A Case Study Of Liveaboard Narrowboat Victoria Plum

Here’s a story with a happy ending. Don Wilkinson was made redundant at the tender age of fifty three (my age). Since then he’s spent seventeen years cruising the canal and river network on his own boat. He’s still cruising and still enjoying every minute of it.

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

I am a 70year old male Don Wilkinson. No significant other or pets. ie Single handed boater.

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

I had a 4 day holiday on an Anglo Welsh hire boat about 30years ago and loved it. Set my stall out to leave work at 55, buy a
boat and live on it cruising the canals. Luckily I got made redundant at age 53 and have been happy ever since.

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


My boat is called “Victoria Plum” and I also push a small 13ft butty called Victoria Plum`s Garage. Initially the garage held a
Vespa scooter and sidecar. For the last few years it has held an electric mobility scooter plus junk I don`t want in the boat. The     name was on the second hand boat I had 10 happy years on. Rather than pay a signwriter to put the name on I invested in a pair of cast aluminium nameplates. When I got my new boat 7 years ago I transferred the nameplates.

Do you have a permanent mooring?

I have a permanent mooring at Viking marina in Goole (East Yorkshire) right at the Eastern end of the Aire & Calder canal. This is my 3rd marina, previously at Blue Water Marina for 10 years and Stanilands Marina for 5 years. Both located on the  Stainforth and Keadby canal in Thorne South Yorkshire. I moved marinas only to find a cheaper mooring and save money. ( I     am Yorkshire man with a reputation to uphold.)

What is your boat style and length

My boat is 57 feet long by 6ft 10″. She is a narrowboat but with a fixed wheelhouse putting my air-draft up to 6ft 6″. This      prevents me transiting the tunnel on the Huddersfield narrow canal as their max height is 6ft 2″. When I asked about putting  45 gall drums of water on the back deck to get the air draft down BW  said I would then be too deep. ( I normally draw 3ft 2″). So far on my travels this has been the only place I could not access although I do often touch bottom while cruising.

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

17 years

How did you finance your boat?

Luckily by being made redundant the Redundancy pay plus a lump sum payment from my pension enabled me to buy my first  vessel for cash without having to sell my bungalow in Kingston upon Hull. Renting this out has replaced the pension I lost by  leaving work so early. Using all my savings, max out 2 credit cards and selling the old boat financed the new one.

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

I have slept off the boat about 6 times in 17 years when visiting friends, and changing the tenant in the bungalow.

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

Luckily no.

What do you like least about narrowboat life?

People on “posh” cruisers looking down on me. eg. Last year on the River Thames 4 big cruisers on a visitor mooring with about 30 ft between them. When I approached the owner of the last vessel I asked if he would mind moving closer to the boat ahead of him so that I could moor up astern of him. His answer- I have already washed my hands ready for dinner. When I offered to move it for him he went a funny colour and used language I am not prepared to repeat. I found another mooring.

What do you like most about narrowboat life?

Meeting such lovely people on narrowboats, offering advice or just a chat, helping where needed. Also being able to have a    different view out the window each time I do the washing up!!

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

Reduce the draft so I would spend less time rubbing the bottom of the cut.

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

If I can`t moor directly outside or within a couple of hundred yards of a supermarket the mobility scooter comes out. For a big     shop I tow a shopping trolley. Alternatively use the bus pass.

How do you do your washing when you are cruising?

Full sized washer drier on board powered by a Travel Power 240 generator.

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

Vetus macerator toilet “feeding” a massive 24 cubic foot tank under the bed. Needs pumping out usually 3 times a year so
delighted with it. ( It does influence the draft when getting full)

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

A dongle from “3”. On a 4 month voyage to Bath last year there were maybe 6 nights when I got no service. Much better than the television reception!! My mobile is also with 3 which also gives good coverage throughout the country, so yes very happy.

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

Difficult one to answer. I love most of them. If I have to choose just one it has to be the Llangollen. Second the village of    Willington on the Trent & Mersey canal.

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

I have a 45amp & 95 amp alternators feeding a charging system filling 5×120 ah domestic plus a 120ah engine start battery.Also I have a 3.5kw Travel Power which supplies the boat with mains power while the engine is running. Having a 240 volt fridge and 240 volt full size freezer, large microwave, big tv, disc players etc, plus a 240 volt lighting circuit usage is very high.I decided to go the mains route as I use a night time breathing machine due to sleep apnoea so have to use the inverter all night so saved money by buying big equipment 240 volt rather than 12 volt models. With hindsight I should have gone the 12volt route. Night time usage usually about 150amp hours takes about 3 to 4 hours engine running to fill batteries up again.

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?

At the marina I use electric radiators and are very happy with them. I have a Hurricane diesel heater feeding 6 radiators which I use while cruising. As the heater uses about 10 litres a day to heat the boat and a 25 gallon calorifier it is much cheaper to use electric heating whilst connected to the mains.

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

Have a holiday on a boat during the early or late part of the year when the weather is cooler. If you enjoy the trip while it`s not bright sunshine then you are going to be delighted when it is. Don`t buy a boat to find cheap accommodation. You have to  enjoy the views and wildlife.


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.

Tony & Jane Robinson.

Useful Information
Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.

pearley - Saturday,22 February, 2014

At last, a boat we’ve actually met on our travels. I think it was at Skipton in 2011. Victoria Plumbs Garage was definitely on the bank at Blue water when we spent the winter of 2011/12 there.


Pete and Jeannette


Wendy Harrison - Friday,7 March, 2014

Hi I have just been diagnosed with sleep apnoea and we are just looking at generators so would appreciate some suggestions  we are liveaboards and will be cruising the system for approx 8 months of the year  only spending winter in a Marina so need something that will be good enough to power the Cpap machine


pearley - Friday,7 March, 2014

Wendy Harrison said
Hi I have just been diagnosed with sleep apnoea and we are just looking at generators so would appreciate some suggestions  we are liveaboards and will be cruising the system for approx 8 months of the year  only spending winter in a Marina so need something that will be good enough to power the Cpap machine

What sort of  generator output do you need? Especially startup current.


Wendy Harrison - Monday,10 March, 2014

Haven’t  clue. Just wondered how much wattage a Clap machine uses


Paul Smith - Monday,10 March, 2014

Hi Wendy,

You will need to find out that information yourself. Where will you get the machine? The supplier will be able to tell you how much power it uses. Once you can let us know, forum members can advise you on a suitable generator.


pearley - Monday,10 March, 2014

A slip of the finger I think. Should be CPAP machine.

A quick Google shows that mosT machines ar 240 volt And 12 volt with the option of a rechargeable battery pack. This would mean a current consumption of lessvtgan 5 amps/60 watts. Given that you cannot run a generator between 8pm and 8am I would have thought the sensible way is to run it from the battery pack overnight and recharge during the day when the engine is running. 

However, not being conversant in the way these machines are used, I may be completely wrong.




Victoria Plum - Friday,14 March, 2014

Hi Wendy, Just seen your question on the power requirements for a CPAP machine. My machine is made in New Zealand by Fisher & Paykel Healthcare. The Label states the following:-

220-240V~0.60A (1.65A max) 50-60Hz. Suitable for use with a DC inverter 200W min.

My machine has a water container which means the air supply to the mask is moist to stop your throat and mouth drying up too much when using the machine. In use the machine sounds a bit like a quiet hoover cleaner a couple of feet from your ears. Takes some getting used to but much better than the alternative.

Hope this helps, All the best with the treatment and the cruising.




Wendy Harrison - Saturday,15 March, 2014

Thanks for the replies  they were really helpful  still awaiting an appointment with the hosp to get one on the NHS. mat buy one as ha e been waiting a month now


narrowboatman - Saturday,15 March, 2014

Hi re generator, you have not mentioned a battery management system, by using one you could easily up the charge rate into your service battery by allowing the spare capacity from your start alternator to be added to that of the service alternator.    Doing this with your set up would still keep the charge threshold below the max, and with an Adverc System your batteries will get a proper three stage charge with a boost volt high at the end, just like modern alternator’s fitted to high end heavy electrical use cars.


I have this system fitted to my 58′ with 400 A/H service battery and 80 A/H starter battery, though my service battery is a six X 2 volt lead acid fork lift truck set, deep cycle life in excess of 1200.   The Adverc more than coped for 5 years it is now supplemented by a 500 watt solar system running through a Morningstar MPPT charge controler


Hope you find this usefull, or perhaps a cheaper way would be to read id plate on Air blower and get a small inverter just to run it.   Also my ex had sleeep apnia, since we parted, she could not get on with it and paid to have a night time gum shield made to slightly push her jaw forwards and that has done the trick for her, only downside to that is not available on NHS


Mick,  Midlands


Paul Smith - Thursday,10 March, 2016

The following was emailed to me by site visitor David Dougherty. The information is a useful addition to this thread…

I live in North Carolina across the pond from you and have never set foot in the UK.  Therefore I am not a narrowboat expert at all.

  • I turn 70 later this year and have used a CPAP for about 7 years now.
  • My doctor provides me with a ResMed brand CPAP and my insurance company pays the bill.  I know that the insurance company has preferred that brand, and I just accept that.  I only know this one brand.  Mine is the newest CPAP, the S9.  The newer S10 is actually VPAP and I have not tried it. Don’t want to; why mess with something which is working?
  • It is possible to power a CPAP like mine from 12v DC (if you have a 12v socket in the bed area.)  Perhaps this would help some of your readers.

Our mains is 110 volt and I know yours is 230 or 240 or whatever.  Yours is two phase while ours is one phase to ground (except for a select few appliances like an electric dryer that ends up 240 or whatever across phases).


My experience is with ResMed and I get their newsletter.  A recent subject was battery supply for operation on 12v. The battery ResMed sells for big bucks can only be charged in a wall outlet. They said if you don’t have access to wall socket power during your multi-night vacation, you should consider getting a marine battery, or a deep cycle, to power your CPAP machine.  Like the boat domestic battery bank.  Know how many hours of power you have. Humidification and CPAP pressure can both affect how much power your battery can provide.  For instance, ResMed’s battery provides up to 13 hours of power. But with humidification on, it’s closer to 4 hours. 

I skipped the ResMed battery and bought a cheaper one with mains or 12v cigarette lighter socket or battery terminal alligator clips. That worked out to 6 hours at my actual settings this January when we lost mains for 45 hours.  Then I switched to a car battery. That was for an S9 set to 11 (cm of water) with humidification (set 68 degrees) and a heated hose.


This is my set up:

CPAP-power.jpgImage Enlarger


Converter to the left (ResMed), then the Mains wall charger for the off brand battery pack, then the battery pack (NiCAD bundle like a wad of AA batteries) and on the right the compact case (US dollar bill for size reference).  The alligator clips were out of the picture, just clips and an attached 12v female socket. The battery pack has a female 12v socket which I also missed getting in the picture.  This gave me 6 hours before quitting.  Why?  The humidifier was on.  My next purchase will be a deep cycle battery. For you it is your boat domestic battery bank.


Here is a portion of the battery guide for my unit with and without humidifier.

 CPAP-power-chart.jpgImage Enlarger


Looking at a nice 10 cm H2O you would need 12 ampere hours for 8 hours without a humidifier and 36 ampere hours with.  So I need a way bigger battery.  I learned the hard way.


I did learn that converters were far more efficient than inverters for this use.  Do you know the difference between a converter and an inverter.  Me neither. I am curious, however.


I suggest that you look at the ResMed battery guide as I found it interesting and it is all fact and not opinion.  No selling in it.



The whole ResMed battery guide is at:


Here is where I bought my camping battery pack (there must be dozens more)



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