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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Detailed narrowboat running costs for February 2013

Here are my bang up to date expenses for my own liveaboard narrowboat James. Not all narrowboat owners will incur the costs that I do. Many of the costs below will apply though so if you’re considering buying your own narrowboat, you need to be aware of the costs. You may wonder why I have included costs for items and services that aren’t directly related to running a narrowboat. They’re included because they are typical lifestyle costs that you may well incur. You can discount them if you want, but just bear them in mind.

Electricity: Each mooring has a 230v electrical supply which is charged at 20p per unit and topped up cards available from our reception.  I generally buy 3 x £10 electricity cards at a time.  I bought cards twice this month @ £30 a time. Once on 2nd and then again on 20th  – £60

Gas:Back to the normal single cylinder purchase this month after having to buy two last month after forgetting to buy one in December – £22.95

Coal: I get a better deal if I buy ten bags at a time. Ten 25kg bags of Pureheat last me about a month. I bought ten last month then another ten this month on 4th. I then bought a pack of 10 softwood heat logs on 20th. I keep a pack of the heat logs on standby in a dry cupboard inside the boat. If they get wet, they expand to twice their normal size and are impossible to light. They’re very handy for providing a quick burst of heat if it’s particularly cold when we get up in the morning like this morning. It’s particularly cold this morning. I’m writing this on 12th March 2013. The overnight low was minus four but with a strong north easterly wind, the wind chill brought it down to minus ten. The temperature in the warmest part of the boat – at the front near the stove – was down to eighteen degrees, thirteen degrees in my “office” half way down the boat, and a rather chilly six degrees in the bedroom right at the back of the boat. At times like this I wish I had central heating. I also bought a 10kg sample bag of Ecofire Oak Nuggets. Waterways World oublished the results of their stove fuel test in the March 2013 edition of the magazine. Here’s what I thought of them. – £126.63

Mooring: Mooring costs £2,300 a year – £191.66

Maintenance & Repairs: There were no repairs as such this month but I record sundry boat expenses here. This month we bought quite a few bits and pieces for the boat;

A bottle of One Chem for the cassette toilet. Added to the flush water and waste tank, it keeps the toilet smelling fresh. I’ve tried quite a few of the popular brands. One Chem suits us best – £8.49

A boat cleaning brush. It’s one of those fancy affairs with a Hozelock connection at one end so that you can enjoy a constant flow of water through the brush. Unfortunately the connection leaks, so all I enjoyed was a constant flow of water down my leg as I cleaned the boat. I went to a great deal of trouble painting James in April 2012. I’m doing all that I can to make sure that the paintwork stays in good condition. – £20.78

Bullet Polish. After I’ve cleaned the boat, I can further protect the paintwork with a good quality wax. Bullet polish’s main ingredient is Carnauba wax which is widely acknowledged as the best wax to use to protect your boat. Mindland Chandlers were offering two for just…  £25

Hozelock connectors and a broom handle – The hose that we used to fill the water tank had given up the ghost. I think it was less than a year old. It was one of those very convenient flat hoses on a reel that is very easy to store. It was a waste of money to be honest. The cheap plastic reel fell apart after half a dozen uses. The hose itself developed dozens of pinprick holes along its full length which made fulling the tank a wet and unpleasant affair. We were given a 30m Hozelock hose. The Hozelock connections were for either end.

The broom handle was to provide two hanging rails in the middle of the boat next to the side hatches. Sally uses them to hang damp clothes after they’ve been washed. They’re usually dry within 24 hours.

Hozelock connectors and broom handle – £12.08

LED light and adaptor – I’m slowly replacing all of the 12v lights on board. There are eighteen of them. The LED lights are brighter than the old bulbs, use very little electricity and have a very, very long life, 50,000 hours I think. Just to put that into perspective the lights I use most often, above my laptop, are on for two hours in the morning and three in the evening. At that rate the new lights will last for 10,000 days or 27.39 years! Although they’re expensive at £8.50 for each light and adaptor, I think they’re a good investment. I bought just one this month – £8.50

I bought a torch in February. It’s an essential bit of kit for a boater. My last torch was a bit of a disappointment. If I turned it on at night and held it very close to my wrist, I could sometimes see my watch. It was useless. The new torch is superb. It’s incredibly bright and its range is stunning. It can easily light up the island 50m away in the centre of the marina (which is great for identifying the Canada geese before scaring them off with a  – harmless – laser). The torch came with rechargeable batteries and charger. – £20.99

Ecofan – They use the heat from the stove to power the fan blade, they’re horribly expensive but they do a great job of moving the stove’s heat into the rest of the boat. I’ve really noticed a difference – £78.50

Rain hat (also knows politically incorrectly as a Coolie or Chinese hat) and two doormats – The rain hat sits on top of your chimney to keep rain, and leaves if you’re moored under a tree, out of the chimney. This is my fourth in three years. The first two disappeared in high winds. The third was screwed to the chimney and lasted over a year before it finally rusted through earlier in February.

The rubber backed door mats are to be used in the continuing battle against mud on paws. We’ve put one on the bench seat on the front deck and another just inside the front doors. They work very well in reducing the amount of dirty liquid on the dogs’ paws when they come into the boat.

Rain hat and two door mats – £33.13

A shiny red narrowboat kettleThe rest of the sundry purchases in February were Sally continuing  making the boat into a very comfortable and aesthetically pleasing home. I’m not naturally and untidy person but Sally is very tidy and very organised. She bought a pen and magazine tidy for my office area, a “snake” draught excluder to go under the door from the bedroom to the engine room, oven gloves and a tea/coffee/sugar jar set for the galley a very posh red kettle for the gas hob (Is it wrong to think that our new kettle – pictured – is very, very attractive? It’s almost a shame to put water in it) and, my favourite purchase this month, a Breville 1kw sandwich toaster.  We both love toasted cheese and onion sandwiches… or rather, we did before we bought the sandwich toaster. After having them for breakfast, lunch and dinner for a few days, they’ve lost a little of their appeal.

Sally’s sundry purchases – £104.43

Total maintenance and repairs for February – £311.90

Total boat expenses for February – £713.14

Other expenses for February…

Of course, the boat expenditure is only a part of the cost of life on the boat. Here’s what we spent on our day to day expenses in February.

Internet: I’m still using the excellent 15GB per month mobile broadband service from Three – £19.80

Telephone (Mobile): Sally and I both have mobiles on contract and Sally has an iPad, also on contract. I’ve also included the cost of our Skype to landline/mobile calls – £133.15

Laundery: Calcutt Boats as two washing machines and a dryer for moorers’ use. We only use the washing machines. Sally hangs the damp washing inside the boat. It’s dry within 24 hours. The washing machines take tokens which we buy at reception. Each token costs £1 and keeps the washing machines going for 45 minutes. – £20

Groceries: We eat well but not extravagantly. The total includes £23.95 for wine £324.67

Eating out: We enjoy a coffee in a cafe and the occasional meal out. In February we dined out on just two occasions; once at an all your can eat Sunday lunch buffet in a very good Thai restaurant in Banbury and one visit to Costa Coffee for a coffee and a slice of cake – £45.20

Entertainment: I love to read. I love my Kindle. It’s so easy to finish a book, use my laptop to browse through the Kindle books on Amazon, click a button and open my new book within a minute or two. I don’t read as much as I would like because of the time I spend adding content to this site. However, I still get through three or four books a month. I overdid my reading in February with five books downloaded – £25.03

Car: A low cost month for motoring. Forty pounds for fuel and the rest to add Sally to my policy – £54.19

Clothing: I’m still trying to spend as little as possible on clothing but I needed a new fleece work shirt and yet another pair of wellies. I bought a good pair of wellies in January for £35 but by mid February one of them had split. I was given the choice of either sending them back to Dunlop for a possible refund or biting the bullet and buying another pair at the discounted price of £24. I chose the latter- £46.29

My total none-boat-related living costs for February were £668.33 bringing my overall total for January to £1,381.47. It’s the calm before the storm. In March we’re fitting solar panels and new flooring. God help us,and our bank account!

This is an example of the monthly expenses detailed in my guide Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat. If you’re seriously considering buying a narrowboat to live on it’s an essential read. Some of the costs listed in this article are optional. You may be able to live on less than we do, but many of the costs that apply to us will also apply to you too.  Many potential boat owners mistakenly think that a narrowboat floating home is a low cost alternative to bricks and mortar. Nothing could be further from the truth. Please read the guide before you make a very expensive mistake.

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Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia now wander Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 32' Dutch motor cruiser.