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 Ghosties

Rachel isn’t your typical liveaboard narrowboat owner but I thought I would include her case study for those of you who are worried about making a sudden switch from bricks and mortar to steel and water. Rachel splits her time between her cottage and her narrowboat on the Thames.

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

Rachel ( locally known as The Nice Witch )

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

My Mum and Dad lived on a boat for some time, my Grandmother had a boat, my uncle was a Merchant Seaman and I passed my Sea Navigation GCSE at school, I thought that rather qualified me to be afloat. I felt it was in my blood.

When Dad popped his clogs I thought about doing something sensible with my inheritance but bought a 41 year old boat instead. I like a challenge and my target was to spend as much time as I could on the water. I live and work part of the week on land and the other onboard.

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

He was renamed “Ghosties” as soon as I had repainted him. The previous name was personal to the former owners, it had to go. I have been researching parapsychology for around 30 years and it seemed a good name to me, something unusual and it made me smile. The children seem to love it as they walk past.

A ghost on the river

A ghost on the river

Do you have a permenant mooring?

I’m on the river Thames, not too far from Lechlade and I love it. I’ve been on a fair few canals but love the river more. The water is deep, debris rarely clogs your prop and most days it’s very quiet. There is a flip side, if you need a hand you might have to wait a while and there is definitely less sense of being in a community. If I was on the boat all of the time, I’m sure I’d miss seeing people.

Bulk water is only 10 minutes away at the lock and a pump out, refuse facility the next lock down. There is no shore power but I’ve never had a problem in the time I’ve been here. I have an inverter, the only thing it feeds is the TV. Everything else is 12 volt.

What is your boat style and length

42ft 6 inch Stern Cruiser Springer, born 1969

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

June 2009, 3 years almost to the day

How did you finance your boat?

Dad’s inheritance.

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

About half the week when I’m working, more when I’m not. So about half the year in all seasons.

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

I’m an academic event manager; I organise conferences, seminars, lectures and courses in the UK.

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

Boat snobbery. We haven’t all got ?80k to spend on the bathtub of our dreams. And being ripped off for substandard work and dodgy diesel.

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

The chance to be alone on the river, pull up against a bank, then watch the sun go down. Or maybe laying awake while a thunderstorm cracks all around you.

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

The windows. They’re hideous, old and will cost me a fortune very soon.

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

I don’t set off without a full cupboard and when I get to Oxford, there are plenty of shops. There’s always Sainsbury’s, Tesco or Asda and they deliver pretty much anywhere.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

Hand wash if I need to, Laundry if I’m away.

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

Cassette loo, very happy. Cheap to run and with a spare cassette, I’ve never been caught out.

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

I’m on Vodafone, which copes with email but there’s no 3G signal so YouTube is out but online grocery shopping is possible.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

I love the Thames most of all but Macclesfield was lovely and the Trent and Mersey.

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

All I need is provided by my engine. I have 1 starter and 3 leisure batteries. With mostly 12v usage, battery life is very good.

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

When the stove is ticking over it’s lovely and cosy, when it’s not it’s cold. Thankfully it’s quite well insulated and keeps in the heat.

 A cosy place to spend a wet winter's eve

A cosy place to spend a wet winter's eve

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

Look at lots before you buy and take a friend with more knowledge than you. What appeals in the summer may not be as functional in the winter. Make sure there’s plenty of storage for clothes as well as fuel. Consider a basic engine maintenance course if you’re not mechanically minded, at some point you will need to work on the engine – especially if you have an older boat. Work out all costs, it’s cheaper than a house to run but it’s not always cheap.

If you have a long term medical condition, think twice before buying. Being stranded alone is scary and dangerous. I have Crohn’s Disease, although very well controlled I don’t live aboard when it flares. You need to be very organised with drugs and prescriptions but it can work.

You can find out more about Rachel’s interest in parapsychology 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 web site.


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.