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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Paul Smith

Author Archives: 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.

Aqueduct Marina

Opened February 2009 – Aqueduct Marina is a new 147-berth marina and boatyard in Church Minshull, at the heart of Cheshire’s canal network. With long and short term moorings, slipway and boat repair facilities, the Marina offers excellent facilities in a superb rural setting.

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Located on the Middlewich branch of the Shropshire Union Canal, this is an ideal cruising base with convenient access to both the Trent & Mersey and Llangollen Canals, along with the Cheshire and Four Counties cruising rings.
Surrounded by 100 acres of farmland networked with walking trails, the Marina will benefit from easy access to the M6, Crewe station, Chester and North Wales.

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aqueduct marina

aqueduct marina

More Aqueduct Marina images

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Alvechurch Marina

Alvechurch Marina is located by the Worcester Birmingham Canal on the outskirts of the village of Alvechurch Worcestershire, and conveniently adjacent to the railway station.

The attractive marina is well equipped with a shop selling boat spares, canal maps, guides and confectionary. On the site there are boats for sale, boat building, moorings with electric hook ups, wi fi and full marina services including a Crane for out of the water repairs.

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The marina is operated by ABC Leisure Group one of the leading companies on the UK canal network who have another eight marinas strategically placed around the canal network, they have an excellent reputation for building high quality bespoke narrow boats, and can provide everything for the canalboat owner, or potential owner .

Alvechurch Marina

Alvechurch Marina

Alvchurch marina photographs

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The Downside To Living On A Narrowboat

Oh, what a life! Seven days a week of gentle relaxation watching the world go by as you sip a never-ending supply of gin and tonics from the comfort of your luxurious floating home. That’s the dream but not quite the reality.

Finding A Place To Moor

On dry land it’s easy. The home you buy is fixed at the location you bought it. Unless you’ve bought a mobile home, there’s no problem finding a place to put it. In fact, a major factor in the buying process was probably your house’s location. It’s not so easy with a narrowboat.

Whether you intend to use your new narrowboat for occasional cruising or as a full time home, the question of where you are going to moor it is something you need to consider BEFORE you make the purchase.

Unfortunately for you, you can’t moor long term at the first pleasant spot you see on the canal bank. British Waterways – who control the vast majority of the canal network – have very strict regulations controlling both duration and purpose of narrowboat moorings. You have to find a dedicated mooring either on the cut or in a marina. Residential moorings in ANY location are very hard to come by.

Utilities

In your house, you don’t have to think about your utilities. Providing you pay your bills, everything is on tap. You press a light switch and the light comes on; you turn on a tap and you get a rush of hot and cold water; you turn a dial and your gas hob lights. You don’t have to worry about them running out.

On your narrowboat it’s totally different. Your gas supply is in bottles weighing 50lb or more. Coal for your stove comes in dirty bags weighing just as much. Your electricity has to be generated by your boat’s engine and stored in batteries or, if you moor in a marina, is supplied from a pre payment point next to your boat. You water comes from an on board tank which must be filled by you at least once a week.

Sewage

What goes in must come out! At some stage you will have to remove your sewage from your boat. If you have a “Porta Potti” toilet with a removable cartridge beneath or behind the bowl, you will need to remove the cartridge and empty the contents at the nearest Elsan disposal point. If your toilet has a large holding tank, you will need to take your boat to the nearest boatyard or marina to have the toilet pumped out. You can expect to pay £10-£20 for each pump out.

Heating Your Boat

Modern boats should have good quality insulation to prevent heat loss in the winter and overheating in the summer. Modern heating systems are quite efficient and can be run at any time of the day or night but heating your boat and heating the water on your boat whatever its age usually requires a degree of thought.

Many boats rely on solid fuel stoves for heating. Solid fuel in the form of coal or wood is difficult to light so you have to ensure that you have a good supply of newspaper and kindling or firelighters to hand. Solid fuel is also dirty. Your stove and the flooring around your stove must be cleaned on a regular basis.

Communications

You will want to be able to receive letters by post (and you will need to receive bills too). You need to use a phone, and you will probably want to access the internet and your email. And you possibly want to watch television. All of these methods of communication are just a little more difficult when living on a narrowboat.

Narrowboat marinas and canal-side moorings are often remote from TV and mobile telephone transmitters. And, of course, you are unlikely to be on your postman’s regular route.

There is always a solution though. You can buy a laptop “dongle” to give you access to the internet. You can ask friends or family or the marina where you moor to accept post for you. You WILL be able to receive a mobile phone signal… but you may have to change network provider (and you may have to make your calls with your head out of the window). You can watch television. You can even receive satellite signals providing you fit your boat with an aerial and a correctly aligned dish for satellite signals.

Lack Of Space

A narrowboat is just 6’10” wide and no more than 70’ long (no more than 60’ long if you want to explore all of the canal network). Even on the longest narrowboat, once you have allowed for the foredeck and engine room, you probably have no more than 55’ of living space.

You have to fit all of your worldly possessions into this space. You will have to say goodbye to your three piece suite, wardrobes, chests of drawers, super-size television and music system and the contents of your shed and garage. You simply won’t have room for them all.

You will have to get used to FAR smaller rooms on your boat. You will get used to using every last nook and cranny to hide things. You will have cupboards under your bed, under all of your seating, in your gas locker, your engine room and your foredeck.

Laundry

Your boat probably won’t have a washing machine. You won’t have the space and, even if you do, you won’t like the power it uses. You will probably have to rely on a local laundry service either in a marina or the nearest town.

Summary

It’s quite a list of downsides for you to consider. Living on a narrowboat isn’t for everyone. You have to accept that you will work a little harder to achieve what you take for granted on dry land. Things take a little bit longer. But that’s OK. Life at a slower pace is more relaxing, more rewarding and more enjoyable. Rather than watch mind numbing late night television, you can turn in a little earlier than you would normally and listen to the natural sounds around you; the gentle patter of rain on your roof, the lapping of water against the side of your boat, owls hooting and ducks quacking. Unfortunately, it’s so relaxing you won’t be able to stay awake long enough to enjoy it.

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UK Houseboats – A Typical Day On Board

UK houseboats come in several forms; craft that can negotiate oceans, coastal waters, rivers and of course the traditional canal network narrowboats or, as they are sometimes called, canal boats.

This article concentrates on the charming and gentle way of life that you can experience living on narrowboats.

UK houseboats - A typical liveaboard

Narrowboats have earned their name because they are just that… narrow. The canal system in the UK was developed at the height of the industrial revolution. To keep costs as low as possible, the new waterways were reduced to the minimum practical dimensions. The canals just allowed two boats to pass in opposite directions. The locks – the increases and decreases in gradient along the route – were often built just seven feet wide which meant that the maximum practical width for the boats passing through them was, and still is, just 6′ 10″. An average adult can lay with feet touching one side and hands touching the other.

Today there are very few working boats on the canal system. It’s now usually cheaper and far faster to transport goods by road. However, there are now more narrowboats using the canal network for leisure than there ever where for commercial purposes. An increasing number of narrowboat owners are now living on their boats full time. I am one of them.

My narrowboat, James, is a very comfortable compact home. At 62′, James is a good length for a houseboat. James is a traditional design which means that nearly all of the length is under cover. The entrance is via a stern hatch directly into the engine room. A door leads to the aft cabin (my bedroom) with a fixed double bed. Next is the small bathroom, followed by a further bedroom/study. Next is a small lobby where I store my wine and where I can access the narrowboat’s exterior via hatches either side. Finally there is the kitchen and living area.

Life on my UK houseboat is a joy. I can do just about everything you can do in your house but probably not quite as quickly or easily. But the location more than makes up for that and, if I get fed up with the view, I can always move my house!

The day begins at 06:15. I have a routine. Because my gas kettle takes a while to boil, I fill the kettle, turn on the gas and jump in the shower. Actually it’s a 4′ long shallow bath with a shower attachment but it does the job. By the time I’ve showered, dried myself and dressed, the kettle has boiled.

At this time of year, I don’t have to worry too much about overnight and early morning heating. In the winter I have to make sure that my coal stove lasts the night and is rekindled first thing in the morning. In late April with fairly mild nights and warm days, I can get away with turning on the electric fire for an hour while I have breakfast and prepare for work.

After breakfast, I empty the ash from the stove if it’s been used, say hello to the ducks, geese and swans outside the boat. I’m off to work at 08:00 but I don’t have to worry about commuting. I work in the marina where I moor so it’s a three minute walk through woodland to start the day.

My lunch break is for half an hour at 13:00. I come home for a sandwich, cup of coffee and a quick read of my book laying on the narrowboat roof in the sunshine then another three minute commute for the afternoon session.

Work finishes at 17:30. At 17:33 after a grueling commute I’m back at home for the evening. It’s back on the roof for another coffee and more reading before my domestic chores begin while there’s still some warmth in the sun.

I must remember to make my daily checks; gas, electricity, water, kindling and coal. All can run out. Some can’t be replenished until the following day if I run out after the shops have closed.

There’s a guage in my living area to indicate the level of water in my tank. I can top up my tank anytime but I like to do it in the light (and when it’s not raining). Gas isn’t really a problem. I have one cylinder in use and always keep a full one spare. Electricity isn’t too bad either. I’m plugged into a meter controlled mains supply. I top it up by inserting a pre payment card available at the marina shop. If I run out of electricity my lights will still work because they are powered by the boat batteries. Their charge will last until I can get to the shop. Coal and kindling is more of a problem.

On a cold winter’s night, there’s no finer feeling than sitting in front of a roaring stove. Coal is very difficult to light though so if I don’t have kindling or fire lighters, I can forget the fire. I won’t die if I run out of coal. I still have my little electric fire. The electric fire doesn’t work off the batteries though so if I run out of coal AND electricity it’s very cold in the boat. I just have to go to bed early.

There’s one other check I have to make – the toilet. There are two narrowboat toilet systems; one has a large waste holding tank which can last for two to three weeks. The other is commonly known as a Portaloo. A Portaloo has a small removable waste box directly under the toilet bowl. It must be carried off the boat and emptied at a disposal point every four to five days. I have a Portaloo. The waste disposal disgusted me at first but the Portaloo tanks are very well sealed so there’s little smell and no mess. It’s a small price to pay for living on board.

After my chores I have my evening meal. The boat’s kitchen is as well equipped as any dry land home so I can cook what I like. At this time of the year though it’s usually a salad, some fruit and a glass or two of red wine.

After dinner, I sit down at my laptop for an hour or two’s browsing or work on my web site. Connecting to the internet is quite straightforward but requires a little exercise. I connect via a USB dongle. The signal within the boat is poor so I have to feed the lead through a window then climb onto the roof to pull it to the highest point on the boat. When it’s there I can surf and download at speeds that don’t frustrate me too much.

To rest my eyes, I just have to look up from my work, look out of the window and watch the wildlife on the marina. Tonight, the geese seem to have upset one of the swans. He’s chasing them across the water. They are faster than him but he has them worried.

At 22:30 I finish browsing, turn off my laptop, climb onto the roof to retrieve my dongle, and read for half an hour before bed. I don’t watch television. I can’t. I don’t have one. There are plenty of narrowboats on the marina with televisions but they use long aerials to ensure that they receive a reasonable signal. I don’t want the expense or the unsightly aerial and I’m really quite happy with my books.

After a hard day’s work, a glass or two of wine, the gentle rocking of the boat, the sound of the wind or the rain on the windows and the sound of the wildlife, getting to sleep is no problem nor is staying asleep before another gentle day tomorrow.

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Mercia Marina

On the peaceful and tranquil non-flooding Trent and Mersey Canal, halfway between Fradley Junction and Trent Lock/Sawley, in the heart of England’s canal country, our location offers great cruising routes plus easy road access, being minutes from the junction of the A38 and A50, with Derby, Burton and Nottingham being an easy drive.

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Ariel view of Mercia marina

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Barby Moorings

Barby Moorings on the Oxford canal is 2 miles from Hillmorton locks and just 5 miles from Braunston Junction.
Two types of premium mooring each fully serviced with electrical power, water, wired internet and digital ready TV aerial socket.
Unique bankside moorings with private leisure plots are offered as an alternative to pontoon moorings.
Although not open until autumn 2010, you can register your interest now by using the contact page.

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Update: The marina is now scheduled to open spring 2011. You can see up to date photographs of the marina development here

Barby Moorings

Barby Moorings

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Hallingbury Marina

Hallingbury Marina provides moorings for around 140 canal craft, in tranquil settings on the River Stort in Hertfordshire. The focal point of the marina is Hallingbury Mill, built in 1874, and stands to the south end of the marina. The history of milling on this site dates back to the Doomsday Book.

The marina boasts a comprehensive list of facilities to cater for the needs of Canal craft owners. This set of facilities is amongst the most extensive to be found on the Stort, and include:

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Hallingbury Marina

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Napton Marina

A Narrowboat holiday is a unique experience and an opportunity to explore the English countryside with a completely new and relaxing outlook. Our family-run fleet now gives you the best choice in style of Narrowboat to suit your requirements and holiday budget.

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Napton Narrowboats offers a wide choice in style of boats from their Explorer fleet to the superb Edwardian Elite fleet. Famous for their innovative design and quality, Napton Narrowboats is one of the most modern fleets on the canals

Napton Marina
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