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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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3

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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6

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 (Read this if the boat’s going to be a liveaboard)
  • 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? (Read this article 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.

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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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3

Living On A Narrowboat In Winter

If you’ve ever considered living on a narrowboat, you’ve probably imagined lazy days cruising gently down a tranquil waterway under a cloudless blue sky, evenings on the tow path with chilled wine and barbecued food and tranquil nights lulled to sleep by the gentle sound of the countryside through open windows. Of course narrowboat life can be like this in the summer, but as we all know too well from painful experience, a British summer can be far too short and very unpredictable.

So what is it really like to live on a narrowboat when the weather’s not so good? What’s it like in the winter when there’s ice and snow and Arctic winds to contend with?

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Last year (2010) ended with one of the coldest spells on record. From the last week in November until the first week of January, the canal system was at a standstill. With up to six inches of ice on many waterways, many boaters were stuck for more than a month. I was one of the lucky ones but life wasn’t particularly comfortable.

Calcutt Boats Meadows Marina In The Winter

Calcutt Boats Meadows Marina In The Winter

Water and intense cold don’t get on well. Water freezes and, on a boat, when it does there are all kinds of problems. Unfortunately because the waterways that narrowboats use don’t have flowing water they freeze quite easily. If you are on your boat when a canal freezes you can…

Coping With Winter Weather At Calcutt Boats Marina

In many respects I am very fortunate. My marina is beautiful in the summer and can be stunning in the winter. The photograph on the left was taken on a morning after an overnight freezing fog. The daytime high was well below zero so the frost covered grass, reeds and trees transformed the site into a winter wonderland.

I am also lucky because, no matter how low the temperature drops, I still have access to running water. Even though the taps on the pontoons are turned off to prevent the pipes under the walkways from freezing, all moorers have access to any one of half dozen or so protected below ground taps. This year I read reports by many residents of other marinas who had to carry heavy containers of water to their boats when all nearby taps froze. The reports stated that they “managed OK”.

Personally, I don’t want to “manage OK”. I’ve enough to do without having to find and fill numerous (clean) containers, lug them back to the boat and pour them carefully into the water tank. I live on my own. I don’t consider that I use an excessive amount of water. I shower every day but each shower takes less than two minutes and I cook and wash up daily. Even so, I go through a full tank of water every ten days. My tank takes 20-25 minutes to fill using a hose with the tap on full blast. For me, the tap and hose option wins every time.

Because I live on a marina I have access to the main road and a car parking space 20m from my boat. We didn’t have a huge amount of snow here in Warwickshire but 5-6 inches was enough to immobilise boaters on moorings with poor road access. There are many narrowboats on the nearby canals moored close to canal bridges. These bridges are often on minor back roads which are very difficult to use in bad weather. Boaters on these moorings struggled to resupply.

Winter Narrowboat Fuel Supplies

Many boaters tell me that their boat is as warm as toast inside regardless of the weather. That’s not the case with me. I was cold in December. James is an old boat. Built in 1975 with a composite top she’s seen better days. When I moved on board last April, she had been empty and unloved for a number of years. She was very damp and leaked through the roof in heavy rain, the side doors were a poor fit and the insulation was practically none existent. Little has changed. I have to work hard to stay warm.

I have two Coldwatcher 500w heaters and a 700w oil filled radiator. These are on all the time at this time of the year and are just enough to keep the boat from freezing but don’t provide much in the way of heat. I also run a dehumidifier in the back cabin (my bedroom) to keep the damp at bay.

Real heat is provided by my solid fuel stove. It’s situated about four feet from the double doors to the front deck and feeds radiators at the rear of the boat in the second bedroom/study area, bathroom and rear bedroom. Because the stove’s back boiler has to provide hot water for the radiators, the stove doesn’t throw out an enormous amount of heat. However, at the moment it’s minus three outside but very cosy near the stove. It’s not quite as warm at the rear of the boat where I work. so I have to wear an extra fleece and a hat while I’m sat still working. No problem.

There are numerous solid fuels available. They all have slightly different characteristics. I use Pureheat. It’s a manufactured smokeless fuel and is the best I’ve tried. It stays alight for longer than other fuels (handy when I’m away from the boat for the night), burns hotter and creates less mess. The cost for a 25kg bag from my marina chandlery is ?13.50. It’s just ?9.50 from my local coal boat.

The coal boat passes by the marina roughly every four weeks. It couldn’t when the canal froze so the owners hired a van to keep their customers supplied. Bless them!

Preventing Frost Damage

Water can be very destructive. When it freezes it damages pumps and pipes and tanks. When water melts it floods. There are more than a handful of boat owners this winter in our marinas alone who are currently facing costly repair bills because they didn’t “winterise” their boats. If you live on board all the time, you don’t need to do this. If you leave your boat for extended periods and have on board heating attached to a reliable power supply you don’t need to bother either. But if you are going to leave your boat in very cold weather without any heating, you really are asking for trouble.

Winterising a boat is quick and easy (and common sense). The purpose of the exercise is to prevent water from freezing and rupturing whatever it’s in. So that means emptying some of the water from the main tank, turning the main stop cock off, then opening taps and shower attachments to allow water in the pipes to run out. If you have an “on demand” water heater you will need to drain that too. You will also need to drain your engine water too (Can’t help you with that one. I’m a bit of a dummy when it comes to engines).

Taking Care On Slippery Surfaces

Boats can be dangerous places at the best of times. There are ropes to trip you up, narrow steps up and narrow steps down, gunwales to slip off and water to fall into. Add a touch of ice and you’ve a recipe for disaster. Be careful.

I returned a boat to its marina mooring yesterday. I took Stuart, one of our younger members of staff, along for the ride. As we approached the pontoon, he nimbly hopped from the boat’s front deck onto the pontoon… did a spectacular backward somersault and landed on his head. Fortunately for Stuart he has quite a thick head so there was no damage done (only joking Stuart). But his slip on the ice could have had a very different outcome.

Stuart was uninjured (apart from his pride). We had a very different outcome two years ago on a sunny summer’s day. A hirer slipped off the back of one of our boats. The boat surfaces were dry and ice free – unusual for an English summer – but she still slipped. She slipped and fell into the canal as the boat was reversing. The propeller caught her leg, severing a major artery. Thanks to immediate first aid from one of our staff and an air ambulance she made a full recovery. But it was a full year before she could walk properly again. Boats can be dangerous at any time of the year. In the winter with ice, snow and rain, you need to be extra careful.

Cold Weather Toilet Problems

Unfortunately, when you live on a narrowboat, you have to pay a little more attention to human waste management than you would perhaps like. It’s not so much of a problem most of the year if you have a pump out toilette but you can get caught short in very cold weather. Your toilet or the contents of your holding tank aren’t likely to freeze, but the water around your boat is.

If your boat is iced in, you can’t get to a pump out station to empty your holding tank. If you don’t have an alternative, you’re stuck without an on board toilet until the ice melts. If you live at a marina, inconvenient as it might be, you can use their facilities. If you’re moored on the cut, you have a problem. Many full time narrowboaters also have a cassette toilet on board as well as the main pump out toilet.

Cruising During The Winter Months

Many narrowboat owners cruise through the winter. In fact, some prefer to cruise off-season. There are fewer boats about (no queues at the locks) and the scenery can be stunning. There are two problems with winter cruising though. One is ice and the other is stoppages. Stoppages are the closure of sections of the canal for essential winter maintenance. You can find a full list here.

A single heavy overnight frost has little impact on the water in the canal. Continuous sharp frosts and sub-zero days though can cause a build up of inches thick ice. Towards the end of December 2010 we had over four inch thick ice on the canal above Calcutt Top lock. Anything over half an inch and you’re engine will be working overtime. An inch or more and there’s a risk of tearing a hole in your boat. (One of the Grand Union canal coal boats is currently out of service due to over vigorous ice breaking). More than two inches on the canal and you’re stuck until mother nature decides to let you go.

The Key To Problem Free Winters

In my previous life as a stressed out business owner, I attended may training days. On one them I was introduced to the concept of the six P’s… Proper Preparation Prevents P*** Poor Performance. This applies to every area of your life including narrowboating. Although the six-week period from the end of November 2010 to the beginning of January 2011 was particularly chilly, you can expect every winter to be cold enough to freeze water.

Make sure you are prepared. If you are cruising, ensure that you know where the stoppages are and pay attention to short and medium term weather forecasts. Stock up on your winter supplies. Carry a little extra coal, top up your diesel tanks, develop a tinned food reserve and invest in a cassette toilet and, when all else fails, buy a case of mulled wine and a few good books for those cosy nights in by your roaring fire.

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10

How To Choose A Narrowboat To Live On

So you want to live on a narrowboat. Good for you. But before you spend your hard earned pennies, you need to think very carefully about the boat you intend to buy. Living on board full time is very different from a two week break away from work and your home on dry land. Answer the following questions honestly before you commit to a lifestyle that may just not be for you.

How do you know you’ll enjoy a life afloat?

I’m sure that you’ve at least spent a holiday week or two on a narrowboat but how do you think you’ll cope on the boat full time? Will the never-ending chore of topping up your coal, wood, gas and water in all weather begin to get you down once the honeymoon period is over? Are you prepared to move your toilet or your boat to a waste disposal point in rain, ice and snow? If you don’t have a long term residential moorings will the legal requirement to move every fourteen days get you down? You know yourself better than anyone else. Be honest with yourself.

What do you want your narrowboat for?

Do you want to cruise permanently along the canal system to explore all two thousand plus miles or do you want to moor in a fixed position and not move at all? The longest narrowboat you can buy is around seventy feet. Seventy feet is great for space but if you want to explore all of the system on your boat, you need something a little smaller. The shortest lock on the network is Salterhebble Middle Lock on the Calder and Hebble Navigation at 56 feet. However, the lock is 14’2″ wide so you can shoehorn a 60′ boat into it. Sixty feet then is the maximum boat length for you if you want to travel everywhere on the system.

Do you want a permanent base for your narrowboat?

Think about this very carefully. British Waterways who control most of the waterway system are very strict about a narrowboat owner’s status on the waterway. You must have a home mooring when you apply for your Waterways license. There are two exceptions allowed. The first is if your boat is removed from the water. It’s their equivalent of the DVLA’s SORN status. The other exception is if you are going to continually cruise the network. You still need a license but not a home base, but you must comply with their criteria for continuous cruising criteria. If you still need to travel to work continuous cruising status is not for you.

There are three different types of mooring; online, offline and marina. An online mooring is on the canal bank. An offline mooring is off the canal but not in a marina. A marina is a purpose built basin with a range of facilities to cater for your boating needs. There’s a full list of the narrowboat friendly marinas in England and Wales on this site. You need to think carefully before choosing a marina. Please read this article before considering one.

Do you want to live on your boat ALL of the time?

Many narrowboat owners – even the most enthusiastic cruise-nearly-ll-year-round boaters – like a break from life on the cut. They keep a home on dry land for such occasions and for the majority of their possessions that simply won’t fit on the boat. They also retain a postal address. Boaters with no home on dry land have to rely on relatives to receive their post and have to either sell possessions that won’t fit on the boat or put them into paid storage.

Who are you going to share your narrowboat with?

Are you going to begin this adventure on your own or do you intend to share your life afloat with your significant other? Have you ever spent a significant amount of time in a small space with them? Depending on the style of narrowboat you buy even on the longest 70′ boats you will be constantly sharing a living space no more than 60′ long an 6′ wide. That space has to accommodate both you and your partner, all of your clothes and possessions and maybe even a dog or two. Can you live comfortably like that?

What style of narrowboat will suit you?

There are three main styles of narrowboat. The traditional or trad, cruiser and semi trad. Each has a slightly different rear end. The traditional stern offers more covered living space but very little space at the rear to stand and steer. The narrowboat below left has a traditional stern. Astralis, the narrowboat on the right, has a semi traditional stern. Although they look very similar, you can see a cover over the visible portion of the boat. This is protecting the “walled” standing space at the rear.

Traditional stern narrowboat at Calcutt Boats Meadows Marina

Traditional stern narrowboat at Calcutt Boats Meadows Marina

Cruiser stern narrowboats have an open plan rear deck. They were developed for hire fleets so that there is space for hirers to socialise while they travel. The narrowboat below has a cruiser stern. Most narrowboat owners who spend most or all of their time on board choose a boat with a traditional stern.

Narrowboat with cruiser stern

Narrowboat with cruiser stern

What “home” comforts do you want?

Talking of comfort, which of life’s luxuries can’t you do without? You can have satelite television, electric kettles, hairdryers, microwaves, washing machines and dryers… but they all come at a price.

If you are going to be permanently moored in a marina you shouldn’t have a problem if you have access to a mains power supply (and your boat is fitted with a connection for mains power). However, when you leave your mooring and your mooring power supply you will have to rely on your boat’s electrical system. By default, your boat will have a 12v power supply which is sufficient for low power lighting and very little else. If you want to power any other electrical items, you will need to fit an inverter.

An inverter uses the boat’s engine to create electricity which is stored in a bank of batteries near the engine. The more power you need for your appliances, the bigger the inverter and battery bank requirement.

How much boat “tinkering” do you want to do?

Do you relish the prospect of days spent oily to the elbow and alone with your engine? If you don’t, a classic maintenance intensive engine is not for you. Make sure that the boat you choose has a reliable engine that can be serviced at most of the hundreds of boat yards throughout the system.

Some narrowboats are “raw water cooled”. They draw water from the canal through the engine and then out of the exhaust. On occasion you will need to clear blockages from the filter. Raw water cooled engines are in the minority but check before you buy.

Many new narrowboat owners would like to make changes to their boat or to sell their boat and buy another of a different length or style. Selling a boat these days can be a lengthy affair. There are several thousand for sale at any one time. There are nearly 1,000 for sale on this web site alone. By thinking carefully about your own answers to the questions above, you can avoid a costly and inconvenient mistake when you buy your first boat.

 

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7

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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4

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.

PR: wait… I: wait… L: wait… LD: wait… I: wait… wait… Rank: wait… Traffic: wait… Price: wait… C: wait…
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Learn the art of tying knots for boating

To knot or not to knot… that is the question! Do you know the difference between an albright and a woggle or an alpine butterfly and a west country whipping? Probably not. The good news is that you don’t need to. As a traveller of the inland waterways there are really only two knots you need to know, but you really do need to know them. Let me give you an example of what can happen when you don’t.

When I was seventeen (I know, I must have a very good memory – three male friends and I drove to somewhere near Great Yarmouth to the start of our week long narrowboat holiday. After half and hour’s instructiion we were allowed out on the Norfolk broads on our own.

By five o’clock we thought we had travelled far enough so “parked” our new toy along a canal bank near a likely looking pub. Six hours later and a little the worse for wear, we staggered through the driving rain through the pub garden back to where we were sure the boat was moored.

It wasn’t there!

Of course we weren’t thinking straight so after a brief panic and a longer shouting match we raced up and down the bank searching for our new home. After ten minutes we found the boat. Actually “found the boat” isn’t quite right. We hadn’t lost it at all. The idiot responsible for tying the stern mooring line (me) hadn’t done a very good job so the boat had swung one hundred and eighty degrees downstream and had come to rest alongside another narrowboat. Of course it was very difficult to see it in the driving rain.

The essential narrowboat knot

The essential narrowboat knot

If I had known either of the two most useful narrowboat knots we would have been spared the heartache all those years ago. Of course, my experience resulted in nothing more that a minor irritation but there have been countless cases of boats drifting away from their moorings because of poor knot tying… sometimes with disasterous consequences. Fortunately for you, it’s now very easy to learn these knots.

The two essential narrowboat knots are “the round turn and two half hitches” and “the cleat hitch”. The former is shorn on the left. The latter is below. The one on the left is for attaching your mooring rope to a post or a ring and the cleat hitch. The cleat hitch, strangely enough, secures a rope to a cleat. As you will invariably tie your narrowboat to or from a post, cleat or mooring ring these two knots will keep you out of trouble.

narrowboat cleat hitch

Essential knot number two

You can probably work out how to tie the knots just by looking at the diagrams but, to make life even easier for you, there’s a marvelous website which demonstrates how to tie every knot you’ve ever heard of . In fact, there are 120 knots listed. All of them are animated and very clear and easy to understand. It’s a great site… and it’s free.


 

 

Update 9th March 2014

I wrote this post just over four years ago. It was one of the first on the fledgling site. Since then I’ve often been approached with offers of new information to add to the site. About a month ago I realised that site subscriber Colin Jarman was the author of two books about boating knots. I asked him if he would like to write an article for the site describing the best knots for narrowboat owners. He kindly agreed. Here it is….

We handle ropes and lines most frequently on a narrowboat when mooring or getting underway. Mooring lines have to be fastened securely to stop your boat wandering off on a cruise of her own, yet they need to be easy to cast off and clear away when you want to leave your berth.

This means you need to know a few good knots that will hold securely until you want to undo them and that will then be easy to release, even under load. I emphasise that bit – even under load. If, say, the water is draining from a lock and there’s tension in your lines, but you can’t free them, because the knots have worked too tight … well, you get the picture.

The commonest ‘fixing points’ for mooring lines are bollards beside a lock, mooring stakes in the bank, a ring in a lock wall and a dolly or T-stud (cleat) on the deck. The knots I would recommend to cover these situations are the Round Turn and Two Half Hitches, the Lighterman’s hitch and the Cleat Hitch. You should know how to tie a Bowline too, because it forms a useful loop in the end of a rope, but it’s not the best knot for mooring purposes, because it’s hard to undo when under load and to lift it off a bollard means gaining some slack in the whole line so that the loop can be lifted up and off – not something you can do under load. If you need a loop, though, or need to join two lines together, a bowline (or a pair of bowlines with their loops interlinked in a Bowline Bend) can’t be beaten.

ROUND TURN AND TWO HALF HITCHES – bollard, spike (stake), dolly, ring

This is a long name for a simple way of fastening a line to a ring, a mooring stake, a dolly or a bollard. The name is also a perfect description of the parts of the knot. Begin by passing the end of the line round the bollard, dolly, mooring stake or through the ring so that it comes back towards you. Now take it round again so that it again comes back at you and completely encloses the object in a full ‘round turn’. Next pass the (working) end across the (standing part of) the line and wrap it round, poking the working end through between itself and the round turn. That’s the first half hitch. Take the working end on round the standing part, tuck it through between itself and the first half hitch and you’ve formed the second half hitch, completing the whole ‘round turn and two half hitches’.

Pull everything tight and it will hold as long as you want. Importantly though, it will also be easy to undo even while the boat is pulling hard on it. Just pull the end back through the two half hitches and either unwind the round turn or hang on to the working end of the line and surge it round the bollard (or whatever it’s round) and control the boat. If you try to stop a moving narrowboat by just holding the end of a mooring line you will soon find yourself swimming in the canal, but take a round turn on (ideally) a bollard and the friction of the rope round the bollard will help you to slow her down and hold her.

LIGHTERMAN’S HITCH – bollard, dolly

It’s much harder to describe the lighterman’s hitch than it is to tie it, but here goes. Use it for securing a mooring line to a bollard or dolly – if the rope is thin and the dolly tall, otherwise go back to a round turn and two half hitches.

Take a full round turn on the bollard, then pass a loop (bight) of the free (working) end of the line under the standing part, up and drop it over the head of the bollard or dolly. Drop a second loop of the working part over the bollard, then pass a third loop under the standing part, up and over the head of the bollard. That’s it. Job done. No ‘tying’, nothing to jam, just a round turn and three loops. It will hold securely and to undo it, just life each loop off until you are again holding the boat with a full round turn on the bollard.

CLEAT HITCH – T-stud

Like the Lighterman’s Hitch, this avoids any ‘tying’. Take a full round turn on the upright ‘neck’ of the T-stud with the working end of the line. That gives you immediate control, because you can surge the line around the neck of the stud to control the boat. To secure the line, next cross the working part over the T and pass it under one horn. Cross over the top again and pass the line under the other horn. Now take a fresh round turn on the neck of the stud and that’s it. The line is secure, but can be undone under load, just by unwinding the line to the first round turn.

The easy way to remember this round, cross, round pattern is with the word OXO. For a round turn (O), then cross, under one horn, cross and under the other in an X pattern, and finish with a round turn (O). If you are worried about security with a slippery rope, put two XXs on – think of kissing the missus, is one kiss enough?

Follow the links on each of the knots to see an animated demonstration of how to tie them or see demonstrations of other knots not listed here on my YouTube channel.

If you want to read more about simple knots and splices I can’t help but recommend ‘Knots In Use’ and ‘Knots and Splices’ (both published by Adlard Coles Nautical), because I’m their author.

Good luck!

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