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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 Progress

After being made redundant from her call centre management job, Kim persuaded husband Jim to give up his high pressure position in the corporate world and enjoy the simple life on board their own 59′ cruiser stern narrowboat with their five dogs. Here’s what Kim has to say about their new life.

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

My name is Kim. I live with my husband, Jim and our 5 dogs. Our eldest dog is Paige, she is a Patterdale Terrier and is 16.5 years old. Then there are our Border Terrier sisters, Jess and Fern at 5 years, Bart, Jack Russell, he is 4 and Ruby, German Shepherd at 3 yrs.

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

Inside NB ProgressI used to work in Customer Service, I have managed large call centres, written and delivered training programmes for 1st line and Middle Management.  I was made redundant about 4 years ago and with the support of Jim, took the decision to come out of full time work and to find something that I could do for myself.

We moved to a bungalow that was needing complete refurbishment and I project managed this for 8 months.

Jim had a very high pressured job for an oil company which was taking its toll on our life balance and his stress levels. I had seen some narrow boats moored up in the little village close by our home and mentioned one day that I thought it looked such a nice way of living. 2 weeks later, Jim came home and asked if I was serious about the boating thing as he had had enough in the corporate world, nights out, meetings, emails, phone calls, customers etc etc. We talked about it for a week, trying to weigh up good points and maybe not so good and then went boat hunting…  Here we are.

On a personal level, we have 4 children between us (youngest 20 and oldest 32) 2 gorgeous grand-daughters (aged 5 and 3) and another on the way.

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

Our boat is called Progress.  Jim has a Dog Training business called Progress DTS. This is something that he used to do as a hobby but has now decided to pursue this further. We decided to name the boat Progress as we felt it sort of fell in with his business, because we were making progress in the next stage of our life and because we felt the word progress is a positive word and this is what we both wanted to feel.

Do you have a permanent mooring?

We have a years mooring in Mercia Marina in Willington, Derbyshire.  We felt that, as relatively new to living on a boat, that we needed some stability initially and with winter approaching (as we have only just gone onto the water), that we needed to get used to what life is like as a live-aboard, during winter, in the safety of a marina.  We intend to get out there cruising come the break of the winter months and explore the canal network but have the marina to come back to.

What is your boat style and length

nbProgress is a 59ft Cruiser style narrow boat.  We designed her from scratch. She is very modern in comparison to some boats out on the waterway network. I have seen some absolutely lovely boats, some very traditional, but, on a personal note,find the wood that you get in more traditional boats,very dark.  I know that our boat would not suit everyone as we really have gone away from the traditional but we love the modern feel and can also soak up the tradition by seeing other boats go past.

We have a large stern, which is gated and meshed (this is for the safety of the dogs and ourselves).

We have no access to the bow other than from the outside because we have utilised the whole bow area in a large bed. On the bow, we have a large storage box, which also is a super seat for the summer.

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

We have owned nbProgress since the middle of October 2013, so not very long.

How did you finance your boat?

The sale of our property will pay for our boat.

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

As we are new on the boat, we have no history answer to this question, however, we will be 100% on board as soon as our property is sold.  At the moment, we are here for about 5 days out of 7. We nip back, sometimes stopping overnight at the house, depending upon what we have to do. We are doing a few viewings at the moment so bit of running back and forth.

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

NB Progress is introduced to the waterNeither of us are working now. I finished full time work about 4 years ago. I have had a couple of part time jobs in that time whilst I was trying to find the right interest.  Jim does not work now having given up his job to concentrate on his Dog Training business. We will get some work when we need to (which we will to keep the coffers topped up).  Jim has his HGV Class 1 licence and a vast amount of experience at senior management level.  I would not want to go back to full time work so anything part time would suit me when I have to.  I am also studying Reflexology at the moment and would hope to turn my hand to this once I have passed my exams.

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

At the moment, there is nothing that we have come across that we do not like.  We had quite a stressful introduction to boating with three breakdowns in the first three days of being on the water (one of which was the boat builders fault and two which were a fault with the brand new engine, which Barrus have actually been out and corrected).  Jim has also taken a tumble into Stenson Lock, which was also a bit hair raising. For him, the biggest loss was his new iphone 5. Luckily replaced through insurance, so he has got over that now.

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

Living on a narrow boat has offered us the way of life that we have always wanted. It is peaceful. We can be in our boat away from everything if we want to but there is a community out there around us, if and when we want to be a part of it. We love the fact that we now do not have the space that we had before, which we filled with stuff that really, we just do not need.  We also really like the fact that we have to think about what food to buy, how much we can actually fit in the freezer compartment, or in the cupboards.  We used to waste so much just because we did not need to think about what we actually needed.

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

The only thing I would change is to have double glazing.

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

We have a car here in the marina so at the moment, we shop at a supermarket.  We do intend to shop as we go along at local shops when we do get out there on the canal.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

We have a washing machine.

Here at the marina, there are washing machines and dryers in a block close by.  I have done some washing and then took it to the dryer to get it dried.  Whilst in the marina I will continue to do this, especially through the winter as I do not want to have washing lying about. In the summer, I will put the washing on an airer on the stern to dry in the sun.

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

We have a Thetford Cassette toilet. We are happy with this. (Thought that this might be the thing that we would like least but we have coped with this without problem). We only like the blue stuff though. There is no smell with the blue stuff and it works quickly on the contents. We tried some green stuff once and did not like that.

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

We have 3mifi.  We have a small aerial on the roof plugged into a little credit card size box located in a cupboard.  We have a monthly allowance of 15gb which we pay £15.99 per month for.  We also have a standby on Mercia Marina wifi which is a years usage, 60gb, or whichever runs out first, £95.  We took this out because last week, our allowance on 3 suddenly ran out 2 days before the new month started. This only happened because Jim had to get his new iphone up and running, had to download the new update which ate up 9gb of our allowance.  We did not realise this at the time but 3 confirmed where the usage had gone when Jim phoned to query.  The only thing was, because we are on a monthly allowance, we could not have any allowance until the new month started.  Jim decided to buy some from Mercia Marina to keep for just such moments, or at times when 3 goes down.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

We have not really explored much yet. We are on the Trent and Mersey Canal here at the marina.  I have previously been down to Oxford from Coventry and this was lovely. This was a fortnights holiday.  Jim and I have also had a week through Foxton Locks and again this was great.  Will update on this after we have done a bit of exploring.

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

Via our diesel engine, Barrus 40. Bank of 5 batteries.

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

VERY. We have central heating although so far we have not used it.  We have a multi fuel burner.  We have had this going night and day when we have been on the boat. We also have an ecofan although whilst I like to see it spinning around, I am not sure how effective it really is. We have the doors open(only 2 through bathroom into bedroom) and the heat flows quite nicely down the boat.  Time will tell whether I am still saying the same thing once we get into those real winter days when it is really cold. The coldest we have had so far is minus 3.

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

I don’t think I would give advice as such but I would suggest they ask themselves some realistic, honest questions.

1. Space – can you live in the space that the boat offers.
2. Belongings – can you honestly do without 70% of the stuff that you currently have in your house.
3. Discipline – can you honestly be disciplined regarding housekeeping, cleaning, washing because if not, you will end up living in a mess.
4. Cold – when you open the door on a boat, the cold is there. If you have dogs, you will have to get the lead and walk them, not just let them out into the garden.
5. Finally (or I will just keep going), think carefully about how the boat layout suits YOUR lifestyle. No-one but you, can say what is best. There are options but whether traditional, semi trad, cruiser, narrow or wide or Dutch, its what suits you that is most important and to find this out, you need to look at boats.

You can find out more about Kim, Jim and NB Progress 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.