2015 05 24 Newsletter – Upgrading An Elderly Narrowboat
I’m afraid I haven’t written much at all about my travels over the last week. I started writing about the improvements I’ve made to my boat since I moved on board half a decade ago. Time waits for no man. I am certainly no exception. I’ve run out of time again to write anything else, so I hope you’re happy with my lengthy digital scribbling about the refurbishment of James No 194. Before I begin that section though, I thought you would like to know how I’m getting on with my loo.
Last week I mentioned that we were about to take the plunge and invest just over £1,000 in a compost toilet. On Thursday we set off from our Flecknoe mooring at 6am hoping to reach Hillmorton Wharf for nine. We did, just.
Before you read any more, I need to make you aware that I’m going to explain quite graphically about our experiences with the new loo, so please skip this section if composting toilets don’t interest you or if detailed descriptions of boaters’ bowel movements has you reaching for a paper bag.
The toilets are normally fitted by business owner Richard but recent composting toilet sales have been brisk so new guy Mark’s first day working for Richard was spent in our tiny walk through bathroom.
“Fitting an Airhead is simple, “Richard told me last week when we popped in to see him. “All you have to do is screw the brackets for the solids bin to your bathroom floor and drill through your roof or the cabin side then fit a small 12v fan then connect it to your boat’s electrics.”
I started to glaze over when he mentioned fitting the tank brackets. There was no chance at all of me doing the rest of it right so I was very happy to book myself in with Mark for the expected four hour installation. I was extremely pleased I did.
Of course the fitting wasn’t as easy as they thought. They had to cut a hole through my bathroom roof cladding, then through the boat’s original wooden top and finally through the steel roof I had fitted over the wooden one in 2011. Mark hit one of the steel roof support struts on the way through so, after a brief chat with Richard, fitted a dog’s leg into the extraction hose.
The four hour job took eight hours but both Sally and I were more than happy to spend a few extra hours tied up to the wharf. Mark’s work was both thorough and neat.
We left Hillmorton Wharf at 5pm, cruised for an hour to a quiet mooring with expansive views a mile outside Braunston then moored for the night, delighted that we no longer need to consider how far away we were from the nearest public loo.
I know that must sound pathetic to you knowing that I’ve been living afloat for half a decade, but I was never happy with the cassette toilet so using public facilities has become an ingrained habit.
Anyway, I’m determined that the substantial investment is going to work but I’ve had to change the way I approach our new toilet. Literally.
The Airhead composting toilet only works effectively if liquids and solids are stored separately. A common cause of solid tank contamination is men standing to wee, not aiming in the right direction, then sending jets of urine into the solids tank.
The only solution is to follow the ladies’ lead and sit to wee. The sight of me walking toward the toilet unbuttoning my trousers just to have a quick pee amuses Sally no end. She’s easily pleased.
Making the first solid contribution to our new independent lifestyle took a while. We were both hesitant to use the new waterless toilet but we entered into the spirit of things the following day with a little unplanned teamwork.
Sally sometimes steers our boat, often for an hour or more at a time. She’s very good at the helm but not very confident. Consequently, she usually wants me close at hand in case we unexpectedly meet another boat or a situation where she isn’t really sure what to do.
On Friday we pulled away from our mooring at 6am to cruise to the bottom of the Napton flight to our storage container so that we could remove our now redundant Porta Potti. From there we had ten hours cruising to the three day zone 1 mooring I booked for the Crick Boat Show six months ago.
Sally took over from me after an hour so that I could christen the loo.
I approached the procedure with some trepidation. Everything is so much easier and cleaner in a bricks and mortar loo. You make your deposit into a liquid filled bowl then flush it away with gallons of water. Even a boat’s dump through or cassette toilet has a chemical or eco-friendly slurry beneath you to help mask the inevitable unpleasant odours.
The Airhead toilet bowl has a watertight flap at the bottom and a hole towards the front of the bowl which directs wee into the liquids bottle. You wee first, then open the bottom flap with a lever on the side of the toilet, strain and hopefully drop your solids neatly through the open flap into the tank beneath.
If you aren’t sure of your aim, there’s a pack of extra-large coffee filters provided with the toilet. You leave the flap closed, place a coffee filter in the bottom of the pan, drop your solids into the paper cup, then depress the lever to drop paper and solids into the tank. The whole process feels very strange after a lifetime of conventional toilet use.
With Sally at the helm, I was contemplating the meaning of life while I waited for what normally would have happened pretty quickly when Sally helped me along. The steady engine throb changed to a mighty roar as she thrust the Morse control backwards when she saw the bow of an oncoming boat appear suddenly through a bridge hole, then there was a bump and a scrape as our bow hit the concrete clad towpath.
Spurred on by the sudden excitement I quickly finished the task in hand before dashing to the back of the boat to make sure both Sally and the boat were OK.
The toilet design is amazingly effective. Using the coffee filter, there was no mess at all. The was a slightly unpleasant smell in the bathroom for an hour after the toilet’s first use for solids but today after half a dozen uses there’s no smell at all.
The toilet’s 12v extractor fan runs twenty four hours a day, constantly removing moisture from the solids tank. Because the fan is drawing both moisture and odour from the tank, I have discovered that standing at the helm when the boat is in the close confines of a tunnel is not the most pleasant place in the world to be when a solid deposit is made. I don’t think I’ll ever think fondly of Crick tunnel again.
We’ve only been using the new loo for four days but, so far, we’re delighted with the way it works. I had a little mishap this morning but it was all part of the learning curve. We were told that the liquids tank needs to be emptied roughly every two days. We emptied it on Saturday so were expecting to empty it again later today.
I woke this morning at 5am, sat down in my new girly way for a pre coffee wee, then felt an unfamiliar warmth under my bare feet. The liquids bottle doesn’t hold as much as I thought. After clearing up a set of yellow footprints created with my own urine, I quickly emptied the overflowing bottle in a nearby hedge (Remember, this method of disposal is EA approved). It’s a much easier way of getting rid of your waste than trying to find an Elsan point at Crick.
The real test now that we’ve established that putting stuff in it isn’t at all unpleasant will be to see how we get on with removing what we’ve added to it. I’ll let you know how I get on with that when the time comes.
We’re having a good experience with our first composting toilet, but we’re not alone. After writing about the Airhead toilet last week, I received the following emails from other happy composting toilet users.
EMAIL 1 – JOHN ANDREWS
Glad to see you are going composting!
I bought one last summer. I got the much cheaper but very similar ‘http://natureshead.net’ Natures Head from a UK stockist Black Bear Leisure.
Here are my experiences with this composting head:
There is just me on board, and then just for 4 nights (average) a week. It works very well – I have only emptied its solids tank twice since September and I do not use pub or other public toilets. It is amazing how much the physical size of the compost heap reduces by over a weekend while the loo is not being used. In my experience at the point where the tank seemed to be getting full, it is very noticeable that recent supplies into the tank still retain there as contributed appearance! I’d hesitate to put them in general household / CRT waste until fully composted. As the solids had not all composted right down I am keeping them in a compost bin to finish them off.
With two of you full time I think that you will definitely need to set up a compost bin somewhere where you can empty the solids into to finish off – or of course, bury them. The solids tank contents with well over twice the demand you two full time on board will put it to, will not compost fast enough to keep up. I’d love to hear your friends’ views on this – does theirs keep up with their lifestyle? Maybe, I am not using the right compost to get things going fast enough?
The main thing I have experienced is that the composting process needs 15 Deg C or more to keep going so during the winter, with my boat empty for 50% of the time, the composting was not happening fast enough – the tank got damp and smelly then. I do not yet know how I will deal with that next winter. Since it has warmed up the composting process is fine.
You will need an external air vent for the 12V fan to pump out to – and you will notice that the air coming out smells of compost. Not unpleasant – a bit musty – not at all ‘cessy’ if I can put it like that. Anyhow – as you must have numerous roof vents on a narrowboat for air safety reasons, you will find the exhaust air does get back in if the wind is blowing direct from your exit vent towards an open roof vent. I’m thinking about how to add a chimney to the top of my outlet to get the air up and away.
I am using a solar roof vent to exhaust the air which runs 24/7 since late spring. In the winter I also ran a 12V fan (supplied with the loo) from the boat supply as overnight the solar vent would stop on flat batteries.
Overall – much less smelly and much less unpleasant to deal with than my previous Elsan chemical toilet. Glad I switched!!
EMAIL 1 ENDS
EMAIL 2 – STEVE FREEAR
We have had our airhead composting toilet for 8 months now and find it really good and it saves you even more water. Please be aware though that the cocoa shells used in the solids tank are now becoming very hard to get hold of. The problem is when used as a mulch on the garden, if dogs eat it, the mulch can poison them. John Innes was the normal brand and you could get it at garden centres but I tried 6 around us and none sold it any more.
Canalshop also ran out but now has it in stock but I don’t know where he sources it and only sells it in small bags, rather than the 75 litre bags that you could buy for about £12.
We got what we thought was cocoa husks from Amazon but it’s actually the fibres and looks more like a compost. We have found it works OK though.
EMAIL 2 ENDS
EMAIL 3 – MARILYN MCDONALD
We too have ordered a composting loo and are picking it up from Richard and Susanne on our way to the boat (Barby Moorings) tomorrow hopefully. I see I will have to follow your example and get a folding spade and some tea tree oil so I’m ready for cleaning action …
With luck we will be able to catch up in person – that would be lovely and I will get some Aussie red in the shopping so I am prepared.
You may like to read or refer people to Jaq and Les Biggs’ post about the Airhead on the nb Valerie blog – It was reading that, meeting them last year and seeing their toilet that convinced us it was the way to go. We have a drop through currently, and our process is the reverse of yours – we don’t use it for peeing as that fills the tank too quickly, and we do use to for solids. Our Cost Benefit Analysis won’t bring such a speedy return on investment as yours will with the cost of coffee, beer and cakes on the debit side – ours was based on the cost of pump outs over the five months we are on the boat. So our payback period is about 4 years. Still we thought it was worth it.
I was also interested in your water saving and timing of usage techniques – we too shower while filling with water and do washing on the way to the water point. When rinsing dishes we put the plug in the sink instead of letting that water rinse just one thing. I remember reading on the forum a post by Peter Earley in which he said that they capture the water that runs while waiting for the hot water to come through, and get a bucket or so for odd jobs throughout the day. That will take a bit more discipline for us but if we got a couple of jugs that we could slip under the taps I am sure we would get into the habit. I’d quite like to do it so I could have a bucket of ‘free’ water to wash my Tiva sandals in each evening – they do get smelly – and it would be good to have it for random bits of external boat washing or filling the kettle …
FEEDBACK 3 ENDS MARILYN MCDONALD
Refurbishing A Thirty Eight Year Old Narrowboat
Because I’ve written extensively about my experience on board a boat needing fair amount of TLC, I’ve received a few emails over the years asking for advice about refurbishing an old boat. I don’t have any practical skills at all so none of the refurbishment has been done by me. Because of that, I can’t offer any practical advice. However, I’m not bad at project management and, thanks to the team of very knowledgeable staff at Calcutt Boats, I’ve been able to determine the best way to equip my own boat for very comfortable living for long periods off grid.
I spent the first five years of my on board life on a marina mooring, so being able to function off grid wasn’t an issue, but I knew that, eventually, I wanted to spend weeks or months at a time exploring the network.
That dream has now become reality. We’ve been off grid now for seven weeks. I’m delighted that the boat has performed as well in practice as I thought it would in theory.
For what it’s worth, here’s what I’ve done to the boat and how much the improvements have cost me. I know these improvements are particular to my own boat but my account may help you if you’re considering upgrading your own craft.
I moved on board James No 194 on 2nd April 2010. I had been working part time at Calcutt Boats part time for six months after the collapse of my business and subsequent bankruptcy, then the collapse of my marriage and subsequent emotional bankruptcy.
I moved on to the then thirty three year old boat because I needed somewhere cheap to live. The lifestyle wasn’t a consideration. I had no experience of boats and no interest in living on one. The old and leaking boat simply offered me a more attractive but less comfortable alternative to my unhappy family home.
The boat was far from palatial. After thirteen unused and unloved years on an exposed marina mooring the once lovely boat had seen far better days. Thick rust flakes covered both gunnels, paint hung in ribbons from the boat’s windward port side, the tattered cratch cover was covered in algae and moss, water poured in to the cabin from a dozen leaks in the perished wooden roof and the engine bilge had filled and overflowed on to the bedroom floor.
Thick cobwebs covered every window, door frame and hatch, the mattress on the back cabin’s double bed was water stained and the seat upholstery in the saloon and dining area was mildewed, as were the dirty curtains covering the boat’s ten windows. An old and reliable gas heater provided hot water for the tiny bathroom with its equally tiny bath. There was an empty space for a toilet but no toilet on board.
The solid fuel stove had a cracked flue and broken glass so couldn’t be used, the starter battery and single 110ah lead acid battery in the leisure bank were both dead so wouldn’t hold a charge and there was no shore line to connect the boat to the marina mains supply. The engine’s perished hoses prevented it from being used to generate any on board power.
Not that I particularly wanted to start the engine. The insulated coffin like box covering the engine had fallen apart so had to be removed which then exposed the helmsman and any guests to the considerable engine noise and clouds of billowing smoke.
At first, life on board was far from comfortable. Every time I heard rain drumming on the thin wooden roof I reached into the galley cupboard for my small collection of pans ready to catch the soon expected drips through the ceiling’s pine cladding. Wind whistled through gaps in the hopper windows, through gaps in two warped centre hatches, through an equally decayed rear hatch and ill-fitting front, side and rear doors. The boat was cold and very draughty.
The owner Roger Preen, Calcutt Boats’ founder, asked his fitters to make the boat habitable. They had to replace the stove flue and glass, replace the tiny bath with a shower cubicle and install a charger so the two batteries could be charged via the shore supply. An old Porta Potti toilet was found for me to use until I could find something better.
An industrial dehumidifier was wedged into the back cabin to help remove years of accumulated damp. I needed to run it for twelve hours a day to fight the damp.
Within a week I could use the stove, keep myself clean, use an on board toilet and walk through the boat to my bedroom in the rear cabin without getting my feet wet.
Despite the boat’s sorry state, my first six months on board were a delight. With my basic needs satisfied I did very little to the boat for the first year other than relax and begin to recover from a very stressful few years.
Coming “home” from work was a joy. With no television on board I spent all my free time reading. I finished work at 5.30pm. Two minutes later I was back at the boat after a pleasant commute along the flower covered marina embankment. I would sit for hours on the comfortable wooden bench seat on my front deck with a good book, a bowl of olives and a glass or two of Australian red. It was heaven.
The summer passed, then autumn, quickly followed by the coldest winter on record. For six weeks the marina was covered by four inches of ice. One night the thermometer dropped to a decidedly chilly minus eighteen. The temperature in my bedroom was often below freezing. A quarter of an inch of frost on the internal engine room cladding just feet from my sleeping head wasn’t unusual. I spent more than one evening sitting as close as possible to my fire wearing two fleece tops, a fleece hat and gloves.
The following spring I met Sally. The basic and often rather uncomfortable lifestyle was bearable for me but I didn’t want her to suffer if, as seemed increasingly likely, she was going to move on board with me.
I didn’t want either of us to have to endure another desperately cold winter on board with rainwater pouring through the roof. The only sensible solution was to have the original wooden cabin completely over plated with steel.
In November 2011 I kick started the boat’s refurbishment by paying £1,100 to have the boat shipped eight miles by road to have the steelwork done. The price included the hire of the crane needed to offload the boat at Reeves boatyard in Bishops Itchington then loaded back onto the lorry to bring it back.
The cost of the new cabin was a very reasonable £6,500. The work included the cabin sides, roof, front and rear bulkheads, a pair of doors at the front, another pair at the back and two more either side half way down the boat, plus hatches above both pairs of side doors and the rear doors, a refurbished pigeon box, a reinforced half roof ring for my centre lines and brackets for poles and planks.
Before the new steel was added, I asked Reeves to fix additional polystyrene insulation over the original cabin. In hindsight, I think this was a mistake. I should have had the old cabin covered in a layer of far more effective spray foam insulation.
The boat came back to Calcutt after ten days away. The first job was to protect the bare steel with a couple of coats of primer for the winter before my planned repaint the following spring, then the boat had to be put back together.
Before the steel was fitted, all windows and external fitting had to be removed including the chimney collar, roof vents, the pigeon box and all the wiring to the three gauges in it and the navigation lights.
Once the windows were refitted in the new steel, a hardwood frame had to be made for each window to bridge the gap between the old and new cabins.
Back on the mooring, we spent another couple of days cleaning up the incredible amount of dust created by both steel fitting and remedial work before settling down for a warmer and dryer winter.
Next on the hit list was replacing the tatty and stained cratch cover. Most suppliers charge in excess of £1,000 for a cratch (front deck) cover. Mine cost £450 from a one man band in Coventry. Three and a half years later, it’s as good as new.
Thanks to the new watertight and better insulated cabin, and much milder weather, that winter was much more pleasant. In fact, settling down on a cold night to a good book in front of a roaring fire on a warm and dry boat on a frosty winter’s eve is a real pleasure.
Over the winter I replaced all eighteen lights on board with LEDs at a cost of about £18 each. The initial cost was high but the new lights should last longer than me and use very little power.
In April 2012 we resumed the refurbishment programme when I took three weeks off work to first black the hull then paint everything else. I saved myself a fortune by not employing someone to do the work for me.
The hull needs painting roughly every three years if you use bitumen as most boat owners do. The cost for a 62’ boat like mine is normally £500 – £600. Some boat yards allow DIY blacking but by the time you total the cost of lifting your boat in and out of the water, hiring a pressure washer, industrial wire brush, renting the slipway or dry dock to do the work and then buying paint and rollers, you don’t save very much. Fortunately, working at the marina at the time, I was able to take advantage of staff rates.
Blacking my own boat saved me a little money but painting the cabin saved me a fortune. As a rule of thumb, you can budget £100 a foot to have your boat professionally painted. In fact, I had a quote yesterday (24th May 2015) for £8,500 from top notch narrowboat painter John Barnard at the Crick Boat Show.
After John helped me to my feet after he told me the price he said. “Over eight thousand pounds to paint your boat might sound like a lot of money but doing the job properly takes a long time. First of all we take everything off your boat; all vents, solar panels, roof furniture, navigation lights and any other additions to the cabin. Then we take your windows out, take the boat back to bare metal then slowly and carefully apply ten layers of paint. The devil is in the detail.”
Of course I didn’t do as thorough a job as John, as is evident by the end result. By the time I applied my final coat at the end of the third week, I was starting to get the hang of applying a streak, drip and sag free coat. Unfortunately the final coat was applied over the top of five others which hadn’t been so well applied.
Still, people who meet me now, three years after I did the work, tell me that the boat looks pretty good. I paid just under £1,000 for paint and consumables. Then there was the cost of hiring a paint tent for three weeks at £30 a day and the income I lost by taking three weeks off work.
The boat now looked pretty good, and it was fine as a floating flat, but it wasn’t much good for getting me from A to B. I ran the engine for a few minutes a week for no other reason than to see if it was still working. Being plugged into the shore supply took care of all my electrical needs and any hot water I needed was provided by a temperamental gas water heater. I didn’t take the boat cruising because I had no faith in the old engine with its perished hoses sitting over bilge full of water.
I didn’t actually take the boat out of the marina for the first time until December 2011, twenty months after moving on board.
Sally’s two children, Maricar and Michael were visiting us for Christmas. Sally suggested taking them on a cruise to Braunston. To be honest, the thought terrified me but, not being one to back away from a challenge, I fired up the engine, crossed my fingers and set off on the nerve-wracking trip up three locks then along the twisting six mile route to Braunston.
We couldn’t stay out on the cut overnight. The single domestic battery wasn’t holding a charge so we only had lights and water pumps while the engine running, and no hot water because the engine fed calorifier didn’t appear to be working.
We popped in to The Boat House in Braunston for a lunch time drink, then headed quickly back to the boat for the return trip. The engine spluttered into life, coughed a few times, then died. I started it again half a dozen times with the same result before it struggled to life.
We managed to limp to Wolfhamcote half a mile away before the engine died for good. There was nothing I could do to sort it out so I left Michael and his mother sitting in front of the fire for a damp six miles walk back to the marina to collect the car.
The following day I returned with one of our fitters and an out of season Calcutt hire boat. We towed my boat back to the marina where fitter Russ spent several hours cleaning my solidly caked fuel filter then bleeding the fuel lines so he could start the engine.
I tried taking the boat out again a couple of weeks later. Again I had problems. The engine kept dropping out of gear. I managed to crawl back to the marina this time. The problem was easily resolved. A hose on my PRM gearbox had perished allowing the oil to escape.
To ensure that I didn’t have any further problems, I had all the perished engine and gearbox hoses replaced.
I ran out of money then so apart from a few smaller improvements such as buying a condensation preventing ventilation mat to fit under our mattress (£66), some interlocking plastic mats for the front deck (£57), and carpeting for our bedroom (£40) to replace the mouldy and threadbare beige carpet in situ when I moved on board, we saved our pennies for the next year.
In March 2013 we replaced the existing 110ah starter battery and upgraded the single 110ah battery in the leisure bank to two, and then soon after, four 135ah. We also added a 1600w pure sine inverter. That little lot cost just over £800.
A week later we had all the boat’s carpet ripped out and replaced with smart looking and easy to clean oak effect laminate flooring. Carpet just wasn’t practical with two hair shedding and muddy pawed spaniels on board. The new laminate flooring was easy to keep clean. The downside was that Charlie, the hyperactive springer spaniel, now drives us mad with his constant clickity click as he marches relentlessly up and down the boat.
Just to ensure that we emptied our savings account completely, the following day we had a 300w solar array fitted by Tim Davis of Onboard Solar. The three panels with their MPPT controller (£1,000 including fitting) have made a significant difference to life on board.
We use a fair amount of electricity. The inverter tends to run for much of the day, we relax for a couple of mindless hours each evening in front of our 240v television, my laptop is on all day, every day, and Sally and I also regularly have a range of power hungry smart phones, tablets and Kindles charging.
With the solar panels installed, after I identified one or two inefficiencies in my electrical setup generally, now if we aren’t cruising during the day, running the engine for no more than an hour is enough to bring the batteries up to full charge.
In March we also tackled our fire safety shortfalls by installing a carbon monoxide monitor, a fire blanket and three new fire extinguishers (£80) and, in case we dropped any metal objects overboard, a bijou recovery magnet.
The tiny magnet is as wide as a 2p piece and about two inches long. It’s small but it will lift 50lb. Attached to a 100m length of Paracord I keep in the engine room, I’ve used it so far to retrieve two bunches of keys, three shackles, two windlasses and a screwdriver. The owner of the boat in front of me yesterday used his to almost instantly retrieve a borrowed pair of mole grips. The £26 investment is an essential bit of boating kit.
In April we were at it again. I had a fuel pre filter installed rather than having to try to reach the fuel filter on the engine which was jammed almost inaccessibly between the front of the engine and the bulkhead between the engine room and our bedroom, and I had a steel frame installed around the engine so it could be boarded and insulated. Then I booked River Canal Rescue for a full engine service. Cost £630.
I also had some deck boards quickly fitted above the engine to allow me to climb over the engine to get to the stairs into the cabin. The engine wasn’t boarded at the side nor were any of the boards soundproofed so the engine room was more usable but still very noisy. Cost £200.
At the Crick Boat Show in May we invested £125 in a new front and a new rear fender to replace the disintegrating and embarrassing objects hanging off the boat.
I’m trawling through my records listing the major expenses but there are many smaller purchases which add significantly to the total. For example, in the first six months of 2013, I also bought gearbox oil, grease, fairleads, grippy pads to allow us to step onto the front and the back of the boat without slipping, inverter wiring, a 25m shore line, mooring chains, weed hatch tools, battery leads, spring clips and hooks for the engine room, a consumer until and switch, stove paint, paint brushes, stove glass, drill bits, fender hangers and side fenders, Carnuba wax, a coolie hat and door mats. The total for these items is £720.
In August my bilge pump stopped working so I had to buy a new one. One of our fitters, Russ Fincham, suggested a way of improving the way the bilge pump works in my engine room. Normally the pump simply sits in the bilge, the lowest point in the engine bay. Water finding its way into the bilge, in my case at the time from any one of half a dozen different directions, is sucked up by the pump and expelled via a hose into the canal. There were a number of different leaks causing the accumulation in my bilge but the main one was via the stern gland. Russ suggested placing a washing up bowl beneath the stern gland and gluing a float switch to the bowl bottom. The bowl would confine the incoming water to a small area, the float switch would trigger the pump as the water level rose in the bowl then quickly expel any excess water from the boat. The system works really well. I now know that any water in the bilge isn’t coming from the stern gland so I can then look elsewhere for the leak. Bilge pump and float switch £33.
In November I invested £369 in a secondary double glazing kit which comprised ten polycarbonate panels and enough magnetic and steel tape to secure them to the cladding around the leaky windows inside the cabin. The Irish supplier sent the white rather than brown magnetic tape, then said he couldn’t supply the brown tape I had ordered so eventually agreed to refund the full purchase price but allowed me to keep the plastic panels. I eventually managed to secure the panels with Velcro. They do a marvellous job of keeping the cabin warm by preventing wind whistling through the gaps in the old windows. They also stop condensation completely.
I kicked off the refurbishment programme in 2014 with the purchase of a Webasto central heating kit and a Surecal 55l calorifier to replace the broken one under our bed. Cost £1,500.
I wanted central heating on board to supplement our solid fuel stove. The rear of the boat has always been quiet cold. The stove is at the front of the boat. It has a gravity fed back boiler which feeds three radiators down the starboard side. By the time the hot stove water has trickled forty feet to the radiator in our bedroom it’s luke warm. I wanted to be able to heat the bedroom properly and allow us more flexibility when heating the boat during spring and autumn when we just need a quick burst of heat at either end of the day.
However, trying to find someone to fit the central heating system was a nightmare. I couldn’t get the work done at Calcutt because of politics and all the other heating engineers we contacted appeared to be too busy.
Maybe the fitting problems were a blessing in disguise. Although we still struggle to balance the stove’s output with milder spring and autumn weather, we’re managed to resolve the back cabin problems. I’ll cover the improvements we’ve made to achieve that shortly.
In March I purchased a Smartgauge battery monitor. It’s one of the smartest purchases I’ve made for the boat. Prior to its installation, charging the battery bank was purely guesswork. I knew I needed to run the engine to charge the batteries, but I didn’t know how often or for how long. I knew that the bank desperately needed charging if the boat’s 12v system failed but letting the batteries run flat didn’t do them any good at all.
Now I can press a button to check the bank’s capacity then run the engine for as long as necessary to bring them up to full charge. No more wasted fuel when running the engine to charge batteries which don’t need charging, and no more reducing the battery bank’s lifespan by allowing them to drain. Cost £155.
I’m absolutely hopeless with the simplest DIY tasks on board. In March I asked a handyman to do some jobs for me including fitting the new battery monitor and curing a leak in the bathroom which had resulted in shower water trickling along some trunking running through the shower cubicle then pouring on to our bed in the rear cabin. Labour plus materials for two days £273.
In March we also replaced the bathroom shower curtain with a shower door designed to fit the lower than usual shower cubicles you find on boats. The new shower door meant that we didn’t spend most of our time in the shower trying to unwrap ourselves from a difficult to clean shower curtain.
In April we recovered all eight seats and backs in the L shaped saloon and in the Pullman’s dinette. Sally, clever girl, also made ten pairs of matching curtains. The seats cost £650 to recover. Material for the curtains brought the total to £800. I also had to pay an eye watering £114 for a new thermostat for my Mercedes engine.
The following month we asked The Little Chimney Co to manufacture a stainless steel chimney to provide us with a durable alternative to the off the shelf steel ones which fell apart every year. Cost £150.
In June we had the new calorifier fitted and a new relay fitted to ensure that both battery banks charged properly. We also purchased a folding trolley for transporting toilet cassettes, gas and coal, some new fenders, shackles and engine oil. Total £450. Oh, and another £1.60 for a pack of three tennis balls from Amazon to put on the end of our mooring stakes.
In July we purchased a first aid kit, two CRT style lifejacket and a new 12v fridge. We also removed the carpet we had foolishly left in our bedroom when the laminate flooring was installed and replaced it with more laminate flooring. Total £795.
The next month we paid a deposit to a carpenter to secure his services for boarding and insulating the engine properly and had the engine’s head gasket replaced and a faulty bleed valve replaced on my mud box. I also had the boat’s original fuse board replaced with one which was neater, more modern and easier to understand and access, had the new shower door fitted, new sockets installed in the front of the boat, a new LED headlamp fitted and the alternator wiring improved, bought a 2.6KW suitcase generator for heavy duty electrical items when cruising which, surprisingly we’ve only used for ten minutes in the last eight weeks, a Jerry can and petrol and oil for the generator, and a 10m shoreline, also for the generator. Total cost £2,700.
In October, now running out of steam, money and the will to live, we paid the balance due for the first class engine boxing and soundproofing work then had some more electrical work done in the cabin. Total cost £1,300.
The next month I purchased an LPG conversion kit for the generator and a motion sensor battery powered light for the engine room costing me another £200.
To finish the year off, and ensure we couldn’t afford a holiday for a very long time, I had the alternator adjusted, some more wiring replaced inside and the oil, temperature and tachometer gauges rewired in my pigeon box. Cost £400.
In January with my retirement from full time employment and the start of our grand adventure just four months away, I pushed the boat out and replaced my failed bank of four 135ah lead acid batteries with larger capacity maintenance free 160ah AGM batteries.
In February, knowing that I was likely to run the engine for 1,000 hours a year once I started cruising in earnest, I spent £190 for a one to one engine service tuition from RCR’s senior engineer, Kerry. Now rather than have to spend £150 every 250 hours for someone else to service my engine, I can do it myself at no cost other than £25 for oil and filters. That’s the theory anyway. I’ve yet to actually do one myself but the next service is due within the next two weeks.
Remember I mentioned that my stove struggles to push the heat it generates to the far end of our cabin? To overcome this, most boat owners simply invest most of their savings in an Ecofan. These fans so a marvellous job of pushing heat away from the stove. They use the stove’s heat to power the fan, providing the stove has a single skinned, and therefore hot, top plate. I bought an Ecofan and couldn’t understand why it wouldn’t work until I realised that my stove has a double skin on top which means that you can rest the palm of your hand on top without burning it.
My solution, which works very well indeed, was to install a 12v ceiling fan close to the stove in line with the two bulkhead doorways either side of our walk through bathroom. Now, if we want the back of the boat warm, we simply make sure that the bathroom doors are open then turn on the fan. Within half an hour the temperature at the back of the boat increases by six or seven degrees.
I purchased the fan in February then had it fitted in March along with three more LED ceiling lights and a key safe.
I had the key safe fitted after hearing horror stories about boaters who managed to lock themselves out of their floating homes then pay a small fortune to someone to break in for them. I’ve come close to locking myself out twice before when I dropped my key ring in the cut.
The key safe offers us wonderful peace of mind. It’s bolted through the bulkhead by our front door so can’t be removed. We keep a spare key for the front door in it. Total cost £400.
That was our refurbishment pretty much done apart from a couple of largish purchases last month and this.
Last month I had my rear hatch surround tidied up and improved. There was a gap between the top of the doors and the hatch large enough to fit my shore line without squashing it so, of course, the gap also allowed the wind to whistle through into the cabin when it was blowing from the stern. The gap was removed curing the draught problem but causing another problem because there was nowhere for the shoreline to go. I had a socket installed on the rear bulkhead next to the doors. Cost £350.
Earlier this month I managed to wear a hole in my exhaust waterlock. This could have been disastrous because the water drawn from the canal and passed around the engine which then should have been expelled from the back of the boat via the exhaust was now able to leak into the bilge. I could possibly have sunk the boat.
Fortunately I was able to spot and address the problem before any damage was done to anything other than my bank balance. The cost of a new waterlock, a steel basket to secure it away from the gearbox coupling which had done the damage, the waterlock fitting and the replacement of my stern gland packing while the engineer was with me cost £300.
Last but far from least, we had our cheap and cheerful Porta Potti replaced last week with a composting toilet. The toilet was very expensive compared to the stand alone cassette I’ve been used to for the last five years but, oh boy, what a difference. We now have an effective and pretty much odour free toilet on board which doesn’t involve either moving the boat to a pump out station or lugging a heavy and foul smelling cassette full of human waste to an equally foul smelling and often inoperable Elsan waste disposal point.
Today the boat is very different from the basic craft I moved on to five years ago. It’s a very comfortable, warm and dry floating home fully equipped for weeks or months cruising off grid.
I’m delighted with the boat now. The cabin paint could look smarter but we’re considering which way to go with that at the moment. A professional paint job will cost us roughly £100 a foot or in excess of £6,000 (£8,500 was the price given to me verbally at Crick yesterday) and we would have to find alternative accommodation for a month and a half while it was done. We could do the work ourselves for about a third of the price but we would need to spend six weeks doing it. I don’t really think that’s an option as neither of us has the skills needed to do a first class job.
The only other improvement on the cards is replacing all of the windows. They’re old, tatty looking, and very draughty. The polycarbonate secondary double glazing does a great job eliminating the draughts but with them in place, Sally can’t easily get into the space between plastic and glass to do any cleaning.
The problem I think we’ll have if we want new windows fitted is with the hardwood surrounds fitted to bridge the gap between the old wooden and the new steel cabins. If these have to be taken out to allow new windows to be fitted then replaced afterwards, the cost of replacing the windows is likely to be prohibitive.
I’ve worn myself out now. I hope you’ve found this much longer than usual newsletter useful. As I pointed out at the beginning of this section, all of these improvements are specific to my boat and the way I wanted to improve it. However, if you’re buying a boat with a view to using it for extended cruising, you might be guided in the right direction by reading about what I’ve done over the last few years.
That’s it. We left our boat show mooring this morning at 9am after two days of none existent phone signals and internet connections. It’s 3.30pm now. We’re going to take the dogs for a long walk on a very peaceful stretch of canal far, far away from the crowds of Crick.
Discovery Day And Narrowboat Helmsmanship Training
If you’re new to this site you might not know about the service I launched in June 2014. I host narrowboat experience days on board my own 62′ long narrowboat James No 194. The ten hour days are a combination of discussion about the pros and cons of living on board, narrowboat designs and the best equipment for live aboard boaters, and a six to eight hour helmsmanship training cruise along the Oxford and/or Grand Union Canals.
I’ll be running the discovery days approximately on the first ten days of June, August, October and December this year. As summer approaches more and more site users are booking the relatively few discovery days still available. In June just Friday 5th and Tuesday 9th are available. August onwards is still relatively free. If you are interested in joining me for a fun and information packed discovery day please check the diary before it’s too late.
In the meantime, meet recent discovery day attendees Steve and Kathy Hammond…
“Paul provided all the information we needed – what to bring, how to find the marina etc. I would emphasise the need for waterproofs – if it is raining there is no escape!
We are considering whether a narrowboat would be right for us as a holiday/touring base in a couple of years and Paul helped us with just about everything we needed to know in making our decision – selecting, purchasing, maintaining, costs, regulations, driving, etiquette and much more. Having never been on a narrowboat before we started the day with some trepidation; we both ended the day driving his 62’ boat in with reasonable skill and confidence whilst tackling strong winds, locks, tight bends, and a fair amount of traffic in some places. This says much about Paul’s calm instruction and willingness to help, especially when the inevitable mistakes happened.
A great day; as well as learning lots it really brought home to us the main reason for buying a boat – either to live on or escape to – being able to put away the stresses of daily life and travel and stay in beautiful, peaceful countryside where relaxation is pretty much compulsory.
We would definitely recommend an instruction day with Paul to anyone thinking of owning a narrowboat, whether for leisure or as a home. Anyone thinking of buying a boat should take one of his courses – you will learn so much and could avoid making a costly mistake.”
You can find out more about my discovery days and availability here. Don’t forget that there’s just one date for a single person remaining for April now so if you want to spend a spring day out with me you need to book quickly.
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.
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.
Composting toilets – The eco friendly method of disposing of your on board waste is now becoming a viable alternative to cassette and pump out toilets
Engine room leaks – My winning battle against leaks at the back end of the boat and more tales from our leisurely cruise of the Warwick Ring
Engine room storage space – If you haven’t decided which style stern narrowboat is right for you, look at the tools and equipment I can shoehorn in to my traditional stern engine room
Kingswood Junction to Hopwas – Week two of the journey as we head through squallid Birmingham into beautiful and wooded Staffordshire
A cruise from Braunston to Kingswood Junction – My account of the route, the sights and the occasional problem along the way
Following on from last week’s newsletter, here’s a guide for you if you are thinking of continuously cruising the network. This is information you need to know if you don’t plan to have a home mooring.
You need a licence to cruise the waterways of England and Wales but with a number of different licences and options which do you choose? This post tells you what you need to know.
Three years since we last painted our hull so this week we had the dubious pleasure of taking the boat out of the water to do it again.
Five live aboard case studies – I added four new case studies to the site and updated my own which I had written three years previously
Water pumps and security – Bits and bobs from a life afloat
Narrowboat ownership on a shoestring – How to cut your boat ownership costs
Buying a narrowboat Part 2 – More great advice on choosing and buying your first boat
Buying a narrowboat Part 1 – Some great advice on choosing and buying your first boat
Routine engine servicing – The basic stuff every narrowboat owner should know
Running a boating business – How to earn a living on the cut.
A detailed breakdown of my own narrowboat running costs for December 2014
An unexpected cruise – A surprise cruise to Braunston, secondary double glazing panel fitting, and why dogs and laminate flooring don’t go well together
Battery Banks – The pros and cons of lead acid and AGM batteries
More winter cruising – The tail end of my Christmas break afloat
Winter cruising – A narrowboat isn’t just for the summer months. Winter cruising is a joy. Here’s my account of a week on the cut over the Christmas break
Cooking on the cut – Here are some gourmet festive recipes suitable for a narrowboat’s small galley
A Cautionary Tale – Canals and narrowboats offer all the ingredients for some pretty nasty accidents. Here’s one which could have been much worse.
Shared ownership – If you can’t afford a whole boat, why not buy part of one? Here’s how you can enjoy narrowboat ownership but at a fraction of the normal cost.
Here’s a live aboard narrowboat fully equipped for long term cruising. It’s my own boat James No 194. There’s a five minute video tour of the boat and a summary of the pros and cons of the boat’s design and equipment.
London cruising – Every week I receive emails from potential boat owners who want to live on board in London or who want to visit the capital as part of a holiday cruise. This advice from a very experienced boater will be of great interest to you if you’re one of them.
Narrowboat fuel consumption – How many miles to the gallon can you get out of your floating home?
How to spot bogus narrowboat adverts – Beware narrowboats for sale at bargain basement prices. Here’s a cautionary tale to make you think twice about reaching for your wallet.
Narrowboat CO2 emissions – Is living on a boat a green alternative to a home on dry land? You’ll have to read this newsletter to find out.
Finding reliable tradesmen on the cut – They are out there but it’s not always easy to sort the wheat from the chaff. Here’s a new service on the site which is going to make the job much easier for you.
Anti social behaviour on the cut – How common are the unpleasant incidents you sometimes hear about on the canal network and who are the worst offenders? You’ll probably be surprised.
The pros and cons of buying an ex hire boat to live on – How suitable are ex hire boats for living on board full time?
I ran short of time during this week and couldn’t think of much to write about anyway, so I just detailed an idyllic week we spent away from the marina, pottering about for a few days in Braunston and then finishing off the week on the south Oxford canal down as far as Fenny Compton. Six months before the start of our continuous cruising lifestyle, it was just what we needed to whet our appetites.
Emergency food on board – Some of the most pleasant places to moor are a long way from the nearest supermarket. Here are some suggestions to ensure that you’re never short of a tasty meal on your idyllic canal-side retreat.
Cruising in adverse weather conditions part two – A continuation of the previous week’s newsletter.
Cruising in adverse weather conditions – Steering a narrowboat over the glassy surface of a placid canal on windless day in the middle of summer is child’s play. Here’s what you need to do on a “normal” day’s cruise.
Following your dream – Is your goal to some day spend a life of leisure out on the canal network? This article might encourage you to make a move sooner rather than later.
Route finding for narrowboat owners – Here are the popular paper and digital route finders to help make navigating the network child’s play
Long term narrowboat hire – Is hiring a boat long term a realistic alternative to buying one?
living on board in the winter, the cost of living afloat generally and where you can moor your floating home are all subjects which are misunderstood by many aspiring narrowboat owners. Here’s what you need to know.
Narrowboat heating, electrics and engine specifications – How is the perfect live aboard narrowboat configured? Here are a few suggestions
Essential boating equipment – Here’s the stuff every boater should carry on board
The pros and cons of a wide beam boat – More and more wannabe boaters are considering more spacious wide beams rather than narrowboat. There is clearly more living space on board but how practical are wide beam boats on the inland waterways?
The dreaded weed hatch – Sooner or later your engine will start to overheat, you’ll lose propulsion and you’ll know that you need to dive down your weed hatch to free an obstacle or two from the propeller. Here’s how to do it properly and a list of the tools you’ll need.
Digital aids for narrowboat owners – Digital applications and maps for inland waterways boaters
Practical experience for lone boaters. Here’s an account of a day’s cruise with a nervous single boater. He wanted enough confidence to deal with locks on his own. I spent the day with him, designed a route to include twenty six locks and spent ten hours helping him hone his locking skills.
Extending your boat’s storage space – The pros and cons of fitting covers to your front and rear decks
Naming your boat – The legal requirements when naming, renaming and displaying your boat plus the inland waterways’ two hundred most popular boat names
Speeding boats – Are rocking stationary boats the fault of speeding passing boats or the fault of boat owners who can’t moor securely?
Boat Handling – lock and paddle gear types.
Boat handling – Swing and lift bridges
Single handed boating – Negotiating locks.
Single handed boating – Choosing the right type of boat for single handed cruising and equipment to make your solo journeys safer and more enjoyable.
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.
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.
What makes a perfect live aboard narrowboat. Two experienced boaters discuss layout, size and essential equipment
A cautionary tale if you are considering buying a wide beam boat to live on.
A further update to the site content index.
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.
How do you continue to earn money to support your boating lifestyle as you cruise the network?
Sharing your narrowboat space – The practicalities of sharing living accommodation the same size as a large shed.
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?
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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)
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.
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.
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.
Roses and Castles Canal Art – What is it and why do boaters spend so much money decorating their boats with it?
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Popular narrowboat terminology – Hundreds or words or phrases used to describe parts of boats and the waterways they cruise through.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
Managing your water supply
An American blogs about his travels
Solving engine room leaks – A simple solution to a dripping stern tube
All about the weed hatch – Removing debris from your propeller
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!
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.
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?
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
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?
The cost of living on a narrowboat – An article in the Daily Mail… and why most boaters disagree with what they said.
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.
Fenland river cruising – Another boater’s maiden voyage to whet your appetite.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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
Narrowboat fuel tanks – How much do they hold
Meet one of your legless canal side companions
The canal network’s largest floating hotel
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.
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?
The perils of exceeding your monthly broadband data allowance. Learn from my mistakes.
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.
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.
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.
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.
James’ upgrade – Adding solar panels and replacing carpets with oak effect laminate flooring
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
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.
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
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.
Understanding narrowboat electrics – Another excellent article from Tim Davis
Satellite television for narrowboats – Information from a system installer
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
First tests and reviews of the budgeting application
The best aerial for a narrowboat television
The first release of the new spreadsheet based narrowboat budgeting application
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
I started to develop the narrowboat budgeting software. This newsletter detailed the concept and the progress to date
Practical flooring for narrowboat dogs
Case study – Mike and Mags use a double redundancy payment to pay for their new floating home
The best tip for a wannabe narrowboat owner – Advice from existing boat owners
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
Dealing with pests on a narrowboat – spiders and swans
Posh boats – My personal favourite: S.M. Hudson
Repeat prescriptions, diesel heating systems and solar panels
Survey – Do you want a forum on the site? (You already know the answer to that!)
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
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
DIY narrowboat painting – I spent three weeks in April painting my boat. Here’s the first of my progress reports
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
Article – Living on a narrowboat in winter
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
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.