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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A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Antioch

I am in awe of Sarah. She’s a lady who can do stuff with her hands (as apposed to me, a man, who struggles to change a plug.). She lives on board a widebeam with two of her three children on the Leeds/Liverpool canal.

Who are you? (and your significant other and, of course, your dog if you have one)

My name is Sarah, and I have two daughters, one son, a terrier cross called Abby and two cats. My eldest daughter has left home, and the two younger ones spend 2½ days a week with their dad.

Tell me a little about yourself and why you decided to live a life afloat

I’m a forty-something writer, based in the North West, and I’ve been living aboard for nearly nine years now.

When we decided to get the boat, my then-husband was working as a locum physiotherapist, and we were moving area every six months or so. We’d sold our house the year before, and had narrowed our options to a boat or a wreck of a house in France. As he had the career, but couldn’t speak French and I could speak French but was at home with the children, the boat won out.

What is your boat called and why did you decide on that name?

Widebeam AntiochAntioch. Our original choice was The Black Pig, from Captain Pugwash, but my husband wanted something a bit biblical. I think it’s a lovely word, which is just as well. You know what it’s like on the canal: I’m generally called ‘Sarah from Antioch’

Do you have a permanent mooring?

Yes. It’s a permanent towpath mooring on the Leeds/Liverpool. There’s not much in the way of facilities, though we do have a water point nearby. There was a sanitary station and shower when we first came here, but they were closed, I’ve never been quite sure why…

It’s very rural, looking out over fields, with just a few cottages by the locks where the Rufford branch starts, but a ten minute walk from Burscough village.

We were lucky to get this when we did. The number of available moorings has shrunk, and of course they’ve now gone over to the auction system.

What is your boat style and length

She’s a 58’ widebeam (12’) canal boat, with a cruiser stern.

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

Nine years in July.

How did you finance your boat?

We had the boat built for a very reasonable price, about £80,000, I think. (The boat builders went bust whilst they were working on the boat after ours, so maybe it was a little too reasonable!). We had about two-thirds of this from our house sale, and financed the rest with an unsecured loan.

How much time do you spend on your boat each year?

All year round, though I tend to spend a couple of days a week at my boyfriend’s flat in Manchester.

Are you still working? (If so, what do you do?)

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

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

Getting down in the engine room when it’s cold and dark!

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

Where do I start? I love where we’re moored, and would never be able to afford a house around here. I like the potential for moving, even though we rarely do. The people are brilliant, the lateral community. I like having an unusual lifestyle, and this just fits. I’m really happy.

If you could change just one thing about your boat, what would it be?


When you are cruising how do you resupply (How do you get to the supermarket without a car)?

I don’t really do much cruising. The kids have things on all the time, and we don’t have enough spare time to relax and just journey. Maybe in a few years. When I do move, it’s for a purpose, such as going up to Wigan for the dry dock. There’s always a town or village within walking distance.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

I’ve got a washing machine. I’ve also got a range (like an Aga) with a drying rack above it, so there’s never any problem drying clothes.

What type of toilet do you have on board and are you happy with it?

I started out with a pumpout and macerator. There’s not anywhere that close, so it took two days to go up, pump out manually, and come back. And that was in the midst of an already busy life. Then the nearest sanitary station stopped allowing self pump out, and we had those incredibly cold winters so the tank froze solid. It was a nightmare!

Next, I tried a cassette. Well, actually, it was a Portapotti which I borrowed when the tank froze, and we kept on using. That was ok, I could strap the container part on the back of my bike and cycle up to the village. Also, it meant that we could take the tank out and use the space. It was under my daughter’s bed, and REALLY heavy.

I’d always been interested in a compost loo, but two things put me off. Our next door boat neighbours had a Envirolet compost toilet that was horrible. It smelled disgusting, and kept overflowing. They are designed to evaporate off the liquid, but it really didn’t work. Then I found out about separating toilets, where the liquid and solid are, well, separated, which means you don’t get the smell issue. But even the economy version of this (made by a Swedish company called Separett) was going to cost several hundred pounds. (These are great toilets, and look pretty much like a normal loo).

Then someone told me that you can buy a separating seat and make your own compost loo for a fraction of the price. I’ve had mine since October, and it’s the best toilet yet. You can read about how I did it on my website, by following the link at the end.

How do you connect to the internet when you are on your boat and are you happy with the service you receive?

We started off with a dongle from Three, which was ok, but we were always tipping over our allowance. Now I tether my phone (also through Three), from which we have unlimited allowance, which is great.

The signal just where we are isn’t terrific, though. I’d love it if someone would set up a rural hotspot just nearby…

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

I don’t have the widest knowledge, really, and there’s a lot I’d like to explore one day. I love where we are, but last summer I spent a few days on a friend’s boat when she moved from Macclesfield down to Honeystreet. I was with her for three days on the Trent and Mersey, which was beautiful (with such dinky locks! Nothing I’d get my boat through), and then again on the Thames. It was the first time I’d sailed on  river, very enjoyable, all that space.

How do you generate electricity when you are cruising and how much do you use?

We don’t have hook-ups at the mooring, so it’s diy all the time. I have a 5kw diesel generator, which we use quite a lot. That charges a bank of four leisure batteries. I can also use my main engine as a back up, when necessary. I’ve just made my first solar panel (again, you can read about it on my website), and am planning on a whole lot more.

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

Freezing when I wake up, gradually rising to boiling in the evening. The boat heats up very quickly. We started off with underfloor heating, coming off the range, but that was stupid. For it to have worked effectively, we needed to leave the range on all the time, which drained the power too much. Plus you just end up heating the water… The range is on at a low temperature all day, which gives a nice background warmth. I also have radiators and a multi fuel stove (and an obsession with collecting wood whenever I see it!). We’re pretty comfortable.

What advice can you offer someone considering living on a narrowboat?

That’s a tricky one. I’ve met a few people over time who thought that living on a boat would be the best thing ever, and then totally hated it. I could say try it out first, but I’d never even been on a narrowboat before we made the decision to get one, and only had one day doing an inland helmsman course before moving on.

You don’t have much space, so you need to be comfortable with proximity. On the bonus side, my kids have never been able to flounce off and slam doors! You need to get used to having your own little ecosystem: you can’t leave the tap running while you brush your teeth, or have loads of light on. Never move onto a boat because your other half wants to.

Being on a boat is physically quite tiring. I do all of my own maintenance, and always have a list of jobs to catch up with.

What obvious questions have I missed from this list?

Umm, maybe living on a boat with kids? There are a few of us around! If you’d asked that, I would have said that it’s a great life. Mine have grown up with an attitude to life that I’m proud of, outside a lot, comfortable with all sorts of people. The downside is that they grow! Mine were 11, 6 and 4 when we moved on, and took up a lot less space than they do now. And having a small space, no tv, and being in such a rural location were all elements which led to my eldest moving out when she was 18. But that’s no bad thing. She’s very independent, and has loved city life from the start. She has very happy memories (mostly!) of growing up on the boat, and it’s always a good story.

 You can read about Sarah’s life afloat here.

Are you one of the lucky few who lives the dream on board your own narrowboat full time? Would you like to share your experience with some of the thousands of potential floating home owners who visit this site? If you can spare the time to answer a few simple questions, I would love to hear from you. Just let me know so I can email the questions to you. I’ll create a post like the one above complete with a link back to your own blog or website.



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.