and say hello, I would love to meet you, but please email me first so that we can arrange a time when I’m not working.

Incidentally Ian, these comments are not directed at you. It was lovely to meet you earlier in the week. I hope we can meet again soon and talk nonsense over an inappropriate number of pints in a local canal-side tavern. No one complained to me about your visit but I’m just trying to resolve any potential problems before they occur.

Sea Otter Narrowboats

In February this year I wrote extensively, or rather linked to extensive posts written by someone else, detailing the construction of a Sea Otter narrowboat. Sea Otter narrowboats are constructed using aluminium so there’s no worry about rust, and no need to take the boat out of the water every two or three years to reapply a protective coating to the hull and there’s no need to have the boat professionally painted every seven to ten years at a cost of more than £100 a foot.

Not only are Sea Otter narrowboats rust proof, they are also very well constructed with many clever features to make the most of the limited space available to you on a narrowboat. They are expensive, but a great choice for hassle free, low maintenance cruising.

Sadly, you can’t buy new Sea Otter narrowboats any more. The company has recently gone into voluntary liquidation. What a shame.

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 four 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.

29th June 2014

Extending your boat’s storage space – The pros and cons of fitting covers to your front and rear decks

22nd June 2014

Naming your boat – The legal requirements when naming, renaming and displaying your boat plus the inland waterways’ two hundred most popular boat names

15th June 2014

Speeding boats – Are rocking stationary boats the fault of speeding passing boats or the fault of boat owners who can’t moor securely?

8th June 2014

Boat Handling – lock and paddle gear types.

1st June 2014

Boat handling – Swing and lift bridges

25th May 2014

Single handed boating – Negotiating locks.

18th May 2014

Single handed boating – Choosing the right type of boat for single handed cruising and equipment to make your solo journeys safer and more enjoyable.

 11th May 2014

How to avoid common narrowboat accidents. They happen far more often than you might think. Here’s what you need to keep yourself out of harm’s way.

4th May 2014

If you want to live on your boat and don’t want to, or can’t, cruise full time, you must have a residential mooring. Here’s how to find one.

27th April 2014

What makes a perfect live aboard narrowboat. Two experienced boaters discuss layout, size and essential equipment

20th April 2014

A cautionary tale if you are considering buying a wide beam boat to live on.

13th April 2014

A further update to the site content index.

6th April 2014

The A -Z of everything narrowboat – With over 5,500 posts and pages on the site now, quickly finding exactly what you want can sometimes be a problem. For this newsletter I started creating and A-Z index of all the site content.

30th March 2014

How do you continue to earn money to support your boating lifestyle as you cruise the network?

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.


Useful Information
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.