It’s Not All Roses And Castles

Pauline Roberts lives aboard The Woodsman. She loves the lifestyle but her family and friends don’t understand what it’s all about. She wrote the following to try and explain it to them…

Hello all you land-living house or flat dwellers. Ever strolled along the cut on a sunny summer’s day and seen tanned healthy-looking boaters sitting along the towpath or on their back decks clad in shorts, enjoying the fresh air and the sound of birds singing, eating their sandwiches or tucking into a hearty meal, glass of wine in hand, smiling and looking stress-free? Yes? Well, it really IS like that for much of the warmer months. It can be even better when we have company, those friendly dog walkers, strollers and sometimes the occasional cyclist with a punctured tyre. All ready to spend a few minutes talking to boaters and asking them about their idyllic lifestyles. Us water gypsies DO feel we are blessed to be able to live like we do and the enthusiasm often rubs off onto others. A guided tour round one of our vessels and a lot of people feel this is exactly how they’d like to live, too. If only I had a pound for each time I heard this…..ahhh.

Narrowboat life isn't all smiles

Narrowboat life isn’t all smiles

It’s not all roses and castles, though. And I can say categorically that in the deep mid-winter it can be bloody hell. It gets cold, and I mean COLD in our steel homes. We have carpets but the floor is freezing a lot of the time. Bear in mind that when seated our lower bodies are below the level of the water. Or below the ice as we have experienced since November. I have thick socks on and sturdy leather boots – I wear them all winter (not the same socks, just the same boots may I add) inside as well as out. Thermal underwear is a must as is having many layers of clothing (vest, T shirt, jumper, fleece….and that’s just indoors.

There are cold spots on most boats. Mine is the bedroom which is the furthest place from the fire. Bedtime usually means heating up my stone hot water bottle (thanks, Julie) and a pan of water for the rubber ones. These go in to take the chill off the bedding then a quick dive (sometimes still with thermals on) and we are settled for the night. Hopefully… Often it gets colder in the middle of the night so as well as a lovely down-filled duvet I have a blanket or two on top, just to be on the safe side. Most windows are closed but there are ventilation mushrooms (is that what they’re called?) which, because of Boat Safety must be unobstructed. Don’t forget all the door vents, again a Boat Safety requirement and sliding hatches which leave gaps on either side. The list goes on but it’s to make you aware that cold draughts find their way in everywhere. To recap on this – metal boats (brrr…), draughts, cold spots, cold bloody feet, lots of clothes needed.

Another subject, and one boaters talk a lot about, is toilets. We tend to be closer to this subject than people who can flush and forget. We can flush but not forget. What goes down the hole has to come back out. No sewer system for us. We have holding tanks for our poos or we use Portapottis, or both. Portapottis have to be taken to a sanitation station and emptied, rinsed out and returned. Pump-outs need to be, well, pumped out. And both these methods are a fat lot of good when you’re frozen-in somewhere in the middle of nowhere. Or as we were last year, moored in a town beginning with ‘B’ where the one and only sanitation station had been out of order for months. It was in the grounds of a pub with outdoor tables all round it, no way of mooring except by roping onto a table leg (not recommended) and a blocked pan / water off / no-one admitting responsibility for maintenance. We campaigned to get it back into working order and the last we heard it was being rectified. Anyway, it’s a long and gory story (well I AM a poet!) which we will discuss with other boaters as we exchange toilet tales on our travels…. Getting back to the main subject what would YOU do if your toilets were full and there’s nowhere within miles to empty them (and the canal is frozen) ? I could come up with some solutions you don’t want to hear but I can tell you that supermarkets, pubs and friends’ houses often are saviours when you have your legs crossed and wear a pained expression, and ofcourse there is that understanding that you can dig a deep hole and bury the stuff. Try it in mid-winter!

In a similar vein we have the hazard of doogy doos. Many dog walkers use the towpath to exercise their four-legged friends and why not? And most of them do pick up after their dogs. However, there’s that minority who don’t. And for some reason there’s always a space just where I get off my back deck that has an invisible sign saying “Doggies, do your doos here.” And they do do. Their doo doos. Barry’s boots have an affinity with it too. He HAS to tread in it. It’s compulsory. Joking aside, it’s a health risk, offensive and a nuisance to clean off.

Now we come to water. I never appreciated it much when I lived in a house; it was something that came out of my taps and that was that. It still comes out of my taps now that I live on a boat but I have to go and get it. It doesn’t come to me. I have to travel to a water point, sometimes going for miles and through locks, and hope that the taps are working / not frozen and that there isn’t a queue for the water point. I have to moor up, get a hosepipe out and wait for up to an hour (depending on how quick or slow the tap is) to fill up my tank. It can have its hazards; my tank is perched right at the front of the boat and I have to be as agile as a monkey to get to the fill-up hole. During the big freeze we could not move our boats. Water became scarce or ran out. Bottles and water containers were seen being trollied along the towpath in all weathers to get that most precious of commodities. Friendly householders were appreciated when our water point taps were frozen solid. And we had to be so frugal with the use of water. Hot water bottles were emptied into a big pan so that the water could be heated up and re-used over and over again. I actually melted clean snow to use for those, and things like washing floors.

Personal hygiene can suffer when we have to go easy on the liquid stuff. It would suit many a schoolboy, I dare say, but personally I can’t stand smelly bodies. Having said that, it’s amazing how far half a kettle of hot water goes. You start with the cleaner bits and then end up with your feet. Coal dust gets everywhere and hands are sometimes a little discoloured, too, when you’ve been down the engine ‘ole (and yes, that is what it’s called, an ‘ole). Just washing your hair can be a little disconcerting when you see the colour of the water. We survived the water shortage. But my domestic water pump didn’t. That’s another story….

What about space? Not THAT kind, where planets revolve and stars go bang, but the space inside a boat. Like where to store clothes, bedding, food, hobby stuff and, in my case, a record player and all my vinyl. Moving from a three-bedroomed house onto a boat had a few problems for me, being a lady. Where to put my 40 handbags, pairs of shoes to match, clothes to match the shoes…etc? A good analogy is an hourglass with a large top and a minute (minute – get it??) bottom compartment. It just can’t be done. The charity shops got a good deal out of me. And moving about isn’t easy, either. Often one person has to whip into the bathroom to allow another person to go along the hallway. Or to move out of a chair for someone to get to the fire. A four foot bed with a little gap at one side (which doubles as a corridor) won’t accommodate two hefty water gypsies (unless it’s midwinter in which case they would snuggle up very close to each other for warmth). Making the bed each day is a muscle-builder; sheets seem to come adrift if you just look at them the wrong way and the duvet inevitably slides onto the floor. Smoothing a sheet flat whilst kneeling on it can be a bit tricky.

Lack of privacy is a sore point. I know how hard it is NOT to look straight into boat windows and I have trained my eyes to look forward when passing a boat but you just wouldn’t believe what some people do. A group of visitors from another country (I’m assuming they were visitors) came off the towpath, walked across a bit of grass and placed their heads against the bedroom window, shielding their eyes with their hands to get a better view. There they were, pointing to things and talking amongst themselves as if they were at the London Boat Show. How rude. I could have been getting dressed – that would have scared them! Hmm..

Recently a Pension Service advisor asked if we had letter boxes on our boats! I won’t go into all the ins and outs but she had erroneously told us that without a postal address a pensioner would lose not only their winter allowance but their actual pension itself. I digress, and it’s a long story anyway (see the Leighton Buzzard Observer 11th January 2011, page 7 for details) but the vision of a postie searching thousands of miles of canal and river to pop a letter in our “letter boxes” had us in stitches. But the hard fact is, we need somewhere for our snail mail to be delivered. Most of us are lucky; a willing daughter (thanks Helen) or other relative, or a friend, is greatly appreciated. Living in a marina could solve the problem of a postal address and make collecting mail a piece of pee. I would need to win the lottery or come into an inheritance to be able to afford that, though. My pension doesn’t go far.

Anyone noticed how, when you register at a surgery, the first thing they ask you is “What’s your postcode?” Unfortunately if your postal address is in, say, Liverpool and you are moored in, say, Leamington Spa, a letter may arrive to let you know that you have been struck off for being out of area. You don’t believe me? I know someone who was struck off two GP’s surgeries and a big local hospital because his postal address was about 20 miles away. A visit to his last GP ended with “You’ll have to register and that will take a few days to be put on the computer.” The man could hardly stand he was so ill. I have to keep reminding him now that he needs to give lots of notice when he intends to be ill in the future. And what about those solo boaters and there are a lot of them, nearly all men. They can’t bang on the wall and alert the neighbours when they think they are about to have a heart attack. Their only recourse is to use their mobiles…..if they can get a signal, that is. More about that later. Assuming they were able to call for an ambulance would the paramedics find Old Jim who is moored beside a field near what looks like a farmhouse just south of Fenny Stratford. Methinks this could have serious repercussions. Especially for Old Jim.

Signals… Mobiles, internet, TV, radio. Our boats are often like Faraday cages and conversations on the phone often sound like something out of a Carry On film. Today I had to dash through my boat and out the other end four times to be able to answer calls. Infuriating when I’m just about the turn the fried eggs over. Worse if I am in the ‘little room.’ TV aerials are constantly being turned to get a picture when we have travelled though nearby houses are handy to copy the direction of the aerial. And the internet often cuts out when there’s a poor signal. I never had that problem in a house with a landline phone. Graham up on the Llangollen has to climb up a mountain when HE wants to make a phone call. I can’t remember the name of the mountain but I think it starts with the letter ‘f.’

Vandalism occurs everywhere. We get our share living on the cut. Trouble is we can’t lock things away in a secure garage or shed so some of the stealables are on the back deck and on the roof. And no matter how secure you think a generator is, it can be gone in minutes, thick chain and padlock not a deterrent to some. I heard of a man who was running his generator and when he stopped he thought it had run out of fuel. But no, it was whipped away in broad daylight right under his nose. And talking of light, when the light goes and the night darkness closes in it very often is pitch black especially away from housing areas. A good time for yobbos to do their dirty deeds without risk of identification. Shirley and Brian had a window smashed weeks after moving onto their boat. And I have actually seen a man teaching his son how to float large metal ashtrays full of burning material out across the cut. I spent that evening praying one of them wouldn’t reach Barb’s boat, which it nearly did. As she wasn’t on board I had a bucket handy just in case. I’ve seen a few burnt out boats already. I’ve had missiles thrown at my boat on several occasions, too. In one case I had apples lugged at my windows while going through Birmingham.

You can buy groceries online from Tesco and get your order delivered direct to your front door. All very well but try doing this when you’re moored next to a pub car park. Or in the middle of a park area. OK for people with a static home but I wonder what Tesco and other stores would do if a boater placed an order. Has anyone ever done this? I’d be interested to know what happened. Often, too often, it’s a long trek for me and my peer group to get to a shop.

And that takes me onto the next subject – towpaths. We do have some wonderfully neat tarmaced towpaths. Ideal for dog walkers and joggers. Also a great place for those irritating young b***** who want to practice their motorbike skills, at top speed ofcourse. Have you noticed that they don’t wear crash helmets and the bikes don’t have licence plates? I’ve seen dozens of the little buggers. Or should I say heard them because it’s mostly during the hours of darkness when I’ve just got off to sleep. I’d love to hear a big splash after they’ve roared past but so far I’ve not had the pleasure. Some towpaths are just quagmires. Worse after the rains. Many a time I’ve lugged shopping or bottles of water along these paths with my bright pink trolley (with flowers on) only to have to wash the mud off the wheels and the bottoms of my boots in the cut before getting on board. Not to mention any doggie doos. And what about those men who come along in three and lawn mow and strim… Every time I hear them I’m out like a flash, telling them that I will do the bit alongside my boat. Yes, British Waterways will tell you that the workers have shields on their machines but the chipped paint on my boat, caused by flying stones, bears witness that these are not effective. Grass thrown up by the strimmers sticks to the blacking like glue unless you get out there with a mop straight away. Not so much of a problem as ruined paintwork, though.

I used to have a car. Handy for whipping out to Beds Batteries, Tesco or to see my little angelic grand-children but a pain in the exhaust pipe when you need to park it. Garages are ideal but not easy to move so a pub car park, industrial estate or housing area street have to do. In the worse case scenario a little country lane or isolated car park where anything can, and does, happen to the car windows, tryes etc. Whilst visiting my mate at the Wendover Festival one year I parked near a little hamlet and so did several other people. When I went to leave I found that six of the eight cars had had their windows smashed. I was one of the lucky two. And recently both my sisters (they’re boaters, too, as is my grandson Anthony – must run in the family) had their vehicle windows smashed. One also had the number plates removed and stolen not long ago. When you have a boat AND a car there’s always the problem of moving one when you move the other. I got fed up with walking miles to go fetch the car after travelling. Or begging a lift from someone. I now have a bus pass, yippee, and make full use of it. One of the perks of being an old age pensioner. My bones ache at bus stops but the advantages out weigh the disadvantages. And ofcourse, no tax, insurance, MOT,…..

Things go wrong on boats, I have found. There’s always something that needs repairing or replacing. Or painting, de-rusting, tightening, greasing. How many times have I had something wrapped round my prop? I’ve lost count. Usually it’s because I’ve been careless and not wound the stern line round my tiller. Stupid me. But I can’t be blamed for the many plastic bags, fishing line or pairs of trousers. And I haven’t had the unfortunate experience of cutting off a rotting fox carcase like Arlene had to do one time. Yuk. Last summer Barry had a rope wrapped round his prop and I stopped to help. I threw him a line but this didn’t work and I ended up with it round MINE! Two boats, drifting about, both of us down our engine ‘oles…I ended up breasted alongside a total stranger, apologising profusely for any inconvenience I’d caused. Luckily he was a nice chap. But then most boaters are. Don’t mention pumps, especially domestic water pumps. I’ve just had mine replaced (it was still under warranty, thank goodness). After weeks of scrounging water I now have it coming out of my taps again. You don’t know what you’ve got till it gone, they say. Now my batteries are playing up. Not holding their charge. I only replaced them, at great cost, about a year and a half ago. It’s not as if I use a lot of power. The halogen lights I had on the boat when I bought it have all been replaced by LED lights using a tenth of the power. My electric fridge is on only when it needs to be (and usually when I’m travelling in warm weather) and although I have a superb washing machine I only use it to spin out the laundry. “Let your fingers do the walking” is an old slogen; mine is “My hands do the washing.” Alternator belts need checking and tightening if need be. Stern glands need greasing, and greasers need filling. Weed hatches need to be waterproof and that sometimes means new sealer. A friend of ours took his weed hatch cover off to check his prop but felt he could do without it so disposed of it. He then moved off. And sank. Absolutely true. Lots of little jobs. And then the biggies. Boats are metal (well, GOOD ones are!!). Metal rusts. And boy do we have a lost of rustable metal. I spent all of last summer, in between the rainy days, rubbing down the whole length of my roof and putting down primer, undercoat and several layers of topcoat. I have noticed a couple of rust patches already. Damn. And there’s always the strakes to be Fertan’d and re-blacked. Locks do horrendous things to our blacking. And Barry reckons the Woodsman does horrendous things to Sunflower but I think I’m quite a good steerist, if that’s the right word. And if it isn’t then I’ve made it up. It’s mine. Mooring pins and mallets get rusty. Well, mine do. Leaks and damp. Oh, bloody hell. I keep peeping into my engine ‘ole and sighing with relief when there’s no water in there. Barry had a leak once – no, I’m not being personal – and ended up having to throw away all his diving books which were in the compartment under his wheelhouse (he’s got TWO compartments, cocky sod). You’ll find damp on boats. Mattresses need airing where they touch the sides and things under beds / seats will need checking periodically. Sucky-out bags are handy for storing bedding, clothes and photos. John told us that Sandy’s sewing machine stored under the bed had mouldy dust on it – a sucky out bag might not be practical for things like that. In general we keep an eye out for damp and mould. Food gets damp quickly on boats if not stored well, especially biscuits and crispbreads.

Talking of which, Shirley had a mouse on her boat. Nibbled it’s way through all the bags of flour, nuts and anything else he could get his teeth into. Was heard scuttling about in the night and it was some time before he was caught, sadly, in a trap. The squirrel climbing into her window was shoo’d away very sharpish and the rat sitting on the gunwhales looking in didn’t get a look in, if you get what I mean. I had a wonderful experience on Plod one day. A massive snake swam across the cut and climbed up through the drainage hole onto my front deck. It lay there, all four feet of it, in the sunshine. I felt privileged to have it aboard. However, with the front door open I was anxious that it didn’t get inside because with all my clutter I’d never have found it again. Luckily it slid out and swam back. A marvellous sight all the same. Helen wouldn’t agree; tarantulas are more to her liking (eeeugh) but that’s by the by.

We tell people that living on a boat is cheaper than in a house. I think that’s true. But there are still expenses which must be paid. Boat licence, insurance, Boat Safety costs and then the massive increase in the price of diesel. It has doubled in price since I started boating. It’s something we need to propel us or to run the central heating so gotta buy it. Coal / smokeless fuel needs to be bought although we have the fun of going out logging and sawing to supplement our heating costs. Multi-purpose fires are wonderful things. They keep us warm, boil the kettle, cook tea and create a cosy atmosphere. But they need feeding. Money goes to replacing parts and paying for repairs, too.

And lastly, it’s said that a boater isn’t a boater till he or she had been baptised – that’s falling in the water. Someone once told me you have to fall in 67 times to be a proper boater but I think that’s going a bit overboard, he he. Not too bad if done in shallow water in the summer. I fell in on the flooded River Severn and got swept along towards the weir at Gloucester docks. I lived to tell the tale. I know of several less fortunate people. Steve, a homeless man living under the bridge at Fenny, died the second time he fell in. And Shirley slipped while pushing Plod off the bank and ended up with a bad injury causing her to be unable to work for a long time.

Having said all this I hope it hasn’t put you off boating. It’s a lovely life that I have chosen. I’ve grown into it and wouldn’t dream of moving back on land. There are so many advantages in this lifestyle, wonderful things to see and hear, interesting, warm, friendly people to chat to. Most of us don’t have big bank balances but we do have big hearts. And in spite of what I’ve written it’s well worth it. I’m staying put!

As a result of Pauline’s article, continuous cruiser Peter Earley emailed me. Peter wrote an article for the Residential Boat Owner’s Association about four years ago. He though it would be a good counter argument for what many consider unneccessary pessimism in Pauline’s post. Peter is one of the 2,000+ registered continous cruisers on the system. You can read his post here

I’ve also written a detailed response to the issues Pauline has written in this post.

Useful Information
Paul Smith

After six and a half years living on a narrowboat on England's inland waterways, Paul and his wife Cynthia wandered Europe by motorhome during the winter, and on the Dutch and French waterways in the warmer months on their 35' Dutch motor cruiser. However, the pull of England's muddy ditches proved too much for them. Now they're back where they belong, constantly stuck in mud in a beautiful traditional narrowboat.

Click Here to Leave a Comment Below 58 comments
BoatyBabe - Friday,16 March, 2012

Pauline I think you paint a pretty harsh picture here. I don’t think your report accurately represents the majority of canal boats or the conditions we live in! We liveaboard but it’s nothing like what you describe – even in the depths of winter & frozen in! First of all warmth, even in the depths of winter (minus 17 in 2010) our boat was cosy & warm, with a squirrel stove a third of the way down the boat (not in a corner), 6 radiators as backup when required. “Sitting below the ice” isn’t even noticeable. If you have carpets & your floor is “freezing” then you need insulation under them. “Cold spots?” What are they? Our boat is 57ft by 10ft without cold spots. Thermal underwear required, outside the boat maybe but in bed??? “Cold bloody feet?” Insulation. Sounds like your boat isn’t very well insulated, especially if there’s damp & even mould. Dancing round each other to move? Not enough storage space? Folding up a bed (with difficulty) every day that gets damp? Four foot bed that doubles as a corridor, Teetering on the bow – you should’ve got a widebeam. Having said that I don’t know of anyone in a narrowboat with so many problems!!Masses of dog poo, sani station not working vandalism? Vandalism & theft does NOT occur everywhere – do your homework & moor up somewhere else! Mobile phone that doesn’t work when you’re cooking eggs & you have to stand outside? Get Vodafone, 6 bars inside the boat here (or anywhere for that matter). Lack of privacy? It’s not like there’s a queue lining up every day. Your fridge is only on when it needs to be? It needs to be on all the time! And what’s the point in having a washer if you wash by hand?? Water in the engine hole? Could only happen on a narrowboat without a covered stern. And storing books in the engine ‘ole? Dangerous. Finally you give the impression of being naive if you’re not sure what a vent’s called, or where to safely keep your mooring ropes. Or the fact that Tesco delivers (correctly) to bridge numbers. Moor up next to a bridge. As a fellow liveaboard, living on a warm cozy widebeam called Takey Tezey (case study of my blog on here) without rust, cold spots, damp, mould & draughts. All electrical appliances working wherever we are. I cannot imagine the lifestyle you describe! Think I’d rather live in a wooden shack!

PS: Good luck for your future life aboard, your report sounds more like a rant, so you’re going to need it. I couldn’t live like that. And very few people do. At the end you say “In spite of what I’ve written it’s worth it!” Well I’ll tell ya what, it doesn’t sound like it.


    admin - Saturday,17 March, 2012

    Hi Heth,

    I understand your point of view, and in the main I agree with you, but Pauline does make some good points… even if they are a little extreme.

    During the wintter that both you and Pauline refer to (2010/2011) I WAS often cold on James. But the reasons are important to note.

    The winter in question was the coldest on record. Minus eighteen outside James one night (and quarter of an inch of frost on the inside of the engine room the following morning), multi day periods with a daytime high of minus six, and four or five inches of ice on the cut for a month and a half.

    James, at the time, was very poorly insulated. The cabin was masonite (oil treated ply) which was thirty five years old and in a poor state of repair. In heavy rain I had to place pots and pans under the leaks. The insulation was half inch polystyrene and not very effective.

    I had a solid fuel stove with a back boiler attached to three gravity fed radiators along the starboard side. The stove was old and not very effective.

    This winter I was as warm and cosy as a bug in a rug. The reasons for that are also important to note.

    Last November I had the cabin top, sides, front and back overplated with 4mm steel. I sandwiched an inch of polystyrene between the steel and the masonite to give me more insulation. It’s been pretty effective but, in hindsight, I would have opted for the more expensive but better insulation provided by Rockwool.

    The winter has also been far milder than the previous year. The lowest I recorded was minus ten but that was a one off. Much of the winter this year has been above zero. It’s not just the air temperature that has an impact on my comfort though. The strength and direction of the wind is also important. James is moored facing west. The prevailing wind is south westerly and, as I have no one moored on my port side, a strong prevailing wind scours the entire port side of the boat finding each and every draught. Over the winter I have taped up the gaps between the side doors and the hatch above it. Just that alone has made quite a difference.

    I still have the same stove, back boiler and radiators, but now there is also a 12v pump to help with the circulation. Another improvement and overall a much warmer boat. However, the aft bedroom which is forty feet away from the stove and has two doors in between to restrict the air flow is still quite cold. I have a winter rated duvet though so I am never cold in bed.

    Boats CAN be cold places to live but most owners who live aboard all or much of the time generally invest sufficient time and money into finding solutions that work.

    Although I don’t agree with some of the comments that Pauline’s made, they are her view on living afloat and I am grateful that she has taken the time to write them down and allow me to share them on the site. Pauline may not be quite as comfortable on her boat as many liveaboards that I have spoken to, but she finishes her article by pointing out that, despite the problems she has encountered, she considers life afloat to be “well worth it”. I agree Pauline!


      BoatyBabe - Saturday,17 March, 2012

      Hi Paul, When you spoke of your own problems & how you rectified them – that was written as relevant to you, yourself. What Pauline doesn’t seem to realise is that the content in her article focuses on the collective “we” which infers that her own experience of living aboard is the same for all of us. That we all have to put up with the same rudimentary problems, that our boats are all defective & cold, & that vandalism is everywhere. (To mention just a couple of issues raised).
      To anyone in bricks n mortar reading that, they must think her numerous problems are representative of all boaters. That her description is “the norm” because that’s the way it reads. When in fact, for the majority of boaters, it’s a huge distortion of the truth. Perhaps she just doesn’t know otherwise, but that’s no excuse for “speaking on behalf of all of us”. It also sends out a very depressing image of life afloat to non-boaters.. It isn’t the message most boaters would portray as being rational or realistic!!



    jelunga - Monday,19 March, 2012

    Pauline I think you paint a pretty harsh picture here. I don’t think your report accurately represents the majority of canal boats or the conditions we live in! We liveaboard but it’s nothing like what you describe – even in the depths of winter & frozen in! First of all warmth, even in the depths of winter (minus 17 in 2010) our boat was cosy & warm, with a squirrel stove a third of the way down the boat (not in a corner), 6 radiators as backup when required. “Sitting below the ice” isn’t even noticeable. If you have carpets & your floor is “freezing” then you need insulation under them. “Cold spots?” What are they? Our boat is 57ft by 10ft without cold spots. Thermal underwear required, outside the boat maybe but in bed??? “Cold bloody feet?” Insulation. Sounds like your boat isn’t very well insulated, especially if there’s damp & even mould. Dancing round each other to move? Not enough storage space? Folding up a bed (with difficulty) every day that gets damp? Four foot bed that doubles as a corridor, Teetering on the bow – you should’ve got a widebeam. Having said that I don’t know of anyone in a narrowboat with so many problems!!Masses of dog poo, sani station not working vandalism? Vandalism & theft does NOT occur everywhere – do your homework & moor up somewhere else! Mobile phone that doesn’t work when you’re cooking eggs & you have to stand outside? Get Vodafone, 6 bars inside the boat here (or anywhere for that matter). Lack of privacy? It’s not like there’s a queue lining up every day. Your fridge is only on when it needs to be? It needs to be on all the time! And what’s the point in having a washer if you wash by hand?? Water in the engine hole? Could only happen on a narrowboat without a covered stern. And storing books in the engine ‘ole? Dangerous. Finally you give the impression of being naive if you’re not sure what a vent’s called, or where to safely keep your mooring ropes. Or the fact that Tesco delivers (correctly) to bridge numbers. Moor up next to a bridge. As a fellow liveaboard, living on a warm cozy widebeam called Takey Tezey (case study of my blog on here) without rust, cold spots, damp, mould & draughts. All electrical appliances working wherever we are. I cannot imagine the lifestyle you describe! Think I’d rather live in a wooden shack!HethPS: Good luck for your future life aboard, your report sounds more like a rant, so you’re going to need it. I couldn’t live like that. And very few people do. At the end you say “In spite of what I’ve written it’s worth it!” Well I’ll tell ya what, it doesn’t sound like it.

    I like the original post. It is a good warning to those thinking about living on a boat that all is not as rosy as it seems.
    After all we do not want too many people on the cut. It will get too crowded.
    NIMBY? Probably.


    boatlady - Friday,13 April, 2012

    Hello Boatybabe. Thank you for your reply to my article. I think an alternative view always keeps the debate going, eh?
    In reply to yours, and going through it article by article, you said secure moorings have less chance of vandalism. Yes, that may be right. But as a continuous cruiser how do I know where “secure moorings” are? Is there a website which states that certain places are safer? If so, let me know. You need to get real if you think it doesn’t happen everywhere.
    You said that Tesco will deliver if you have a bridge number. Thank you for that. I do appreciate any information that will help me avoid lugging loads of shopping from bus to mooring.
    You mentioned rust. You have been the first boater who seems to think that rust is not a problem. Have you got an aluminium boat? Perhaps a Sea Otter? Metal DOES rust and I have never encountered a boater who has the same opinion as you. Give me your secret.
    I mentioned leaks. Yes, Barry lost his books when there was a leak. It was under his wheelhouse. For your information, and you don’t seem very clued up about boats, some of them have an engine hole AND a space under the wheelhouse. Do your homeowrk, Boatybabe.
    As for damp, it is true that some boaters suffer with it. Maybe you don’t, and luckily I don’t very much, but get real. Not everyone has a super-dry boat.
    You say that even in winter with sub-zero temperatures your boat is cosy and warm. Lucky you. You have six radiators so I assume you have central heating that you can afford to keep on 24 hours a day. Perhaps you are not living on a basic state pension like I am. I just couldn’t afford to do that. And as for a wide beam – NO, NEVER. The canal was built for narrowboats to travel on and I have one. Unlike you I can go just about anywhere on our canal and river system. I would hate to be restricted to just a few canals like the Grand Union. I want to see as much of Britain’s waterways as I can and I can.
    You mentioned “folding up a bed.” What? I don’t fold mine up. Where do you get that idea. I just make up my bed each day – you know, straighten the sheets, fluff up the quilt, etc. The things most people do.
    As for mobile phone signals – well, there are contradicting views on this. It all depends on where you are moored in my opinion. But “doesn’t work when you are cooking eggs.” What??? What has cooking eggs got to do with it?
    You spoke about keeping the fridge on. Well, Boatybabe, if I were moored with an electric point I certainly WOULD keep mine on. But if I am moored somewhere for a couple of weeks I may not be able to. If it’s midwinter I woul;d keep my meat in the cratch. Why waste power?
    Which brings me to the point you made about washing machines. “Why do hand washing when you have a machine to do it for you?” You need to get into the REAL world, Boatybabe. With a finite amount of water in my tank and a finite amount of power I have to use it sensibly. I don’t haver a million gallon water tank… And what’s wrong with washing out a few smalls by hand? Have you lost the use of your hands?
    I am wondering if you have a mooring with continuous water and continuous power? Don’t you know that continuous moorers have to find what water we can and also make our own power.
    Pauline, a narrowboater.


      BoatyBabe - Friday,13 April, 2012

      Hi Pauline, well again you show naivity about heating, we have a multi-fuel stove (squirrel – as do most boats) that keeps us warm in the depths of winter. Which leaves the central heating as a booster back up if necessary. You say I’m not a real boater, well everyone (most) people know you can’t run CH for 24 hours a day, the boiler cokes up & other problems occur. As for canals only being built for narrowboats, well many canals are WIDE, why? Because broad beam barges were just, if not more important. Don’t claim to own the canal system because you live on a narrowboat, it doesn’t wash – excuse pun..
      Also, when it comes to safe places to moor up, you’re online, so visit some of the many boating websites available with such information on them, & read the boaty blogs for info.
      We’re not all skint & living a hard life, so don’t claim to speak for all of us when you moan about your dire situation. That’s your own experience – not everyone’s. You have no right to sit in judgement on behalf of us all, I’m not the one claiming that we all have such hardships when it isn’t true, you are..
      And believe me, I’m a boater who’s lived aboard for 3 years, what I’ve told you is our reality – yes it’s real! And I’m a real boater! God forbid I live on a widebeam, don’t want to travel the whole system & prefer to live in space & l;uxury. Yes it’s a far cry from your “reality” we worked hard for what we’ve got & appreciate it very much… The “old school” type narrowbater who bangs on about being superior just makes the rest of us feel sorry for you.


    boatlady - Friday,13 April, 2012

    Hello Boaty Babe. Your reply was welcomed and I do believe in a bit of debate.
    However, your views are unrealistic and blinkered.
    You mentioned secure moorings with less chance of vandalism. Tell me where these “safer” moorings are because I don’t know of any.
    As for Tesco delivering to a bridge number, that is a welcome suggestion which I will try.
    Rust??? You don’t get rust??? What…..are you aluminium? Sea Otter? I haven’t met a boater yet who doesn’t have rust somewhere on their boat.
    Leaks… you said something about not keeping books in engine ‘oles. Wot? Do you think I am stupid? I do not keep books in engine ‘oles, for heavens sake. Barry kept books in his compartment under his wheelhouse. Nothing to do with engine ‘oles. Please read the article properly before you make silly remarks.
    Damp. Yes, most of us do have damp places.
    You said your 57 by 10 foot boat was cosy and warm in winter. Lucky you. Perhaps you have somewhere with a landline or maybe a budget bigger than my state pension.
    “Folding up a bed.” ?? Wot? Are you able to read, Boatybabe? Please go through the article again….. It is a bit different to making a bed.
    You suggested I get a widebeam. NO WAY. I travel about and want to see more of England than a widebeam is able to. You wouldn’t be able to see the beautiful Aylesbury Arm or many of the canals up north. I don’t do restricted….
    As for mobile phones that don’t work when you’re cooking eggs…. I suggest, again, that you read my article properly.
    My fridge is on at times. There is no need when the temperature reaches minus zero. Perhaps you have a landline where it doesn’t matter what the temperature is. I have to think of my batteries, Boatybabe.
    You did make me laugh a lot. Fancy me using my washing machine for doing a few smalls.. Oh dear. I don’t have a million gallon water tank nor a tap at a mooring. I can only do so much and have only so much power. Maybe you have a landline and a water tap at hand…. How awful, to be restricted to one place. Well, it takes all sorts.
    I bought a boat to see different places, meet new faces, explore England. It seems your mind is so much narrower than mine, Boatybabe. You’ll learn.
    Pauline on the Woodsman.


      BoatyBabe - Saturday,14 April, 2012

      Hi Pauline, I think I’m posting this reply in the right place, I get a notifications but the link doesn’t do the redirect to the exact comment. I feel like I was a bit harsh on you yesterday when it comes to your personal & very different life afloat. We are based in a marina but we don’t feel “tethered,” we have some great friends here & a brilliant social life which is important to us. An added bonus is that we’re not crammed in here at Mercia. Many narrowboats have a double birth to themselves so there’s space for the sun to flood through the windows. We’re on a short & sheltered pier with beautiful open water, surrounded by trees & open fields beyond. And being as we’re on a widebeam we take up 2 spaces anyway. We also go out on the cut a lot in spring, summer & autumn, admittedly we’re fair weather boaters, but thats the way we like it.
      We feel like we have the best of both worlds, good friends, plenty going on at the marina, a gorgeous pub that backs onto the canal to walk down the towpath to, or go in the boat & and moor up. We can take off when we want, & moor up where we want. There’s plenty of wide canals round here & rivers to go on. Like I said, best of both worlds. You say we’ve got a lot to learn, there’s nothing else we need or want to learn. Boating is a constant learning process anyway, & yes we know all about the technical side & fitting out.
      If it comes to knowledge of canals, well I’m a writer & have researched & written about the canal system & our many experiences on my humorous boaty blog ever since we bought the boat. I can’t possibly be that naive because my blog is always ranked very high in the UKWRS, (UK waterways ranking site) & not blowing my own trumpet is very popular.

      I also understand the politics of the waterways, especially with all the changes over the past year about which I write satirically because they’re making such a pigs ear of things. I’m also an amateur photographer so there’s roughly 4000+ photos on there too. In general people who live on the cut are a minority. So most boaters I know would disagree with boating life as you describe it being the same for us all – it isn’t. I don’t look down on your life afloat, I respect people who live out on the cut permanently – it must be harsh, but it’s not for us. I think you should have written your article as “your experience, your lifestyle” not everyone’s. Boating for us is about having fun – & we do! That’s my reality, our reality as boaters, being unrealistic just doesn’t come into it..




    boatlady - Wednesday,18 April, 2012

    Hello again BoatyBabe. I have re-read some of your comments and feel you are living in cloud cuckoo land. You say your boat is always warm, question why one would do hand-washing when they have a washing machine, never have damp or rust…..the list goes on. You are the first baoter I have ever heard saying they NEVER get any rust. As for hand-washing, yes I do that a lot especially when I have a few smalls and am low on water. I don’t have a landline as I am a continuous cruiser (although I like to stop in some places for a week or two) and I have to be careful with water and power. As for your suggestion about buying a wide-beam that REALLY made me laugh… I travel all over the place and certainly wouldn’t want to be restricted by lock width. I do think they are ugly, anyway.
    Negativity? Me. Never. I love my life afloat. The good points far outweigh the bad, and I get to change my garden several times every month, see the wildlife vary as I travel to different places, etc. Who could ask for more?


      BoatyBabe - Wednesday,18 April, 2012

      That’s twice you’ve said I’m in cloud cuckoo land, I liveaboard a boat but not with the fairy’s. For some reason you keep focusing on rust, I didn’t say it doesn’t appear I said “what’s that?” Simply because if a spot or 2 does appear it gets treated & sorted pronto – properly. No I can honestly say we don’t get damp because the boat is very well insulated. As for the hilarious comment about a widebeam, well I’ve heard that one before from narrowboaters, (not aimed at us personally) but when any narrowboater comes on board they’re gob-smacked at how lovely it is. It looks pretty stunning outside too. They don’t even need to be boaters who are totally disenchanted with their narrowboat like you, & would love the space. Tell you what, I bet I wouldn’t like your narrowboat more, sounds like a right mess. We did our research before we bought the boat, we’re not naive, we prefer space & comfort as opposed to doing the whole system & living in hardship like you’ve described – and then gone on to say you love it. What a contradiction! We travel a lot in spring, summer & autumn, there are challenging rivers & estuaries to go on. Boat cruising satisfaction in terms of travel is not about how far you go, it’s about how far you want to go. I know of many narrowboats that don’t travel as much as we do.. You say your good points outweigh the bad, there’s another contradiction to what you’ve described. I’d love to know just how far you do travel, seeing as you didn’t know about Tesco deliveries or where’s best to moor up, keep us informed as to where you are & good luck, you’re going to need it.


    hache2 - Sunday,20 May, 2012

    wow , thank god for your reply as was seriously thinking this might represent the majority


Fletch - Sunday,18 March, 2012

Sounds horrendous but I bet the good times outweigh the bad else you wouldnt be there eh? Good on you for living your dream..I’m a single bloke with a dog and a life long yearning to do just what you’re doing. Didn’t realise I was such a cliche though! Anyhow hasn’t put me off and steadily putting things in place to purchase my first boat . Thank you for the insight ..Fletch.


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Hi Fletch. There are lots of blokes out there who want to live on a boat. You and your dog would love it, believe me. I know dozens of them and they would never change to living on land. Not only is it a cheaper living but somehow dogs on boats are more laid-back. It’s a fact! Go for it. Pauline. ps when you do, come over for a cuppa and bring your dog. Watch out for the Woodsman.


dabblingduck - Sunday,18 March, 2012

Well, that should put a few people off ! Can’t say I was often cold in 10 years’ boating, but the cassette situation can be tricky.
I imagine you are permanently cruising, which is harder that having a decent mooring, so I probably lucky (but not in a marina).
Stick with it ! I miss it all – even the bad bits.


331phixer - Sunday,18 March, 2012

wonderful story. Thanks Pauline.


philrosser - Sunday,18 March, 2012

Hi Pauline,

I think you have highlighted a lot of possible downsides to living aboard, but all of them are surmountable. I agree with Boatybabe about warmth in winter – last winter many of our friends emailed us saying they were worried about us because they thought we were cold, but in fact there were occasions where there was snow and ice outside and we had all doors and windows open because we had overcooked the stove. This year we have learnt to judge it better and we are just comfortable, helped by Phil’s DIY double glazing, (for more info see my blog on here). I agree, it can get cold in the night, but we sleep with two duvets on the bed, is that such a hardship? We have an eco fan on the stove which distributes the heat to the end of the boat – something which we were told about by other boaters and that has made life much easier in the cold weather.

We love living aboard so much that we refuse to let emptying the toilet be a problem. I think pump outs can be restrictive and we have witnessed boater friends totally stuck when there is ice on the canal. That is why we went for the cassette option – yes it’s not pleasant swilling them out, but it’s a small price to pay for the lifestyle and if you are iced in they are very portable and can be taken long distances to empty if need be.

As far as economics goes, we used to live in a large draughty victorian terraced house and our fuel costs have reduced to a ridicuously low amount compared to what we used to pay to the greedy utility companies. We also really enjoy going out ‘wooding’ and manage to feed our fire virtually for free and have fun doing it. Yes we have to pay BW licence, insurance etc. but we don’t have to pay council tax, water rates etc. In this climate everyone is struggling (maybe not the bankers ), but I do think we pay less than house owners.

There is vandalism everywhere as you say, but as newbies we were advised by other boaters where it is safe to moor up and where not to stay overnight and also what times of day to not cruise through certain areas. e.g.the centre of town at weekends after 10am – as the disaffected kids would be up, but not at school and ready to chuck things off the bridges as you are passing under them. Use the local knowledge and you shouldn’t experience vandalism …..

Doctors are difficult, but I understand there is a new law coming in which means that they will no longer be post code dependent. It is also important to always know where you are from a road users point of view. I agree that it is no good telling paramedics that you are, for example, at bridge 47 on the grand union canal, but it really is your responsibility to get your bearings and to be able to tell people precisely where you are.

Many of these issues are addressed by the RBOA (Residential Boat Owners Association) who have great experience in most problems with people who live on their boats. We are members and we have sought their advice on a couple of occasions and they are really helpful.

Finally the people who peer into your boat are curious and maybe just a little jealous of the lifestyle ….. and so they should be!!



    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Thank you for your comments. And I do agree with most of what you have said. Pauline.


sammy - Sunday,18 March, 2012

We have just bought a narrow boat and we live in Queensland! We are moving over to the UK to live on our boat in May, this article is a real downer!!


    wideboater - Monday,19 March, 2012

    Sammy, ignore it. It really bears not resemblance to reality. Pauline exaggerates wildly, my health leaves a bit to be desired and because of this we have winter moorings now, but all it needs is a little forethought. The VAST majority of liveaboards wouldn’t have it any other way and cruising in the winter when the canals are almost empty has to be experienced.


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Don’t let it be. My article was one of the first on this site and I sent it in by invitation from the owner. But as you will see I do enjoy living on my boat and have done for the past 5 years. Ofcourse there are downsides, it’s inevitable, but read my last paragraph – I wouldn’t change a thing. Pauline.


knickij - Monday,19 March, 2012

Very Entertaining an Informative! Yes the practicalities of Life can be harsh…that applies to wherever You Choose To Live! A lot of people do not even have that choice….I live in a rambling farmhouse that I Inherited from My Late Father…it’s very tough sometimes…it had not been fully maintained…rotten wndows, dodgy plumbing, DAMP! etc etc I am slowly getting through it, but it’s a Full Time job and Eats Money…in the winter I can get snowed in for weeks at a time…I am right out in the sticks..no buses and cannot walk to the Shop/Pub! But…the upside is.. it is Idyllic in Spring, Summer,Autumn an even Winter! Glorious views, The Changing Seasons, Wildlife, Privacy etc etc I grow my own veg I chop and burn logswhen its cold I cannot heat the whole house so just keep one room warm…bedtime is an electric blanket! WooHoo! Luxury…NO Neccessity! And three quilts…My six cats keep me warm an company! Would not change it for The World…but as Pauline says..It’s not all Roses round the door! Somebody has to put them there and maintain them…that would be Me then! It’s good to consider all aspects of an Adventure before setting off on it…As My Daddy Always Told Me…”Time spent on Reconnassaince…Seldom Wasted!” Another Good One Is “Murphy’s Law!” Enjoy! It’s a Wonder Full Life…..Knicki xx


nigelnpixie - Monday,19 March, 2012

HELLO Pauline,
Thank you for your enlightening story. I am sure many people have a ‘Pollyanna” opinion about what living on a narrow boat is all about. It’s good to hear the downsides too . Of course, when the sun is shining, birds singing and the loaf just out of the oven has risen perfectly and smells delicious, the negative bits of boating disappear in a flash. We lived on a sailing boat for 18 years and did almost 3 circumnavigations – Much of this time was wonderful – but like all boating there were times when you would have rather been elsewhere… But without the lows how can one appreciate the wonderful highs ???
Keep your chin up and enjoy the boating life. We think it’s great !!!


bernadette - Monday,19 March, 2012

I can`t understand why you are living on a boat Pauline if it makes you so unhappy
I can feel the tension and need to go and meditate before i do anything else
Please focus on the good things Pauline, for yourself


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Hello Bernadette. Why are you saying that boating makes me unhappy? Didn’t you read the last paragraph? I LOVE it, Bernadette and wouldn’t go back to bricks and mortar. Go off and meditate, love.


i.williamson - Monday,19 March, 2012

My wife and I have only been boating since July 2011 and have a lot to experience. We have made changes to our boat that have been an immense help especially throughout winter. The toilet: an horrendous pump-out that had seemingly never been maintained, indoors it smelt like the pump-out points smell when a boat is being pumped, only all the time. After some research we decided on a waterless toilet, it saves on water, pumping out costs, having to move to pump out. Yes, you still have to find an elsan for the wee tank when not in a marina, but once the solid waste bucket is full you clip the lid on place it on the roof and let it do its thing. There are several buckets, when your third bucket is full the first one can be safely emptied to reuse and the second one is doing its thing. It’s odourless and dry. You need to separate the two then the bacteria that causes the smell can’t do its thing.

The stove is wonderful, we’ve been hot all winter. We have a radiator in the bedroom and one in the bathroom, never used. She’s a 60 footer, the stove is at the bow end and using an eco fan the heat travels the length. Windows need to be open all the time, that’s with all mushroom vents and door vents in full use. But – and this is a big but – she’s double glazed, nothing to do with us!

We do live in a marina, there’s a lot to do to the boat and we’re novice so felt safer living there during our first winter. It froze, the water had to be shut off for a fortnight, not long I know but long enough to learn to be very frugal with it and realise how tough it must have been last winter when the water was off for months,especially for the poor souls living on the cut. The marina is not so expensive and has a great community atmosphere, we’ve met some lovely people, some of them very very good friends now.

We are very green and have much to learn and experience, not all of it good. We are on the cut now, it’s different still, my wife feels less secure, worries about water a lot, finds it much harder and has occasionally wanted to give up but whether it’s raining or the sun is shining, she admits she’s happier than she’s ever been. We’ve lived in a cottage and a large house, charities and charity shops couldn’t believe their luck when we turned up with van loads of things, but it was a happy feeling. An 8 x 8 ft wardrobe full to bursting with clothes and shoes were reduced to ‘love it or use it’ then ‘use it’, we have a few nice outfits and shoes, lots of jeans, teeshirts and jumpers, big coats and walking boots. Muddy towpaths are tough, we have too large dogs that seem to be constantly wet and muddy but winter is over, the sun is shining and the weather will get better.

We love it, love it, love it, it’s a fantastic life, high-maintanence perhaps, but so are houses and they’re boring, you can’t see the amazing countryside from them. We’ve done half a summer, a winter and a spring, none of it particularly harsh granted, but I can’t see packing this in until we’re just too old to cope, which doesn’t worry us either, we have met many very elderly and disabled people living on narrowboats and all of them have a glow about them.

Sammy in Queensland: move here and love your narrowboat, the article is a downer but is really just a list of bad after bad. Perhaps Pauline’s list of good would be just as lengthy…


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Hello boaters. I am interested in your waterless toilet. I’ve never heard of this one. Please tell me more.
    By the way, when I bought my current boat the toilet smell was over-powering, to say the least. I now use a microbe-based toilet liquid and it has worked wonders. It’s from the New Blue Loo company and I can recommend it to anyone with a pumpout.
    Thanks for your comments. Pauline.


pantramp - Monday,19 March, 2012

i think its time you moved back onto land pauline, your boating spirit has gone


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Never. Why do you say that? Didn’t you read the last paragraph????


lyraboat - Monday,19 March, 2012

Pauline, I’ve just read your article and do feel that you could improve many of your niggles. We’ve lived on board for 6 years now and have only been cold when the central heating failed in the middle of last winter. Luckily we were in a marina at the time so could get an electric heater working while the faulty unit was replaced. By the way it was an Eberspacher heater that failed, not for the first time, it has now been consigned to the scrap heap and been replaced with a Hurricane. We don’t have a solid fuel heater at all.
Most of observations do seem to be true, but it is a “worst case scenario” I feel. At least it isn’t a rose tinted look, and will give many folk pause to reflect before they do something silly and sell their house without thinking. Well done!


bazzler - Monday,19 March, 2012

Well said, Pauline. It is important for people who intend to do serious boating (by that I mean cruise the network rather than moor permanently in a marina or other home mooring) to understand there are hard times ahead. For most those hard times are outweighed by the good. There is no boat afloat anywhere in the UK that does not have damp or cold spots in it somewhere – most often such spots are in inaccessible places or out of sight completely, so go unnoticed. Those spots that do become a problem can be sorted without too much trouble. Insulation is not always the solution! You rightly comment about ventilation and only a fool would block any vents on their boat in order to reduce draughts and keep warm. Every year there are reports of deaths and near misses associated with poor ventilation.

Re mobile phone signals again there is no Telco that provides guaranteed coverage anywhere in the UK let alone on the inland waterways. You pays yer money and takes yer choice. I have tried every mobile Telco and have experienced dead spots with each of them in all areas of England. Vodafone has been the worst of the bunch around the canal network except for when we have cruised through major towns and cities. However, so far the better one has been Three.

Tesco do deliver to your boat – we had a successful delivery to Thrupp. As long as they can reach your boat by road and have a post code for their Satnav, they will deliver. Ocada and Sainsbury do so, too.

So, yes it is important for people to understand boating is not a bed of roses. Boats, like houses, need TLC to keep them going well.

Good luck!


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Thank you Bazzler for your comment. As I have said with so many other boaters please knock if you see me and come aboard for a welcome chat. Barry and I always love to chat with fellow boaters. Pauline on the Woodsman.


petopan - Monday,19 March, 2012

Thank you for sharing your views on the full rationale of boating. I do agree that people could be better served if they consider all aspects of a life afloat.. It is important not to forget that house ownership comes with the pitfalls of maintenance, spiraling costs for repairs, and equally other logistics similar to living on a boat. I would deem either as to putting things into context with a rational and objective set of thinking skills rather than just getting carried away with the emotional views one gets when looking at any abode through rose tinted glasses.


BoatyBabe - Monday,19 March, 2012

Looking through Rose tinted glasses is no basis to make any decision. But this report focuses only on the (very) negative side of boating that most of us boaters will never endure! Well, certainly not all at once as stated – even in the depths of winter! What Pauline considers as “the norm” on here definitely is not. And if it was, I’d be running back to bricks n mortar!!!
The good side of the boating lifestyle isn’t just about nice weather in summer months, it’s also about having a boat that keeps you toasty & warm in the depths of winter, & that with regular maintenance is as reliable as a house. There are advantages even in the worst weather. There is a bright side even then – for most of us boaters, you know,the ones who live in the 21st century..

This was written as if it represents every boat & every boater’s state of mind – well it doesn’t…


MandM - Tuesday,20 March, 2012

Pauline, an interesting commentary of the winter season aboard a Narrow Boat on the Inland Waterways.

When asked is it cold on the boat in the winter, my stock answer is always – it depends on where I set the thermostat!

More than anything else, it depends if you are a “glass half filled or glass half empty” person. I love cold, frosty, crunchy, crisp mornings full of winter sunshine. Much more than I like the wet, damp, muddy weather. But the spring summer and autumn months make it all worthwhile.

Heating – Others have said the problems encountered are just waiting the best solution. For us the answer to heating is – a solid fuel stove. On tick-over for 24 hours of the day in cold weather. For extended periods away from the boat, we have an ALDE gas central heating system installed. It has a balanced flue. The CHB is set (10 C) to keep the frosty conditions out. We also cut back on the number of large air vents when there is no one on the boat. However, we do plan our holiday in warmer climates in January or February most years.

Ventilation – wherever possible we moor so that the wind strikes the back of the boat and any draft through a door vent has to pass the stove first. It also helps to move the air round the boat. Only works if the stove is at one end or the other. Bubble-wrap makes for good short term winter double glazing.

Toilet – we have both pump out and cassette. However, we have not needed to use the cassette in the last two years. However, we do – on a day to day basis – use any other toilet facilities that may be available. We also have our own pump installed so that we can do a DIY pump out at any (convenient) elsan point.

Water – we never miss an opportunity to take water on board. We have also always use the shower facilities available at sanitary stations. We even delay a daily shower if we know that facilities are available later. The on-board shower is an on-off process. Shower on – get wet – shower off – soap and scrub – Shower on – rinse – shower off.

Clothes – we have a set of good quality wet weather and cold weather clothes and foot wear. If you want to keep warm get a set of body warmers as worn by motorcyclists – not the most fetching of apparel – but bikers know a thing or two about how how to keep warm and dry!

The answer, if there is one – is to be adaptable and look for your own specific solutions or be willing to learn from others.

Pauline – your getting a few Brickbats and Bouquets. Well done, if nothing else – you have everyone talking about their perspectives!

Mick n Mags


    boatlady - Friday,13 April, 2012

    Thank you, MandM. Your reply has been sensibleand realistic. Happy boating. Oh, and by the way, I, too, love those cold frosty mornings.
    Pauline on the Woodsman.


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Hello Mick and Mags. And thank you for your comments. I, too, love those cold, frosty mornings when I am tucked inside with my winter warmers on. And then go off for a walk in all that frost. Invigorating… If you see my boat, the Woodsman, please come in for a cuppa. Pauline.


tomgreaves - Tuesday,20 March, 2012

Pauline Roberts’ account of life aboard was a compelling read. Its cascade of negativity inspires a kind of morbid fascination with the paradox of enjoying the dreadful; quite simply it lost itself in a competition for the worst experience of living on a canalboat. My wife and I have been thinking for some time about a long trip, maybe six months on the uk canals on a hire-boat, and if it were not for some of the rebuttals, counter-experiences and sheer surprises that other bloggers expressed in response to this article we would have been reivesting our intentions, and therefore our tourist dollars, on some other less disagreeable venture like paddling across the north Atlantic in a canoe. As it is we are destined to test the truth value of Ms Roberts’ account for ourselves sometime soonish.


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Hello tomgreaves. Go for it….our canals and rivers are wonderful. My article was a tongue-in-cheek article about many of the pitfalls you can encounter if you live on a boat full-time. The positives far outweigh the negatives, believe me. Good luck on your travels. Pauline.


BoatyBabe - Tuesday,20 March, 2012

Tom, don’t let this account put you off your decision to live the dream. Best advice is to do your research first. There’s plenty of websites full of rational, realistic info. Read up as much as you can. And when you get here, just remember to check for a 2 foot high pile of dog muck where you get off your boat before you moor up lol. In all my time walking along the towpath, getting on & off the boat whilst moored up, etc I’ve never once stood in any 🙂


enkiboat1 - Tuesday,20 March, 2012

I can identify with almost everything Pauline says after having lived aboard for 8 years – even finding a body in the canal.

I think Pauline is being fair and relaistic. Some things are hard work, unless you live in a housing estate style marina which didn’t really do it for us. Well done for being an honest and entertaining read Pauline.

We’re land dwelling next to a canal now but saving up for another boat because I miss it so much (warts and all) – and this time the stove will not be sited so far from the bathroom and bedroom!


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Good luck with finding a suitable boat. And by the way, I’ve just had my fire re-sited so that it’s more central. A good decision. Pauline.


Narrowboatwife - Wednesday,21 March, 2012

I think it’s probably helpful for people to see a list of the downsides here, written by Pauline, as there are already plenty of positive stories here on this site. I’ve lived aboard for twelve years and have experienced most of the things you mention from time to time, but living aboard is a constant journey of finding ways to over come each problem: as other comments have mentioned, most of themare surmountable. Sounds like you need to sort out your insulation/heating asap as most boaters I know are toasty in winter. I laughed with recognition at some of the escapades; we’ve all been frozen in with an empty water tank and full pump out tank. Foreign tourists peered in at my window and pointed at me when my first child was one day old and the midwives were teaching me to breast feed. I was both tearful and outraged at the same time! See narrowboat No Problem for how to get Tesco to deliver http://noproblem.org.uk/blog/links/tesco.htm
It is good for people considering the life to know it is hard work, but of course there is lots to love about it too. You will only ever really know if it suits you when you try it…


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Thank you for your comment Narrowboatwife. And yes, I have been enlightened about Tesco delivering to boats. Great. Bring your little ones for a play on my boat if you see it – The Woodsman – as I am cruising all over the UK this year. You’re welcome to a cuppa, too. Pauline.


Sqawk1 - Saturday,7 April, 2012

Love your sense of humour Pauline, thanks for an entertaining narrative…… It certainly hasn’t put ME off….. roll on retirement when i too hope to become a liveaboard.


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Good luck to you Sqawki. You WILL love it, I’m sure. Pauline


BoatyBabe - Sunday,8 April, 2012

I’m glad this hasn’t put you off. But I’m not the only one who has read Pauline’s report & noticed the “collective “we” being used. As in “we’re all in this together & this is how it is for all of us”. If Pauline had written this based on her own experience without trying to represent ALL boaters then fair enough. Our life aboard is nothing like what she describes, positive luxury in comparison. The majority of boaters would agree. I’m no snob but Pauline sounds like a real life water gypsy & they are but a minority…


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    Thank you BoatyBabe. Yes I am a real life water gypsy and believe me, there are lots of us.


Swilks - Wednesday,11 April, 2012

Has any one else seen snakes on the canals?


    boatlady - Wednesday,18 April, 2012

    Hello Swilks. Yes, I have seen snakes on the cut. A few years ago a very long one swam across the cut at Stoke Hammond, raised itself up and slithered through the drainage hole onto the front deck of my previous boat. I just stood on the bank watching it lying in the sunshine. What a privilege !! I’ve seen several more since then.
    PS Two weeks ago my sister watched an otter just across from her boat on the Grand Union canal. It dived and came up with a crayfish. Amazing, eh?


James Bell - Monday,16 April, 2012

I’ve seen snakes a few times. I caught one in Millmead Lock, because it couldn’t get out. There were lots of gongoozlers there, and when I walked through them holding the snake, it was like Moses parting the Red Sea. The ones you see are almost always harmless grass snakes, with the yellow and black collar. Adders are not lovers of water, preferring drier heath areas. Where have you seen them?


Swilks - Wednesday,18 April, 2012

Thanks I’m slightly more re assured now. I’d already checked out to see if they were harmless but I am terrified of them. From a suitable observational distance I would be fine but not sure about close up.


pykebird - Monday,14 May, 2012

I have also lived aboard for over 9 years, and would never go back to bricks and motar. All the things mentioned by Pauline, can and do happen, but in life its how you deal with these issues that gets results. I am curently ccing and I have ajob and own a car. I cruise with friends and we help each other, they dog sit for me (I live on my own with 3 large dogs). We move cars together and try and share jourmeys to the shops etc. My boat is never cold as when I stripped her back to bare metal I did insulate everywher, even under the floor, and I have a solid fuel fire. I get wood for frre and have only bought 6 bags of coal this year. I do have a friends address to use for offical things but do not have much mail as things nearly all done by internet and moblie phone. As said before, pick where you moor and just be sensible . Most of all enjoy life, its not a rehearsal! And if you are really that unhappy Pauline, then maybe you should think about your options.


    boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

    NOOOOOO Pykebird, I am not unhappy as you will notice from the last paragraph. I love the life. Thank you for your comment. Pauline.


boatlady - Friday,18 May, 2012

Thank you for everyone’s comments. As you will see from the last part of the profile I do so love living on a narrowboat and won’t go back to bricks and mortar. The whole essay was very much tongue-in-cheek though not all readers noticed this. Having just moored up and watched a deer grazing on the other side, heard green woodpeckers and Canada geese and chatted to interesting people I can’t see how living in a house can compare. And tomorrow another view from my windows… wonderful. And thank you also for the person who told us about Tesco delivering to boats – I will certainly use this in the future.
ps I am NOT unhappy. I love the life.


mike - Thursday,24 May, 2012

We are just back from a lovely holiday in a narrow boat on the Llangollen canal , ok, the weather was slightly unseasonal but did’nt put us off. The scenery was absolutely spectacular what with the changing colour of the trees, the colourful narrrow boats lined up along the banks etc, it really was a holiday to remember.
We did this to satisfy our curiosity as to buying a canal boat to live in. During our time there we looked at a few boats for sale in various places as we past them. In passing, i have to say that the staff at Chirk marina were most helpful in every respect of narrow boat life, and even though we landed with a hire boat from a neighbouring yard, (said boat was really tired and needed a lot of tlc, a lesson learned, this was supposed to be a 5 star, but on looking at what Chirks boats had to offer I decided that we had a ‘utility model’ lol.
Just a few things of note, during our time on the canal we met some lovely people, also some really arrogant ones as well, and witnessed a few altercations between liveaboards, and tourists. I can fully understand the frustration of some of the boaters as to the total incompetance of some hire boaters, they have simply no training in handling 60/70 ft boats other than ‘this is the throttle, this is reverse, this is foward, thats the bow, and thats called the stern…off you go’. I’m totally convinced that this happens. On approaching the LLangollen basin we were torpedoed really hard by a lunatic in a 70ft’er, he came up to where we were manoevering to go into a berth stern to, as i was using the wind to help me get in without damaging the boat in the next berth he collided full steam into our stern. We are well aware that this often happens as we saw some really spectacular collisions, and just laughed. Having spoken to the guy shortly afterwards he admitted that they only had training on fixtures and fittings, had the usual diagrams on how to use locks etc but precious little else and was really nervous about handling them especially in the wind. So its no wonder that liveaboard people get frustrated and slightly at odds with the hireboaters and some who treat them with contempt. We saw, and heard one very arrogant guy who gave a hireboater a very red face at the winding hole at the head of the Ellesmere basin who was doing his best to do a 360 in a very tight space and I have to say he did a near text book job of it only for a very slight bump to the liveaboard guy who i considered to be in a bad spot in the first place.
At this point I’l have to ‘blow my trumpet’….er…sorry… to all the readers here that I have handled boats since i was a teenager and have learned every trick in the book on how to handle boats in general. Most of which has been sail, single engine and twin installations. For the last 15 years i have been a marina manager so am up to date with most things in the marine life on the sea and river.
This is the first time i have got onto a narrow boat and handled one, so it was quite a surprise to me how badly they handle generally. I very quickly concluded that they need a variable pitch propellor, and an under water exhaust would be very desireable, these would be the first 2 things i would modify. We had a very noisey Isuzu diesel installed in ours, and the exhaust bellowed this really awful racket constantly which i have to say eventually drove me bananas, to such an extent I would stop every 2 hours or so and switch it off to give my head a break!! An underwater exhaust is very easy to fit, especially in a steel boat, all you need to do is make sure you have a ‘head’, ie ,a rise and u bend above the engine itself to avoid back syphoning when for example the boat was being towed at speed without its own engine running. A highly unlike scenario on a canal! The underwater outlet would give you a very serene passage with only a little machinery clatter. Any competent welder could do this for you the next time the boat is out of the water for maintenance.
Secondly, a variable pitch prop is so badly needed on them, either that or get your props ‘cupped’. This is a term used to literally bend over the leading edges of the blades to give a much better grip of the water. Variable pitch props aren’t cheap by any means, possibly around £800 depending on the quality, and to get it cupped would cost maybe £100 or so, but boy would they save your paintwork and revving the guts out of your engine that you have to do to perform a really simple manoever such as winding. The standard props that are fitted have little or no grip of the water, its more like an egg beater!!lol.
The other thing i took note of was how bad they are in a cross wind, any boat is, but narrow boats are without a doubt the worst I have seen, if it wasn’t that they are designed to go slowly i would say they were useless, and the obvious thing to do would be leave them moored up until the wind eases as I’m sure the experienced boaters do. However, I am mindful that they were originally designed to carry cargo and be pulled by horses!! My modification would be to have 3 3or 4 inch rails running down the hull, one on the centre line, and 1 on each outer edge, stopping short of midships so that you dont loose precious depth that you need at the stern to travel bearing in mind that they ‘squat’ at the stern almost as soon as they crawl fowards when in gear. This would give a little grip in a side wind, possible enough to avert loosing control so quickly.
Just a few ideas for you to ponder over!
Anyways, just a quick posting here to say how much we enjoyed ourselves, how nice you people really are and how we admire how you live. Its not for us, as we debated when we came home what we would do, as we are at a time in our lives where a change in lifestyle is needed, but canal life is not for us. Having said that we will definately do a canal holiday again in a few years, but in the meantime stick with the sea for now.
Cheers everyone for now and enjoy your lovely lifestyle!!


mike - Thursday,24 May, 2012

Oh, Just had a quick email from Paul with reference to the really shallow conditions that you all have to endure at times during drought. This is a very valid point regarding the fitting of rails on the hull. This is why i thought that using some of no more than say 4 inches deep, I’m well aware that these 4 inches could be very precious in terms of available depth, but as they would be long but slim, ie possible 14mm or so they would act as ski’s and have very little effect in drag along the muddy bottom of the canals . Even if you used 3 3inch ‘rails’ on the hull to less than midway you can imagine how it would reduce the effect of wind deviation, and the sideways drag that they would create to slow down any unwanted sideways movement.


joan darragh - Friday,8 June, 2012

Well thankyou all for sharing for the pros and cons of your narrowboat experiences, ours have yet to come later this year and will keep you posted, I feel there are more positive aspects to living the life and as long WE keep warm and dry during the winter months we will survive. I couldnt understand why Pauline has continued to live this way with her paradxox of negativity as Tomgreaves as


joan darragh - Friday,8 June, 2012

“Sorry ” touched rely by mistake. ———- as Tomgreaves suggests, perhaps she really enjoys the punishing life style she has chosen and has a determined water off the ducks back attitude to life which shows a true sense living her dream life



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