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

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


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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 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.

admin - Wednesday,30 May, 2012

A couple of months ago, we had an Australian couple do something similar to what you intend to do. Although they didn’t sell their house in Australia, they are now cruising the waterways on their own boat. They hired a narrowboat initially while they looked for a boat of their own. They found one almost immediately, had a little work done at Calcutt Boats and are now happy continuous cruisers.


Pengalanty - Wednesday,30 May, 2012

### Message for Karen in the US of A

Hi Karen,

I have just read your message to Paul regarding his wonderful integrated site for boaters and people
interested in “Living board” enjoying canal and river life

I can almost imagine your excitement and almost being unable to wait to make the change to “Life Aboard a Narrowboat” It takes me personally back to that excitement (Again) – What a lovely feeling!

I am cruising (At the moment) with a friend’s narrowboat (Snowdrop), after having some maintenance work carried out by a superb “Top Notch” Marina, within a mile of Foxton Locks. The work has all been finished and the return journey has started today (Only 40-canal miles and 42-locks single handed to go)

I have taken time out (Cup O’ Tea Time) to drop you a reply. I am sure that I have some interesting bits and bobs on my Blog site. This can be accessed if you want a “peep”

You are also welcomed to drop me a line direct if you have any specific questions. I think Paul would agree that I do have a fair amount of practical experience and am willing to pass it on to others, if and when it is helpful or wanted

Have you seen any boats that you have taken a fancy too on the Internet yet? What sort of boat are you looking for? Do post a reply and let us know!

As a guidline, I wouldn’t consider anything smaller than 55 feet to live on. (Many other boaters have similar views). If you want to cruise, (Or be able to cruise) the whole of the Waterways system over here, the absolute maximum length to do this is 57 feet 6 inches (UK Measurements). I personally think that a nice size for a “Livaboard” boat is about 62 feet. Another thing to consider is storage space – never, ever enough!

Also, it is useful to take into consideration that a holiday boat requires lots of space “outside” for drinking, chatting and enjoying the outside (Countryside and views) – A “Livaboard” boat requires the maximum space inside, because that’s where one lives most of the time – just a thought to consider – that’s how I designed my boat 6 years ago. I am still very pleased with it but I didn’t get everything 100% right!

If you have no previous experience, do take the advice of others and hire a boat early, late, or out of season, to get the feel of things. You will know within a few days what you DON’T like, or what is in the wrong place for you. It gives excellent basic experience to help you with your first choice

I can almost “feel” that this is an exciting time for you

S’wondefrul to live on a NB.

I could not be happy these days moving back to bricks and mortar – I would feel “trapped” – many other boaters feel the same way!

I can only just start realising why “Romanies” like a travelling sort of nomadic life

Sincere regards, ~Allan~

### PS: there is a unique “Virtual” boat club that is well worth looking at. It is very cheap to become a member and you get all the facilities of being affiliated to the AWICC clubs (£10 joing feeand first 12 months, ten £5per annum at the present time – Google CUTWEB or CIBC for information

(For expample: I had to leave my boat for about 3 weeks: I don’t have a Marina Mooring; I was able to leave my boat with an affiliate AWICC club with secure mooring, AND without charge, although it is normal to make a nominal contribution to the particular club’s funds (This facility is worth the knowledge that the boat is being overseen by other passionate boaters and is almost 100% secure
(Food for thought perhaps?)

### PPS: Don’t forget to let us all know when you “Land” in the UK, so we can all welcome you to your new home


    Maize and Blue - Monday,4 June, 2012

    Dear Allan, thank you so much for your wonderful, detailed response to our questions. I’m sorry that I haven’t responded sooner, as I have been crazy busy preparing and executing a 2- day garage sale here in the US. I am pleased to report that it was a lot of fun and we sold a lot of “stuff!” This was just another step towards making our dream a reality!

    To give you some idea of the type of boat spec that we are looking for, we were very excited when we recently spotted nb Hideaway for sale. Even though she is a tad too long, we thought for us, she had all of the bells and whistles and a few more besides! We know that she is probably sold by now, as she was “under offer” a few days ago. But, that’s ok as we won’t be ready to purchase a boat until towards the end of this year (2012). We have observed that there are new listings all of the time, so we have to keep our eyes and minds open. We know to keep our ‘spec list’ flexible!

    My husband recently popped home, to visit his family in Kettering, and at the same time visited some of the local boat brokers in the Crick/Daventry area. We made some good connections and gathered more valuable tips to add to our ever growing ‘research file!’ During his visit he also realized that we may highly rate a boat that we see based on the details on line, but in reality, once on board the boat, it is a different story and visa versa! So we are going to have to be very smart about this!

    As you mentioned, we have experienced life afloat, albeit a short week on the Leeds Liverpool. It was Sept/Oct 2008 and the weather was brutal, but it didn’t put us off, it just confirmed that this is what we absolutely want to do!

    Well, Allan it’s time to sign off for now. I would be very happy to exchange personal email addresses with you. Maybe Paul could help with that? In the meantime, have a great week!

    Kind regards


TonyG59 - Friday,1 June, 2012

Hi Karen, We (julie and Tony) are moving back to the UK from a 6 year stint in Germany in July (hopefully?!), and plan to get our ex-hire boat (62ft) in Sep / Oct when it comes off the water… it will be 5 years old and we have put down a deposit. We have had since last Nov to research and plan the refurbishment we plan to do and have visited to do measurements etc and are VERY excited at this stage because its getting close to becoming a reality. We intend to stay in Chirk where the mooring is for the first couple of seasons and then move on to the rest of the UK!!!


    Maize and Blue - Monday,4 June, 2012

    Hi Julie and Tony! Thanks so much for your comment and congrats on your upcoming move back and new adventure! Where, in Germany are you? Mike and I lived in Viersen, just West of Dusseldorf in the late 80’s and have great memories of our time there. I have to ask you, what are you planning to do with all of your furniture and household effects that won’t be going on the boat with you? Where are you staying in Chirk, are you renting something? Who will be doing your refurbishment? So many questions!

    Have a great week!

    Kind regards,


dabblingduck - Sunday,10 June, 2012

Well, moving from abroad does mean setting up a bank account etc., I suppose, but the big question is whether the delightful but confined space on a narrowboat will suit you. If you have never been on one for a period of time, I suggest that you hire one and try it.

You are in a great position with no “stuff”. Only buy what you need as you discover what you need. My experience (lived abord for ten years) is that the less gear you have, the better.

Forget computers- get an iPad. My best friend was a washer/dryer. Wet washing in winter is a pain. Pv panels to run your. Fridge in summer were a great investment.

Finally. There is much to love about life on a narrowboat, but trying to live as you would in a house isa not a great idea ! You will be acutely aware of how much water and power you use and leaving lights on is a no no (led lights help). TV- if you have one – should be chosen with care to get a low-energy 12v.model unless you are going to sit in a marina.

So, good luck ! Buy a wella-insulated boat with a solid fuel stove _ warm and cosy in the winter, with snow outside, is a wonderful feeling. In fact, the whole experience is great if it suits you.

Give it a go !


Paul Smith - Sunday,10 June, 2012

dabblingduck said Forget computers- get an iPad. My best friend was a washer/dryer. Wet washing in winter is a pain. Pv panels to run your. Fridge in summer were a great investment.

I agree with everything you’ve said apart from the computer bit. I agree a desktop PC is too bulky, but I couldn’t live without my laptop. My laptop works perfectly on the boat and is a bit bigger than an iPad so, for me, is more practical.


Pengalanty - Sunday,10 June, 2012

Hello Karen and Family,

When you reach the UK and start seriously looking for a “Liveaboard Boat” I confirm the previous comment, that you want to arrange an extended hire out of season.  You should be able to negotiate a keen price with a Hire Boat company.  You will then know  what most of your preferences are and more importantly, what you don’t like and don’t want on YOUR boat (Your new home)

I  strongly recommend that you hire before you look for something for your self, unless of course you have already experienced narrowboating in England and already have some basic knowledge

If you would like to contact me direct, I have an out of date, “Your fantastic Holiday in England” e-book, (It needs updating but I haven’t got around to it).  In this e-book there are a number of privately owned hire companies and I think one of these should do you nicely, as they have better than “Standard” hire boats.  I will attach a zipped file (Free of Charge) for you to browse through. There should be some pickings in there that may be of interest – anyway, the offer is there should you like to read it

If you have any specific questions, I would be delighted to comment and give you my opinion (Not necessarily the same as others!)

I have lived on my boat now for over 3 years (I love the Lifestyle).  My boat is still in progress and not finished! However, the most important point is that I enjoy each and every day living on it.  it’s cosy, warm, and comfortable. It’s all diesel powered (No Gas) and I have a powerful (New) array of solar panels that have reduced my fuel usage by 75%! Fuel prices continue to rise, so the percentage can only get better.  Payback time for the capital investment (On my original ones were less than 2 years and fuel was cheaper then and panels more expensive!)

The PV panels are well worth some thought to keep the running costs down to a minimum

I wish you the same success in your prosed new lifestyle on the canals!

Sincere regards, ~Allan~ Wink

<pengalanty (@) gmail.com>


glenn - Monday,11 June, 2012

Pengalanty said

If you would like to contact me direct, I have an out of date, “Your fantastic Holiday in England” e-book, (It needs updating but I haven’t got around to it).  In this e-book there are a number of privately owned hire companies and I think one of these should do you nicely, as they have better than “Standard” hire boats.  I will attach a zipped file (Free of Charge) for you to browse through. There should be some pickings in there that may be of interest – anyway, the offer is there should you like to read it.


Hi Alan, 

I would very much like a copy of your e-book if that would be possible please, we are also coming back to the UK soon to buy a boat and would benefit from hiring, your info looks very useful, I shall contact you directly if you don’t mind?


Good luck to Karen and family on your similar quest, who knows maybe our paths will coincide sometime?


regards Glenn



Pengalanty - Monday,11 June, 2012

That’s fine Glenn; my e-mail is on my last post

All I need is an e-mail address for you, so that

 can forward on my e-book

Sincere regards, ~Allan~

(pengalanty@gmail.com) – To save you looking it up!


timwood - Monday,20 August, 2012

I’m intending to do the same. I’ve lived in third world countries for much of my life, so used to power cuts, no running water, gas from bottles etc. I’m in my late 50s, single now and will be living aboard, continuously cruising with my two dogs. You won’t believe the hastle and paperwork involved in bringing dogs to the UK! I’ll be over there for a few weeks next month to look at boats and hopefully buy one, there are a few on various websites that interest me. If all goes according to plan, I will be living on my boat by Xmas. The worst time of year to start? I look upon it as giving me time to do any work needed on the boat and familiarise myself with everything involved. I found this website by chance and find it very informative, thanks.


Paul Smith - Monday,20 August, 2012

Welcome to the forum timwood. I know what you mean about the paperwork, and cost, of bringing dogs into another country. I know that the cost at the moment to get a dog from the UK to Australia is about £3,500. As a matter of interest, what is the cost of bringing each dog into the UK? Are you flying or driving them here?

Christmas aboard your own boat eh? Fantastic! I would just make sure that you have a boat with working heating to start with. You don’t want to go through January, February and March and the potential of your new steel house being stuck in several inches of ice without adequate heating. Your dogs and their fur coats will be fine. You however, may be a little chilly!


MickMBE - Monday,20 August, 2012

Hi Alan could you also email me a copy of your e-book please. Looking to sell the house next August 2013 and hopefully purchase a narrowboat to spend my retirement on. (is 65 to late to start especially with no experience at all) mickhemps@hotmail.com




timwood - Tuesday,21 August, 2012

Thanks for your reply paulsmith. The dogs will be flown in from Bangkok, I’m expecting it to cost around 1000 for the pair. I rescued them from being barbecued, they eat dogs throughout China and the Far East. I’m sure we will all feel the cold! Am I correct in thinking that diesel heating is a better option than gas? And is Mikuni the best system? I am also looking into solar panels and the comments on here by a previous contributer have been useful.


Paul Smith - Tuesday,21 August, 2012

Sounds like the cost of importing dogs into the UK is far less than exporting them to Aus. Is £1,000 the total cost you expect to pay or is that just for the flight? What about vaccinations, certification etc? What about quarantine and kennelling costs once they reach the UK?

Yes, diesel heating is generally considered better than gas, and it will cost you far, far less to run. I stayed on one of our own hire boats foor ten days last November while I had some work done on my own boat. The hire boat had gas heating. I only had the gas fires on low but I still went through about £70 in gas.

The Mikuni diesel heating system is very well thought of. There’s a thread about heating on the forum. The Mikuni system is discussed there.

A iquid heating system is often fitted on liveaboard narrowboats in addition to solid fuel stoves. The best solid fuel stove is the Morso Squirrel.


timwood - Tuesday,21 August, 2012

Thanks for the heating info. UK scapped quaratine laws in January, now they must have micro chip and rabies shot followed by blood test, which must be done by a lab over there. Whole thing considerably cheaper now. I’ll be bringing blood samples with me when I come over next month.


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