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 The Mothership

Here’s another case study of a couple living in harmony together… on separate boats. John and Lowrie offer an outstanding example of what you can do if you can’t find a decent residential mooring. In this case they built one of their own.

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

John and Lowri Keyes, Goldie the Ridgeback hound.

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

I purchased my ship in 2001, because it was the only form of housing I could afford at the time for myself and my two children that would enable us to live in Oxford, and because I had always wished to return to the life afloat since my first job after leaving school, living and working aboard a 50’ prawn trawler in the Isle of Man for a year 1975/’76. My wife bought her 30’ Springer in 2003 whilst studying for her PHD, again because of the affordable housing matter. We met whilst fixing our boats up at Castlemill Boatyard, Jericho.

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

The Mothership and Xophtyk

Do you have a permanent mooring?

The Mothership on a residential mooring on the Thames

The Mothership on a residential mooring on the Thames

Yes. September 2004 we arrived at a piece of waste ground and sometime allotment on a backwater of the Thames, because of the pressures being brought to bear on the above mentioned and now derelict boatyard by the then owner, BWB. In December 2005 we obtained planning permission to create this residential boat marina from the local Council, most kindly assisted by the Environment Agency.

What is your boat style and length

70’ narrowbeam Barry Jenkins “Icebreaker”, 30’ Springer.

How long have you been a narrowboat owner?

11 years and 9 years respectively

How did you finance your boat?

Ancillary Relief, loan

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

All the time

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

Carpenter and landscape designer, Scientist

What do you like least about narrowboat life?


What do you like most about narrowboat life?


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)?


How do you do your washing when you are cruising?


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

Compost. Yes.

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

Magmount aerial on steel roof groundplane attached to USB wireless dongle. Service is now adequate except in really wet weather, notwithstanding a passionate dislike for Orange and all their works!

What is your favourite canal or section of canal?

Many, but I would say the woodland stretch by Kirtlington Quarry on the South Oxford, but generally we prefer the River Thames all the way from Lechlade to Limehouse Ship Lock.

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

Small amount from PV powering completely separate system that runs the water filtration and delivery plant, rest is by means of small modern diesel generator. I have never got around to measuring KWH/Litre performance, but a Master’s Degree final year student carried out a study on the carbon footprints of our boat and others in 2005, revealed that centrally generated mains hook-up is considerably greener than making one’s own electricity from fossil fuels. IE a smokey 33Hp Lister TS111 driving an automotive alternator through an old-fashioned voltage regulator is not a satisfactory way to create domestic power, unless you happen also to be using your engine for propulsion, and be cruising along all the time. Constantly cruising is not compatible with going out to work in one place – but fine if you are retired or possessed of a job that pays you to work from home wherever it might be..

How warm is your narrowboat in the winter?


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

It is a major commitment, like marriage, and accordingly I would counsel any prospective boater to look well beyond the initial romantic attraction to the practical nuts and bolts, as well as the politics. Do not buy a cheap boat and expect to be able to do it up whilst living on it, and trying to earn a living at the same time.

Consider the politics. The politics of a liveaboards’ experience of whatever waterways or other authority their patch might be managed by will be as much of a determining factor in the quality of life afloat on the inland waterways, as all the enabling technologies put together.

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.