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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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Survey Result: The Downside To Living On A Narrowboat

As a result of Pauline Roberts article about the problems she has experienced as a liveaboard narrowboat owner, I created a survey and asked the boat owners who subscribe to this site to give me their point of view. There were eight questions in the survey. The questions and their answers are below.

Question 1: Is your boat ever cold in the winter?

Is your boat cold in winter

“Other” Responses

“No, but it is frquently b****y hot”

“warm if my fire stays in, cold if it goes out”

“It is unless the fire is going and the heat never really warms up the bedroom”

“Only when I am not there to keep the stove in. Gets warm quickly and can always keep coat on.”

“only if I have been away a while”

“Pengalanty is always warm, comfortable & cosy, as I have a diesel fired “Bubble” corner stove that is fully controllable. Changes are noticed with a 15-minute period”

“Only very occasionally, if heating off and fire goes out”

“Webaso takes 10 mins”

Question2: Does your boat have any cold spots?

Does your boat have any cold spots

“Other” Responses

“We do not heat the bedroom”

“Only get cold areas if companion ways closed preventing warm air circulating.”

“near the front vents”

“My engine is sited in the back cabin area and near to the inner bulkhead and to one side. After the engine is run, it is like a “Giant” storgage heater, so my boat is warmer than most”

“Stern cabin can be cold due to draughts – can be fixed”

“Much better since we got an Ecofan”

“yes – of course”

Question 3: Do you have any problems emptying your toilet in the winter?

Winter toilet emptying

“Other” Responses”

“pump out toilet we pump out into containers if we are frozen in”

“I have a pump out but when frozen in, I use a bucket and dispose of contents down the elsan point.”

“We purchased self pump out and house owner kindly lets us empty in manhole in garden by where we are moored”

“Porta potti and pump out for emergency use only if the PP is full and can’t be emptied.”

“With my composting loo, I can survive almost 4-months without toilet maintenance (Emptying)”

“bucket and chuckit”

“i think that there isn’t enough space to add what I really want to write”


Question 4: Do you think dog muck on the towpath is a problem?

Is dog muck a problem

“Other” Responses

“Yes it is a problem. I wouldn’t shoot the dog though, I would shoot the owner”

“I love dogs, but I just wish owners would be considerate and clear up after them, there is nothing worse than stepping off you boat into a slimy pile of poo!!”

“Yes, but if I see owners not clearing up after their dogs I just offer them a plastic bag. No point getting angry.”

“The dog is not the problem. It’s the owner who does not pick up!”

“yes, often”

“it’s not the dogs – it’s the owners who should be shot!”

“no I pick mine up and tell others to as well”

“One has to be careful and yes, there are too many lazy, selfish owners.”

“Yes! In some places, this is a severe problem (I use nappy bags for our dog poo!)”

“it’s the owners not the dogs I’d shoot”


“It’s not the dogs that are a problem it’s the owners that don’t clean up after them”

“Yes there’s dog pooh but it’s the owners fault for not picking it up”

“it’s not the dogs fault, it’s the lazy owners who should be shot”

“I have 2 dogs so cleaning up is enevitable. If im moored, why not keep everywhere clean.”

“Don’t blame the dog. Blame the owner.”

“Its the owners that should be shot!!”


Question 5: How much of a problem is obtaining and managing your water supply?

managing water supply

“Other” Responses

“I’m on the Thames and getting water depends on the flow strength”

“Connected to water supply. Never had a problem.”

Question 6: How do you deal with your narrowboat’s lack of space?

managing storage space

“Other” Responses

“have always lived on a boat”

“plenty of space but you have to be eruthless with junk”

“I am a hoarder! – Need I say more? (I have an excess of tradesman tools, this is a problem)”

“If you can’t store it you probably don’t need it!!!!”

“i have sufficient space in the boat – and beautiful outside the boat”

Question 7: How much vandalism do you experience on the cut?

Vandalism on the cut

“Other” Responses

“Have only been living on boat 5months so have not experienced any yet”

“So far I have only been on the rivers”

“I was in the merchant navy for 26 years – this country is a haven – you need to see the rest.”


Question 8: Does the use or the condition of the towpath cause you any concern?

Towpath use

“Other” Responses

“I’d sooner have a muddy towpath than a tarmac one. Tarmac only encourages the cyclists.”


“As 1 but I would rather it was not muddy. Too many cyclists and motorcycles churning it up”

“More maintenance is required in heavy use areas; eg when lots of cyclists and walkers.”

“It has good and bad spots which is to be expected.”

“Towpath is behind a gated fence so no problems.”

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A Review Of The Liveaboard Guide By Tony Jones

The Liveaboard Guide By Tony Jones

I’ve just been sent a book to review. It’s “The Liveaboard Guide” by Tony Jones. Tony Jones has lived aboard his 50ft narrowboat for 7 years, in which time he has traversed 500 miles of canals and rivers, navigated through 400 locks and moveable bridges, run aground 4 times, sunk once, and broken down more times than he can remember. He is a professional freelance writer, published regularly in Waterways World, Canals and Rivers and Towpath Talk.

I like this book. It’s packed full of useful information for potential narrowboat owners. Tony describes the different style narrowboats and the pros and cons of each, other liveaboard boat styles available in the UK but why they’re not suitable for canal liveaboards, whether to choose a new or used narrowboat, where to get them and what you can expect to pay, what to check for when considering a boat for sale, how to fund the purchase. Then he moves on to the practicalities of living on a boat.


Where will you moor? Do you need a permanent mooring at all? How will you cope if you’re trying to hold down a full time job? How easy is it to find a residential mooring? What is a residential mooring and how does it differ from a leisure mooring? What facilities are available on moorings? How much can you expect to pay? What are “on-line” moorings and why is an off-side mooring much better than a towpath mooring? Where can you moor your boat for free?

The Cost Of Living On A Narrowboat

How much does a narrowboat license cost? Where will the license allow you to travel? What is a boat safety certificate and why do you need one? How much does insurance cost for a narrowboat? Is insurance available for liveaboard narrowboat owners? How much does coal and gas cost? How much electricity can you expect to use? How much diesel will your boat use? What about toilet servicing costs and boat maintenance costs? How much does a professional paint job cost and how often does it need to be done? How often does the hull need to be “blacked”?

The Importance Of Space

A narrowboat is a very small space to live in. Tony explains the different internal and external storage options available and why you need to consider the lack of on board space very carefully before considering living on a narrowboat.

Narrowboat Toilets

It’s a popular topic of conversation on the cut. Your toilet choice can have a significant impact on your life aboard. It’s a subject that never raises its ugly head in spacious homes on dry land but on a narrowboat where you have to carry your liquid and solid waste around with you, it’s very important indeed. And when you intend to live on board full time, it’s critical that you get it right. Tony’s book explains the options available to you.

Boating Skills

It’s not difficult to get a narrowboat from point A to point B. At Calcutt Boats, as with most narrowboat hire companies, novice boaters are given a crash course lasting no more than an hour before they set off on their own for a week or two. Of course the hire boats are fully equipped and serviced and call out engineers are just a phone call away. When you buy your own boat, you’re on your own. Tony explains clearly what equipment you need on board and what checks you need to make before you start a cruise. Once you are on the cut, you need to know how to conduct yourself. Tony explains the rules

Working and Living Afloat

How do you manage a full time job when you live on a boat? What are the problems that you are likely to experience and what are the solutions? Full time boaters need to be more organised than their land based counterparts. There are logistics to overcome but what are they and is commuting to work from your floating home really practical?

Managing Your Utilities

Unlike a house, a boat doesn’t have utilities on tap. Unless you have a connection to a land based electricity supply you have to generate your own electricity on board. You have to replenish your gas, coal and water supply. You have to keep a careful watch on your dreaded toilet tank. Tony explains how to manage it all effectively.

Boat Safety

There are many potential dangers in and around your boat. Fire risks from multi fuel stoves, carbon monoxide poisoning from stove and gas appliances, sinking through poor lock practices and lack of basic engine maintenance, slips on wet surfaces, slips on icy surfaces, trips caused by carelessness and poor rope management, slips and falls in the dark, crush injuries cause by inserting body parts between boats and solid objects, drowning (yes, you can drown in a shallow canal), amputation and laceration caused when body parts are introduced to a spinning propeller and broken bones from flying windlasses. The section also covers vandalism and break ins, illnesses and deseases. Be safe. Read the book.

On Board Entertainment

It’s possible to enjoy all the comforts and toys on your boat that you have in your house. Your choice though will have an impact on what type of system you need on board to generate the required amount of electricity. You can have digital television, radios, CD, DVD and MP3 players, games consoles and systems. In many places you can also enjoy broadband speed internet connectivity (I do on James… most of the time). Tony explains all you need to know to keep yourself entertained.

Boat Maintenance

Some basic knowledge about the systems on your boat is essential if you want to enjoy trouble free life on board. Tony explains how to prolong the life of your batteries, how to prevent toilet blockages, how to avoid catastrophic floods from frozen water pipes, basic equipment to keep on board to clear a fouled propeller (and carry out basic boat maintenance), the most effective flooring for your boat, how to deal with stove leaks and engine maintenance. It’s stuff you need to know.

Keeping In Touch With The Real World

When you move on to a boat full time, you create a bit of a problem for yourself. Many institutions insist that you supply documentary evidence of a permanent address. You don’t have an address for your boat unless you are on a mooring where the owner will agree to accept mail for you. However, this can often create a problem for the mooring owner. So how do you deal with the paperwork necessary to open a bank account, register with a GP or dentist? Guess what? You need to read the book.

In summary, I think Tony’s book is excellent. It’s easy to read, well presented, has plenty of cracking photo’s and is a really useful resource whether you’re thinking of buying a boat to live on or just for occasional leisure use.

Click here for the Kindle edition or for the good old paperback version click here.

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