An Essential Check List Before You Consider Buying A Boat

A narrowboat is likely to be the single most expensive purchase you will ever make after your house. It may even become your new house and cost you in excess of £100,000. Your purchase is not something you should rush into. I know you can’t wait to cruise through tranquil countryside, stop for a pint or two at some of the many picturesque canal-side pubs and moor for the night where there’s a spectacular view to greet you in the morning but you need to take your time.

boatsales at Whilton marina

boatsales at Whilton marina

There are many, many aspects of the purchase to consider before you look at your first boat.

Essential first questions before you consider buying a boat

  • How much can you afford and where is the money going to come from? Are you going to sell your dry land home to fund the one afloat or are you going to have to take out a loan? If you need a loan, how much can you afford?
  • What will be the purpose of your boat? Are you just going to cruise now and then, or do you intend to live on board full time ([intlink id=”1525″ type=”post”]Read this if the boat’s going to be a liveaboard[/intlink])
  • What’s your ideal length? If you intend to cruise throughout the canal network you are limited by the length of the locks on some canals. If you intend to live on board full time but not cruise much, you want as much living space as possible.
  • Do you want a traditional, semi-traditional or cruiser style stern? Cruiser and semi traditional stern narrowboats offer you space on the rear deck to stand with friends when cruising but, because of this, provide less living space down below. The reverse is true of traditional stern narrowboats.
  • Sleeping accommodation for two … or more? Will you want the hassle of preparing a pull out bed every evening or will you be prepared to sacrifice a little bit of space in favour of a fixed double?
  • What toilet system do you want on your boat; pump out or cassette? A pump out toilet is like a traditional dry land toilet where you can pretty much flush and forget. However you must take your boat to a pump out point every few weeks to have it emptied. This can prove challenging in the winter when your boat is frozen in. A cassette toilet deposits waste in a small holding tank that you can remove by hand to take off the boat to empty into a convenient Elsan point. Because the cassette has to be carried, the capacity is far less than a pump out toilet.
  • How good are you with engines? Do you want an older engine that you can play around with for hours or do you want a hassle free engine basic maintenance from you and regular servicing from a boatyard? (If you are going to rely on boatyards to do the servicing for you,make sure that you don’t choose a boat with an engine that many marine engineers will be unfamiliar with).
  • Where are you going to moor your boat and how are you going to get it there? ([intlink id=”309″ type=”post”]Read this article[/intlink] to help you decide on a mooring.) Once you’ve chosen your mooring, do you really want to consider buying a boat that’s several hundred miles away? Will you have time to cruise to your mooring or will you have to use road transport? How much would that add to the purchase cost?
  • Electrical Usage: If you decide to live on board or cruise for extended periods you will probably be making quite high demands on the electrical systems in particular, so make sure any potential buys are up to the job. How many of your electrical appliances are you likely to be running at any one time? For example (and an extreme one at that), will you want to use your vacuum cleaner while your are doing your washing as you wait for your coffee maker to finish making its perfect cup of coffee to go with the steak pasty that’s warming up in the microwave? You don’t want to be doing expensive upgrades to charging systems or inverters after buying.

Once you have answered the above questions, you will have a pretty good idea what to look for. Visit Appolloduck There are a huge number of narrowboats for sale on the web site (1,085 at the last count). Use this to get a general feel for price and style. After you’ve browsed through this vast selection a few times, you’ll have a clearer idea of what you want and how much it’s likely to cost. Now it’s time to get up close and personal with some real live narrowboats.

Visit a broker to view your first selection of narrowboats. Why? There are several very good reasons. Firstly, a good narrowboat brokerage will have a wide selection of narrowboats. You’ll be able to see the difference between traditional. semi-traditional and cruiser stern narrowboats and the trade off between living and cruising space, different lengths and varying equipment levels. The staff at the brokerage will also be able to answer just about any question you throw at them. They’re used to dealing with potential customers who are new to narrowboating so don’t be afraid to ask them anything that you’re now sure about. Here’s a comprehensive list of narrowboat brokers in the UK. Whilton marina is one of the largest narrowboat brokers in the country. Here’s an interesting article detailing how their  business operates. Please be aware that there are some who have reservations about the way Whilton marina operate. Please see the comment on the Whilton marina page on this site.

When you inspect a boat you’re interested in, here are a few things you should check. You can either do so visually while you are looking around the boat or by asked the broker or owner by phone if you have a long way to travel.

  • What’s the ceiling height? If you are tall, can you stand comfortably inside the boat?
  • How would you describe the state of the engine? (This tells you something not only about the engine but how well it has been serviced).
  • Is there a bath or a shower on board? If there is a bath, how big is it? When I first moved on board James, there was a very shallow 3′ long bath instead of the shower I have now. I can only conclude that the previous owners had used the bath exclusively for their pet hamsters. It was certainly too small for me and at 5′ 10″ and 12st you can hardly call me big.
  • How much storage space is there? If you intend to live on board or cruise for extended periods, you want plenty of storage space. Some narrowboats advertised as liveaboards don’t have enough storage space for weekend visit let alone a lifetime on the cut.
  • Are there any signs of water under windows/hatches? Brokers can usually tell the difference between leaks and condensation.
  • Is there a reasonably recent hull survey that I can see? This can be invaluable. You can look at this on arrival, or most brokers/owners would be happy to send a copy to a serious buyer. A folder full of paperwork and receipts is also a good sign and can tell you a lot about how well a boat has been looked after.
  • When was the hull last blacked? A narrowboat hull needs to be painted every two to three years with a tar like bitumen to protect the steel from corrosion. Especially around the waterline where the constant mix of air and water can speed up corrosion.
  • Are there any photos of the boat I can see? Although a lack of photo’s is not necessarily indicative of an aesthetically displeasing poorly maintained boat, it can be.

Spend some time just sitting in a boat that you like the look of and picture yourself living in it. The staff at Calcutt Boats are more than happy to let you spend as much time as you like on board. I suppose that the thinking behind this is that the longer you spend on board, the more likely you are to buy the boat.

Have a look in cupboards and hatches. Particularly look for hatches through the floor into the bilge. Look for water there and be wary if you find any water in the bottom of the boat other than a little around the engine that may have seeped in through the deck boards if they are exposed to the elements.

Ask the engine to be started from cold for you. Often the best way of doing this at a boatsales broker is by turning up unannounced. If the engine has been well maintained, it should start without a problem.

If it still looks good, put in a offer to buy subject to an out of water survey when a surveyor will be able to check the integrity of the hull for you. Always offer less than the asking price. Remember that there are a huge number of narrowboats for sale at any one time. There are an estimated 32,000 – 34,000 narrowboats on the system and on Appolloduck alone in excess of 1,000 for sale at any one time. You have a lot of bargaining power. Good luck with your search.

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.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 6 comments
Rickster84 - Monday,5 March, 2012

I am considering buying a narrow-boat with the intention of mooring in the London canals, How much does it typically cost, per month, to do this?


nb Mollie - Friday,13 April, 2012

Good article – sound advice. We will put it to good use when looking at a boat tomorrow.


RichardCrittenden - Friday,6 December, 2013

Good article, is there a list availabe of top 10 engines? top 10 boat makers? ive heard bits about hull thickness any advice here?


    Paul Smith - Friday,6 December, 2013

    Hi Richard,

    I would ask your questions on the forum rather than in a comment on one of the articles. The forum is visited by many boat owners every day, this particular post far less so.


KEITH - Friday,4 April, 2014

viewing at our first narrowboats tomorrow. any questions we should ask or tips what to look for?


Paul Smith - Friday,4 April, 2014

Hi Keith. You won’t get many people posting answers here. You need to post your question on the forum…




Leave a Reply: