Category Archives for "Frequently Asked Narrowboat Questions"

Moving From Living Abroad To Living On A Narrowboat In The UK

Hi Paul, thanks for creating the website and frequently posting new material! I read your content often as my husband and I have dreamt of a life on the canals for years and are working towards making this happen 2013. However, we are looking for others to share their real life experiences regarding a move from an international location back to the UK and onto a narrowboat. We live and work in the US and have already sold our house and are currently purging and selling stuff with the goal of selling everything before returning to the UK! I would love to hear from others and learn of their experiences and insights, as at times the move back and onto a narrowboat seems rather daunting! But we are determined and excited, and realize that it requires a good deal of courage to make a dream a reality! Thanks again! Regards, Karen


This is a new section of the site where subscribers can ask our 5,000 subscribers for advice on boating matters. If you know the answer or have any advice to offer, please post it in the comments section below. Thank you!

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Is A Narrowboat Cold In Winter

Regularly every narrowboat owner is asked the question “Is your narrowboat cold in winter?” The standard response is a laugh, a smile and the assurance that the boat is toasty warm. That’s not always the case, though. Here’s what you need to know to keep you warm in winter.

Several factors dictate whether you shiver your way through a winter’s evening or strip off to your boxer shorts and throw all the doors open to let the heat out.


Is a narrowboat cold in winter

Is a narrowboat cold in winter

I have been living onboard James, pictured on its mooring at Calcutt Boats Meadows marina in early February 2012, for two years. My first winter was a baptism of fire. It was the coldest winter for 100 years. The canal and the marina were covered by four inches of ice from the last week of November 2010 to the first week of January 2011. One night I recorded a rather chilly minus eighteen outside. It was so cold that I woke up the following morning to discover a quarter an inch of frost inside the engine room (which had one poorly fitted ply panel separating it from the main bedroom where I sleep). The temperature in the bedroom was just above freezing. There was a spell when the daytime maximum was minus six. It was a cold, cold winter.

The following winter, the winter of 2011/2012, has been much more pleasant. Why? Two reasons. The winter has been relatively mild compared with last year and, more importantly, I have had some work done to the boat. James, at 35, is quite an old boat. The cabin sides and roof were Masonite, an oil-treated ply. There were four seams in the roof construction were the ply sheets joined. The seams, at some point in the boat’s history, had started to leak so had been taped over. The tape wasn’t very effective, so the seams allowed water into the cabin every time there was a heavy shower. The water would find its way through the gaps in the roof. Then it would trickle along the inside of the internal cladding before finding a weak point to drip through into the cabin. When I heard the sound of rain drumming on the roof, I would gather together a collection of pots and pans to place carefully under the drips.

Not all of the water found its way into the cabin. Much of it lay on the underside of my beautiful piranha (?) pine, slowly discolouring and staining the grain. To a lesser extent, the cabin sides let in the water too. The prevailing south-westerly wind meant that the wind and the rain scoured the port (left) side of the boat. Where the neglected paintwork peeled along the ply joins, the water found its way into the cabin.

In November last year, I had the opportunity to ship James off to a local boat builder to have the cabin sides and roof and the front and back doors overplated. While they were doing the work, I asked them to sandwich insulation between the old Masonite and the new steel. I used one-inch polystyrene for most of the surface area and Rockwool for the areas where they were welding. In hindsight, rather than saving a few bob by using the cheaper polystyrene, I would have used Rockwool on all surfaces as it is a more effective insulator.

The additional insulation has made a significant difference, as has the fact that the roof and cabin sides are no longer holding water for much of the time. The boat, with the same heating inside, is both warmer and less damp.

Heating System

James has a solid fuel stove with a back boiler installed right at the front of the boat. The back boiler feeds three radiators along the starboard side. The furthest radiator is forty feet away in the main bedroom. The system struggles to push heat down to the far end. I can’t find out the make of the stove, but I understand that it’s as old as the hills – as old as James anyway – and isn’t very efficient.

I know several liveaboards who swear by Morso Squirrel stoves. I’ve heard stories of coal that will carry on burning for up to two days if the fire is “damped down” (has the airflow reduced, so the fuel smoulders). The longest I can achieve with the stove on James is about twelve hours.

Rather than a solid fuel stove, I could install a diesel heating system. I could then have the convenience of waking to a warm boat, but I (a) can’t afford to at the moment and (b) don’t like a lot of them because of the noise. Some (particularly the Hurricane diesel heating system we sell so successfully at Calcutt Boats) are very noisy. The Hurricane sounds like a hurricane. There is a boat moored on the opposite side of the marina from me that has one fitted. I can hear it from James.

The diesel Bubble stove is very quiet. Allan on Pengalanty has one. His boat was very cosy when I visited with hardly a sound from the stove.


There’s no point filling a bucket with water if it’s full of holes. The same applies to filling your boat with heat. Draughts can very quickly make the boat feel cold. The new steel front, rear and side doors on James weren’t a perfect fit. I’ve added ply panels to the doors’ inside faces to insulate them a little, but there’s still a bit of a draught. I’ve fitted draught excluder around the front and rear doors and the centre doors and hatches. There’s still a draught from the centre door hatch on the weather side so it can be a bit chilly there when there’s a stiff breeze.


I moor James at the western end of the marina. The prevailing wind is south-westerly and, as Calcutt Boats lays ina wind “corridor” (the old working boatmen used to refer to the pound below Calcutt Bottom Lock as “windy corner”), there’s usually a stiff breeze. The boat then is buffeted by the wind daily. On the few occasions when there is little or no wind, James feels very much warmer. Of course, the breeze always finds the draughts.

So when people ask me if a narrowboat is cold in winter, I should say, “Well, it depends on the heating system you use, how well insulated your boat is, whether you have any draughts and what the weather is like”. But I won’t. I’ll smile and assure them that I’m toasty warm. And this morning, as I write this, with an outside temperature of minus five but no wind, and the coal fire roaring, I am toasty warm.

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Beware The Ebay Buyer Protection Narrowboat Scam

A few days ago, I receceived an email from subscriber Sylvia Archer-Longden. She and her husband have been trawling the internet looking for narrowboats. They found one advertised on the Boats & Outboards web site that they liked the look of. The advert was a free listing on Boats & outboards, but the photo’s of the boat were on In fact, they still are. It looked a fantastic deal, but was it real?

They contacted the “seller” to confirm the price. They wanted to confirm the price because, quite frankly, they didn’t believe it. After you see the photo’s you won’t either. The narrowboat being offered for sale was three thousand eight hundred and fifty pounds. I’ve written the price in full so that you don’t think I’ve simply put the decimal point in the wrong place. Now have a look at the photo’s but please come back. You need to hear the rest. Narrowboat photo’s

Ebay Buyer Protection Scheme Scam

Ebay Buyer Protection Scheme Scam

What did you think? Not bad for the price is it? I’m not keen on the decour inside but I could live with it for that price. That’s what Sylvia thought too. She emailed the seller asking for more information. Here’s the reply she received…


Its still for sale. Immaculate condition, no damages, nothing to worry about. All necessary documents available. My current location is Scotland due to my work commitments,If this is going to be a quick sale, I will let it go for ?3,850 delivered at my costs. Are you familiar to eBay? I will list the boat on eBay Motors for the ?3,850 buy it now price and I will send you a link to my auction, so you can buy it immediate.

As soon as you will confirm the payment to eBay, I will proceed delivery without any additional costs for you.

In case you are not familiar with them, please read their Buyer Protection and will see that they cover 100% the transaction done through them up to ?50,000. You will receive the boat with all the documents. As you know eBay is the best company of online transactions. If indeed interested in buying it and have the funds, I will list it on eBay, as I have a 100% positive feedback with them.

Please let me know your decision.

Thank you.”

Sylvia was intrigued but still suspicious. She asked the seller for more information. Here’s the reply…

“I have requested personal support and I was approved to use Buyer Protection Program. Here is how the process works through the Buyer Protection Program:

– I make the private listing on eBay for you,
– you go and buy it through their website,
– you have to pay for the item to eBay to secure the funds,
– they confirm me that they received the funds,
– I deliver the boat,
– you receive the boat,
– they send me the money,

Everything is covered by eBay. I will get paid only after you confirm that you received the boat in good order.
Let me know if this is acceptable. Thank you”

Sylvia, fascinated, suspicious (and just a tiny bit excited) asked for clarification of the deal…

“Hello Debra, my husband and I are VERY INTERESTED in perhaps purchasing the boat BUT………… let us get this correct. You want ?3.850 {three thousand eight hundred and fifty pounds } AND you will deliver at that price ?

Could you confirm this please?
I take it she needs fitting with engine, heating and lighting etc? As we have seen no description of her ?
We are serious buyers, with the cash to hand, but of course need to get this right,
I appreciate the way you are dealing with Ebay and will gladly use them should we buy ?”
One last email from seller “Debra”…
“Yes 3,850 pounds including delivery . The engine work very well .

No major work needed never had any problems last serviced at this start of summer. Nothing broken, no hidden issues.
Let me know if you want list it on eBay.”
It was at this stage that Sylvia emailed me as she was understandably still unsure. “What do they have to gain if the transaction is covered by Ebay’s Buyer Protection scheme?” she asked.
I’ll tell you what they have to gain Sylvia. Your money. It’s a scam. “Debra” claimed that the transaction would be covered by the Buyer Prtection scheme. It wouldn’t be. Vehicles are covered by Ebay’s scheme in the USA, but not in the UK. Here’s a list of their exclusions…

Exclusions from eBay Buyer Protection

eBay Buyer Protection doesn’t cover services and certain categories of goods, false, abusive or illegitimate cases, or purchases where you have been or may be compensated by another third party. The following purchases are excluded:

  • items that violate our Prohibited or Restricted Items Policy;

  • intangible goods;

  • custom made items;

  • airline flight tickets;

  • eBay classified style listings;

  • licences;

  • access to digital content,

  • anything that’s equivalent to cash (including retail gift cards); and

  • items listed or that should be listed (under our listing policy) in these categories are also not covered (if an item, which should be listed in one these categories has been incorrectly listed in another category, which is not excluded under this Policy, we will accept the case subject to the other terms in the Policy):

    • Businesses for sale

    • Specialty services

    • Vehicles (including, without limitation, motor vehicles, motorcycles, caravans, aircraft and boats, tractors and ride-on lawnmowers);

    • Gift certificates

    • Residential Property (Real Estate)

There were a number of warning signs common in scams of this type throughout the seller’s communication…

  • She claimed to be out of the country (Scotland) because of work commitments. It’s common for criminals to claim that they can’t be on hand due to work commitments or personal issues
  • The price was ridiculously low. It should have been at least ten times as much
  • “Debra’s” emails were generic. They mentioned “the item” rather than specifics about the boat.
  • The emails were poorly written and grammatically incorrect
  • There were no details about the boat. “Debra” just provided a link to photo’s hosted on Photobucket

Sylvia could have had a nasty introduction to narrowboat ownership. She said in one of her emails to me, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is” I agree Sylvia. I hope the next narrowboat you look at is a lot more expensive!


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Boat TV – Narrowboat Television License Requirements

Most boats have a television on board, but how many of them are licensed and do you really need a license to watch boat TV? Here’s a guide to legal television watching on your boat.

Personally, I don’t watch very much television. In fact, I don’t watch any television as far as the licensing authority is concerned. I use a mobile broadband dongle from 3 which allows me, most of the time, to get my televisual fix by streaming from BBC iPlayer or the other stations’ equivalent.

I do actually have a television. I’ve had an all singing, all dancing flat screen telly for over six months but there’s no ariel attached to it so it won’t actually pick up any programmes at all. It is capable of receiving live broadcasts though, as is my laptop, so – in theory – I either need to buy a license or let the licensing authority know that I don’t need a television license. I know I don’t need a license. They say on their web site that…

boat TV - watching boat television legally

boat TV – watching boat television legally

“You need a valid TV Licence if you use TV receiving equipment to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV. ‘TV receiving equipment’ means any equipment which is used to watch or record television programmes as they’re being shown on TV. This includes a TV, computer, mobile phone, games console, digital box, DVD/VHS recorder or any other device.”

As I mentioned earlier, if I want to watch a programme or two, I stream previously broadcast programmes from the internet. But I could watch live television and, in theory, expect a visit from the licensing authority for viewing live television from an unlicensed address. And there’s the problem. Most liveaboard narrowboaters don’t have a fixed address for them to check. They’re moored along the cut near a bridge or are continually cruising. I haven’t heard of a single narrowboat owner having to face the wrath of the BBC but that’s not to say it won’t happen and won’t happen to you if your boat is unlicensed.

You may not need a licence for your boat though if…

  1. You have a bricks and mortar home and you have a television license for that home and there is no one watching television simultaneously at both addresses. So, if your house is empty when you are cruising, you’re OK. However, if you rent your house out, or you have other family members living at the address, you will need an additional license for your boat.
  2. You genuinely don’t watch television. You need to let the authority know though. You can declare that you don’t need a television license on your narrowboat online.
  3. You are over seventy five

There you go. If you watch television on your boat you probably need a license. Enjoy your viewing but don’t forget, half of the pleasure of being on a narrowboat is to get away from “normal” life and lead an life closer to nature instead. Turn the telly off and go for a walk instead!

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Living With Children On A Narrowboat

Is it possible to live on a narrowboat with young children? Aren’t there too many risks living on the water? Here are some suggestions if you are considering a family life afloat.

Here’s some advice from Peggy Melmoth who lives on board her 70′ narrowboat with two children.

“My children were born on the boat and have lived on a boat all of their lives, but if you are thinking of making the transition from land to boat what sort of things do you need to consider?

living on a narrowboat with children

living on a narrowboat with children

The first questions people often ask me are about safety. However, we’re probably less worried about the dangers of the water than non-boating parents. We keep the doors locked shut, and in the summer we put play pen barriers around the front deck. Locks can be particularly dangerous places because of the depth of the water and the currents caused by open paddles. Beside a lock we have a
strict rule of no running and our youngest must always hold hands with a grown up. When travelling our eldest knows to sit very still on the roof, and the youngest is secured safely with toddler reins.

During the winter we take a winter mooring but during the summer we are continuously cruising. This can mean a lot of commuting with the children which can be challenging. It’s a good idea to take a few books and small toys for long bus and train journeys.

Living aboard is not necessarily a low-cost option for a family. It depends on the size of your boat loan repayments and the cost of your mooring. However, it does mean that we can own our home, more easily than if we had to buy property. It’s lovely to be able to live so close to nature; the children enjoy towpath walks and blackberry picking.

The other obvious challenge is space. Our boat is 70 foot long which means we have the space for two bedrooms but storage of toys, clothes and books is an ongoing problem. We have to continually review our possessions and de-clutter. The other challenges are limited electricity, running out of water, and engine trouble. When you live aboard with children it is very important to make sure you can afford to maintain everything in good working order, so that your home comforts are not upset too often.

It can be very hard work but when I see my children feeding swans from the front deck or running down the towpath on a sunny day I remember that this is the rural childhood that I dreamed of for them.”

Peggy Melmoth is a writer, business blogger and virtual assistant. She offers social media services and writes guest posts and articles on the topics of parenting, hypnotherapy, narrowboating and living aboard.

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How To Collect Snail Mail When You Live Afloat

Most of the mail you receive at home may be a nuisance – bills, junk mail, reminder notices for eye tests, hearing tests, doctor and hospital appointments etc – but at least you can throw it away when you don’t want it. But how do you deal with this necessary evil when you’re living afloat or cruising for extended periods?

mail forwarding for liveaboard boaters

mail forwarding for liveaboard boaters

If you are living afloat and moored at a marina, there’s a chance that the marina will agree to accept post on your behalf. Of course, if you’re moored on the cut this isn’t an option. In this situation, you can ask a friend or relative to accept mail on your behalf. Of course this won’t help you if you’re cruising or moored far from the address where your post is.

If the post is important to you and you don’t mind whoever has received it reading the contents, you can ask them to scan the letters and then email them to you as attachments to emails. If you would rather keep the contents of the envelopes for your eyes only you can use a Post Office service called Post Restante (French: Post Remaining). Simply pick a post office on your route, call them to make sure that they run the service, then ask whoever is holding your post to send it on to that address.

The final option is to use a mail forwarding service. Boatmail is such a service. They will hold your mail, forward it to a post office or an other address you nominate or scan and email your post to you. They will even allow you to type a letter on your boat and email it to them where they will print and mail it for you. They will also provide you with a UK postal address for occasions when a PO box isn’t acceptable (e.g. opening bank accounts)

So there you go. There’s no need to go without your junk mail ever again!

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How Do I Pump Out My Narrowboat Toilet

Living on a narrowboat draws you closer to nature and the pleasures of a simple uncluttered life. Unfortunately the simple life also brings you closer to your toilet and its contents. It’s one of the few unpleasant aspects of life on board but you soon get used to it. Here are a few tips to make sure that emptying your toilet tank goes according to plan.

There are two types of toilet on a narrowboat. The cassette toilet (often referred to as a “Porta Potti”) and the “pump out” toilet.

The cassette toilet has a conventional toilet bowl where you sit or stand to deliver your waste and a removable container beneath the toilet which collects the waste. With this type of toilet you simply keep an eye on the level of the waste in the container and then remove it to empty the contents in a dedicated disposal point either by the side of the canal or in a marina or boatyard which offers waste disposal.

The pump out toilet is more like a conventional house toilet. The liquid and solid toilet waste is stored in a large (sealed) holding tank on your boat which requires emptying every two to three weeks depending on how much you use it.

Most marinas offer a pump out facility and will charge from about ?10 for a self-service pump out to ?15 or more for a pump out by one of their staff.

The process is straightforward but must be adhered to. A hose attached to a powerful pump is attached to draw the waste out. A hose is also attached either to an external rinse point or directly into the toilet bowl if there is no external point. The rinse water is introduced to help swill out the holding tank but MUST NOT be turned on until the waste removal hose has started drawing out the waste. If your tank is full to start with and you turn on the rinse hose before the pumping out has started, you will flood your boat with waste. You have been warned!

There is a sight glass on the pump out head hose which allows you to check whether waste is still being drawn out of your boat. As the hose draws the waste out faster than the rinse water goes in, you will eventually see through the glass that the liquid has ceased flowing. At this point you turn off the flow on the waste hose but leave the rinse water to flow into the holding tank for a few minutes. If you rock your boat gently at this stage you will swill the rinse water around the holding tank. Turn the flow on the waste hose back on and check the sight glass. If the liquid is clear the tank is clean(ish) and you have finished. If the liquid is still dark, repeat the rinse process several times.

The whole process should take no longer than 10-20 minutes depending on the volume in the tank. You’ll soon get used to it. Just remember to wash your hands when you’ve finished!

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What Is The Difference Between Residential And Leisure Moorings?

A leisure mooring is for mooring your boat when you aren’t using it. The mooring may have all the facilities you need to live on board (electricity, water and sewage disposal) but you aren’t allowed to live there. You are allowed to visit and you are usually allowed to stay on board for days or even weeks. The duration of your visits will be determined by your particular marina. Unless you have an arrangement with your marina, you can’t use your mooring as a postal address.

A residential mooring requires planning permission. Your marina has to satisfy the local council that they have adequate sewage and waste disposal facilities to accommodate residential moorings. You can stay as long as you like on your residential mooring. It is your home and, as such, you can use it as your postal address. And because a residential mooring is classed as a home, you have to pay council tax.

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Do I Need A Residential Mooring To Stay On My Narrowboat?

You won’t need to get a residential mooring for occasional visits. Residential moorings are only needed if you’re going to live on the boat full time. Every marina should allow you to visit your boat on an occasional basis. Just how flexible the arrangement is depends upon the individual marina. Staying on board some nights during the week and sometimes at the weekend shouldn’t be a problem but if you started to stay on board every week night, you might be on a sticky wicket.

Even though your marina mooring may not be classed as residential, your marina may allow you to stay on board for a considerable period of the year, but this luxury may come at a price. Some marinas charge for “high usage” which could cost you as much as ?500 on top of your usual annual mooring fees.

Check the terms an conditions for each marina before you commit yourself.

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