I think I have a problem. I’ve been burying my head in the sand but it’s not going to go away.
I have a leak. I don’t know where the water’s coming from, but it ends up in the engine room and there’s plenty of it. When we took the boat out for two weeks at the beginning of July the leak appeared to be worse than it was when we were on the mooring full time. Because it was worse, I was sure that the water was coming either from the canal along the drive shaft, or from the raw water inlet. James is slightly unusual in that the boat has an engine which is cooled by water drawn in from the canal, pumped around the engine and expelled from the exhaust. I now don’t think the leak is in the engine room at all.
Sally has been nagging me to get the leak sorted out for a while now. I’ve been resisting fixing it because (a) anything technical is usually beyond me and (b) I think we might actually have a serious, costly and very disruptive problem.
Anyway, today I decided to take the bull by the horns and try to find out how big a problem we have. We took James from the marina to Calcutt wharf which involved going up through Calcutt Bottom and Middle locks. I wanted to use the wet vacuum cleaner we use for removing water and much from the engine room and scuppers when we prepare hire boats ready for new guests.
The wet vac isn’t a normal vacuum cleaner. It’s called the Big Brute and has a holding tank the size of a wheelie bin. It’s fantastic for removing large volumes of oily water from engine bays.
In addition to removing the excess water from the engine room, I also needed to remove some ballast. The bottom of the engine room is layered with different sized iron ballast bars, most the size of a gold ingot and weighing about ten pounds. There were probably about seventy of them, most of which I no longer need.
When I had the cabin over plated I added about two tonnes to the weight of the boat. The additional weight pushed the hull about two inches deeper into the water and pushed the holes where the water drains from the bathroom sink and shower out into the canal down to the water line.
I took about fifty bars out which took me just under three hours. The ballast bars were heavy, difficult to get at, and glued to the steel by an oily sludge.
Once the bars were out I was able to vacuum the sludge and water until the floor was dry. Now all I have to do is keep checking to see where the water’s coming from. As I said earlier, I don’t think the leak is in the engine room at all. I think the water is coming from the front of the boat.
There’s a hole about an inch off the floor in the engine room which allows water under the floor in the rest of the boat to drain into the engine room where it is accessible and can be removed. I suspect and Russ, one of our fitters, agrees that the water may be coming from a leak around the water tank under the front deck and flowing down the length of the boat into the engine room.
If the leak is coming from around the tank, sealing it could be very expensive. James’ water storage is odd. There’s a galvanised tank linked to two plastic tanks under the front deck. In front of them preventing access to the tanks is a maze of copper pipes, the water pump and accumulator. All of these would need removing to allow access to the tanks in order to establish where the problem is. If the galvanised tank itself is leaking, or if the leak is at the back of the tank closest to the bow, it will have to be removed in order to carry out the repair.
Removing a water tank is often very disruptive. It goes into the boat before the internal carpentry is done. A lot of internal carpentry has been done inside James next to the water tank. There are substantial and very useful book cases and cupboards either side of the front door. They would all need to come out if the tank had to be removed. Removing the woodwork wouldn’t be a problem, but removing it carefully so that it could be put back in the same condition afterwards would take time and, because Calcutt Boats would be doing the work, plenty of money.
In order to establish whether the leak is coming from the front of the boat or from the engine room, I’ve temporarily sealed the hole between the engine room and the rest of the boat. If the engine room fills with water now I’ll know there’s a leak in there somewhere. If, when I remove the seal, I don’t get a rush of water through the hole, I’ll know that my bulkhead book cases and cupboards are safe. A couple of days should suffice. I’ll let you know the result.
Two days ago I sealed the hole which allows water to flow under the floor of the main cabin into the engine room. Over the following forty eight hours I watched the water level rise in the engine room until it was about an inch deep proving that there is certainly a leak somewhere in the engine room. This didn’t mean that there wasn’t also a leak somewhere at the front of the boat. The only way to establish that the front of the boat was dry was to remove the seal between the main cabin and the engine room. My heart was in my mouth as I grabbed the plastic plug I had used to seal the hole. If I pulled it out and a torrent of water followed it, I would know that I was facing some very expensive repair/replacement work to the water tanks.
I gave the plastic plug a yank and… Not a drop of water came out. Yippee!
Over the last two days I’ve had visions of the beautiful book cases and cupboards inside the forward bulkheads having to be ripped out to get at the water tanks. Of course, in addition to the expense, I would have the knowledge that, not matter how good the carpenter, the shelves and cupboards wouldn’t look quite as good when they were refitted.
Anyway, after pulling the plug I knew that the front of the boat was OK. All I needed to do was resolve the issues in the engine room or, to be entirely accurate, ask Russ my guardian boat-fitting angel to come up with a solution for me. But first I had to pinpoint the leak.
I vacuumed the water out of the engine bay again and then, torch in hand, watched for any drips or puddles forming. The leak was a steady drip from the stern gland, a leak which was impossible to see when the ballast bars were packed around it. There are three possible causes for the leak;
Russ’s solution, in retrospect, was simple. He’s fitted a catch tray underneath the leak. Inside the catch tray he’s fitted a bilge pump attached to a float switch. Bingo! No more water in the engine room. Any water finding its way along the drive shaft from the canal is now collected in the catch tray. The rising water level in the catch tray activates the float switch which turns the bilge pump on.
In the fullness of time I’ll have the stern gland re-packed but there’s no rush. The floor in the engine room is now bone dry, and what a difference it’s made.
When I moved onto James the rear cabin was very damp indeed. In fact, the cabin floor was covered by an inch of water. The water had come through a leak in the roof and had also overflowed from the engine room into the bedroom.
I fixed the roof leak by having the whole cabin over plated and pumped out the engine room. Until this week there has always been water in the bilge though. I’ve been used to seeing water in bilges on many of the boats in the marina so I accepted it as a normal part of boating. I also accepted the damp bedroom caused by the excess engine room water.
Over the last week since the water ingress problem has been resolved, we’ve enjoyed significant decrease in dampness at the back end of the boat. It’s marvelous and I’m going to make sure that the boat stays dry.
Bone dry is the new benchmark and nothing less is acceptable.
Talking of excess water, I’ve had more than my fair share of it in the last week.
Before our holiday hirers are allowed out in one of our boats on their own, they are given an instruction lasting about an hour and a half. The instruction covers how everything works inside the boat, how and where to fill up with water, a lock instruction in one of the locks either side of the wharf, some basic engine maintenance and everything they need to know about the weed hatch.
For the none boaters, let me tell you about the weed hatch.
Our canals are often very shallow. A narrowboat’s draft, the height of the section of the boat which sits under the water, is usually between 2’0″ and 2’6″. Even though there isn’t much of a narrowboat under the water, the canals are so shallow that the bottom of the boat is often in contact with the bottom of the canal. Consequently, the debris on the bottom of the canal, disturbed by the boat as it passes, often comes into contact with the rapidly spinning propeller.
Because the propeller is spinning, the debris is wound around the propeller either causing the engine to overheat or the boat to lose power.
If you’re lucky, you can put the boat into reverse while the engine is still in gear and throw the obstacle off. If you’re not quite so lucky you have to moor your boat, stop the engine and dive down the weed hatch. The weed hatch is usually either a square or rectangular plate in the engine bay secured tight against the steel on the bottom of the boat by a locking bar.
Removing the locking bar and the weed hatch cover gives you access to the water directly above the propeller. By carefully reaching about a foot under the water you can feel, but not see, the propeller and anything that’s fouling it. If you’re lucky the propeller will only be fouled by plastic bags, bits of old rope or items of clothing which have found their way into the canal. If you aren’t so lucky, the obstruction can be lengths of barbed wire, matresses, car tyres, bicycles, shopping trollies and one particularly unpleasant fouling I heard about, a fox carcass!
We had a call last Monday from a party of three ladies who had hired one of the Royal Navy narrowboats we look after. They had committed the cardinal sin of leaving their stern mooring rope on the counter – the horizontal surface at the very back of the boat – as they traveled. As often happens when a rope is left there, the rope had vibrated off the counter and into the water as they traveled and fallen in to the propeller.
The ladies did everything right. They tried to remove the rope by reversing the boat while it was in gear. When that didn’t work, they moored the boat, switched the engine off and opened the weed hatch. With the aid of a sharp knife and much unladylike language they managed to remove the section of rope from the propeller. But there was still a section held fast under the boat. They couldn’t get it off so they called us.
I don’t normally go out on call outs to hire boats because I know very little about the normal engine problems which need resolving. As the solution to this particular problem just involved brute force and ignorance, I was allowed to go.
The problem was obvious, so was the solution. The rope was twisted around the rudder’s bottom bracket which wasn’t accessible from the inside of the boat. No amount of tugging, twisting or pulling would release it. There were only two ways of getting it off. Either (A) take the boat out of the water so that the rope could be removed or (B) get into the water to remove the rope.
Taking the boat out of the water wasn’t practical so the simplest solution was for someone to jump into the canal and cut the rope off. As the lady crew mysteriously disappeared shortly after I suggested the solution, a summer’s day paddle along the canal’s muddy bottom was down to me.
I stripped down to my boxers and jumped in. At this stage the crew appeared out of thin air to offer encouragement. They were amazed to see that the water only came up to my chest. I pointed out to them that this was actually one of the deeper sections of the canal as there was at least two feet of clear water under the boat.
Removing the rope took less than a minute. Showering on their boat to remove the muddy sludge from my legs and any germs I might have picked up from the dirty canal water took another quarter of an hour.
Although I don’t particularly enjoy wading along the canal’s slippery bottom, I love the fact that I don’t ever know what the day holds in store for me when I start work at 8am.
I really do enjoy my work!
Julie and Jim love life afloat so much they’ve brought a little person into the world to share the adventure with them. Although they both work they constantly cruise the network, never staying longer than two weeks in the same spot. You can read about their life afloat here.
Alan had a choice to make. He could either do nothing but feel sorry for himself when his wife sadly passed away, or he could seize life with both hands and move ahead with his plans to buy a liveaboard narrowboat. A year later he’s continuously cruising the inland waterways network with his rescue border collie.
Alan has been a frequent forum poster since before he bought his boat. Click here to find out about the man behind the posts.
I created the site just over three years ago to provide a source of information for anyone interested in narrowboats and the possibility of living on one full time. The site has grown to encompass a comprehensive listing of inland marinas in England and Wales, dozens of articles, a forum and regular newsletters. I’ve already created (below) indexes of the site articles and the more popular forum posts. I thought it was about time I created an easy to use index of the newsletter content. Here’s the index so far. I’ve managed to reach the end of 2012. I’ll add the rest next week.
Dealing with the coldest winter on record
Digital reading – A detailed review of the Kindle, the perfect solution for book loving boat owners
Article – Living on a narrowboat in winter
The first four narrowboat case studies published
I’ll start with myself; Paul Smith, living on my own, moored in a marina and working full time. Narrowboat James case study
Meet Peggy. She has a husband and two small children, works full time and cruises the network during the summer months. Narrowboat Violet Mae case study
Fancy spending your retirement cruising the waterways of England and Wales? Meet Barry and Sue Horne. They’re living the dream! Narrowboat Adagio Case Study
Here are another working couple. Lina and Warren cruise the cut with their two cats.Narrowboat Olive Rose case study.
Two more case studies. One of them waxed lyrical about life on the waterways and enjoyed every minute of her life afloat. Now she’s selling up to follow another dream in Spain.
Reviewed: The Liveaboard Guide by Tony Jones. A great guide to living afloat
eBay Narrowboat scam (and a little bit of flack for me from another forum)
Case Study: Author Toby Jones on his own liveaboard narrowboat
A review of Debdale Wharf marina
The downside of living on a narrowboat – This was a very controversial post. Liveaboard Pauline Roberts wrote about the less pleasant aspects of life afloat… and attracted a storm of comments
Case study: The Woodsman – Pauline Roberts again giving an insight into the life that you may think she doesn’t like.
As a result of the article about the downside of living on a narrowboat published in the 18th March newsletter, I asked liveaboard narrowboat owners to complete a survey to give a balanced view of the issues raised by Pauline. Here are the survey results and a much more positive article by liveaboard narrowboat owner and frequent forum contributer Peter Early.
Life on the river Cam – A guest article on the pleasures of river life by wide beam liveaboard Luther Phillips
Case Study – Freelance writer Anne and her South African farmer partner John reveal all
Case Study – Toni cruises constantly with ex husband Allan. They cruise together but they live apart… on separate boats
DIY narrowboat painting – I spent three weeks in April painting my boat. Here’s the first of my progress reports
DIY narrowboat painting – I’ve broken down the complete cost of painting your own boat and
Dealing with wind on the river – A guest article from liveaboard narrowboat owner Alan Cazaly
How to clean your stove glass – One of the real pleasures of a living fire is watching the flames on a cold winter’s eve. Here’s what you need to do to ensure you can actually see the fire.
Smoking on board – An alternative to smelly smoke
Survey – Do you want a forum on the site? (You already know the answer to that!)
Repeat prescriptions, diesel heating systems and solar panels
Dealing with pests on a narrowboat – spiders and swans
Posh boats – My personal favourite: S.M. Hudson
I published my guide Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat. When this newsletter was published it was only available as a Kindle edition. Now it’s available in both Kindle and PDF format and is bundled with Narrowbudget, the site’s bespoke narrowboat budgeting application.
VAT on narrowboat sales
The best tip for a wannabe narrowboat owner – Advice from existing boat owners
Practical flooring for narrowboat dogs
Case study – Mike and Mags use a double redundancy payment to pay for their new floating home
I started to develop the narrowboat budgeting software. This newsletter detailed the concept and the progress to date
An unscheduled dip in the marina prompted me to write about safety on the waterways
Living on a narrowboat – Through the eyes of a young lady who would clearly prefer to be somewhere else
The first release of the new spreadsheet based narrowboat budgeting application
First tests and reviews of the budgeting application
The best aerial for a narrowboat television
Low cost narrowboat ownership – A low cost solution to the problem of funding your first narrowboat
Solar power – All you need to know about installing solar panels on your boat. Written by the inland waterways most popular solar system installer
Case Study – Mr. Solar Panel Tim Davis writes about life on board his own narrowboat
Understanding narrowboat electrics – Another excellent article from Tim Davis
Satellite television for narrowboats – Information from a system installer
Narrowboat electrics part 2 – The concluding article from Tim Davis
I asked newsletter subscribers to send me detailed breakdowns of their bricks and mortar expenses so I could compare them with the cost of running a narrowboat. Quite a few subscribers obliged. I added the breakdowns to my narrowboat costs guide and the budgeting application.
Case Studies – I put together 21 of the best case studies and analysed and summarised the data in this low cost guide. If you want ton save yourself hundreds of hours of research and costly mistakes, you need to read this guide.
Case Study – Mike’s circumstances are similar to my own. He moved onto his boat after a failed marriage. He’s upgraded from a 27′ GRP cruiser to a 50′ narrowboat
The real cost of going cheap. An in depth look at the cost of my 36 year old boat, and how much I spent (and still need to spend) before it will be a comfortable full time cruising boat.
Stove fuel test – What works best; coal, wood, briquettes or something else entirely – Here’s my own take on a Waterways World test
Essential stove maintenance – Here’s what you need to do to make sure that your stove always performs well.
Internet connectivity – I use the internet four or more hours every day. This is the setup I have on my boat to make sure that I’m always connected.
Detailed running costs for my own boat for January 2013
James’ upgrade – Adding solar panels and replacing carpets with oak effect laminate flooring
Where can you find residential moorings? Here’s a great place to start
Getting rid of unwelcome visitors – Geese used to regularly disturb a peaceful night’s sleep where I moor. Not any more. Here’s my solution
Know your narrowboat costs – Detailed costs for my own boat for February 2013
Half a dozen boaters now have access to their own blog section on the site. You can too. Here’s how.
Here’s an example of what happens when you really don’t understand how your narrowboat works.
Essential boating equipment – Here’s a low cost item which has paid for itself over and over again.
Whilton marina boat sales – Sometimes things aren’t what they appear to be. This alleged fact about the boat sales at Whilton has come to me from several different sources.
Case study – Sarah lives on wide beam Antioch on the Leeds Liverpool canal. She can do man things with her hands. Here’s her story.
Be inspired – There are always reasons why you don’t make the move from bricks and mortar to steel and water. Here’s an anecdote which demonstrates once and for all that there really aren’t any worthwhile excuses.
Narrowboat security – A spate of burglaries from boats and a break in at my former family home encouraged me to write this article
Case study – You need to committed to sell your home to fund the purchase of your narrowboat. That’s what Mick and Marlene have done.
The perils of exceeding your monthly broadband data allowance. Learn from my mistakes.
The Trust target illegal moorers but just what does the Trust consider to an illegal mooring?
Identity theft – The ongoing saga of my hacked laptop
RCR engine servicing – River Canal Rescue (RCR) are well known as the waterways equivelent of the AA but did you know that they will also come to your mooring to service your boat?
Narrowboat blogs – My own first cruise, Our Nige takes his new home on its maiden voyage and a chance for you to have your very own blog section on this site.
Narrowboat fuel tanks – How much do they hold
Meet one of your legless canal side companions
The canal network’s largest floating hotel
An encounter with a wide beam boat and why they aren’t suitable for much of the canal network
An interview with the Trust’s head of boating. Sally Ash talks about the Trust’s approach to the thorny issue of residential moorings
My comments about an encounter on the Oxford/GU section between Napton and Braunston sparked a debate about the pros and cons of wide beams on the cut.
Keeping dry – You don’t really need to limit your cruising to sunny summer days. There’s something very special about standing on the back deck in the pouring ran protected by a set of bomb proof waterproofs.
Do you really need a car? Living on a narrowboat is all about enjoying a simple and stress free life. Sally and I had a car each. Mine cost £2,000 to run in the previous 12 months so I decided to get rid of mine to see if I could manage without one.
Laptop hacking – An update on the problems I encountered after buying a brand new laptop which I suspect was tampered with before I bought it.
Diary of a new narrowboat owner – Frequent forum poster “Our Nige” finally moved on to his new floating home. Here’s his story
An encounter with two poorly prepared holiday boaters and my own impending two week cruise encouraged me to put together a pre cruise check list
I was on holiday for the first two weeks of June. Sally and I cruised from Calcutt to Braunston, north along the north Oxford where we joined the Coventry canal briefly before taking a very sharp right turn onto the Ashby canal. Here’s a daily report of the first week of our holiday.
The Ashby canal cruise part two – We spent a bit more time on the Ashby before heading south again, joining the Coventry canal, this time following it into Coventry’s rather depressing and disappointing city centre, then retracing our steps back to Calcutt
Most popular narrowboat names – Here’s the definitive list of the top 200 most popular narrowboat names and a resource you can use to find out if any other boat has the same name as yours
Considerate boating – An article prompted after a near head on collision with another boat trying to avoid a fallen oak.
23rd June 2013 – The cost of a two week cruise. If you live on your own boat, what’s the real cost of taking it away for a two week break?
Case Study – Mary Anne swapped dry land home rental for floating home ownership. Now she loves life afloat and works from home.
Life as a continuous cruiser – The Holy Grail of narrowboat ownership. The ability to travel where and when you like. Peter Early tells all.
Keeping your stove glass clean – Maybe you think it’s an odd subject for the summer but you can’t trust the English weather. Late June and the stove was still on now and again. At least now I have a crystal clear view of the fire I shouldn’t need to light.
Traffic chaos caused by Braunston’s historic boat rally – On a day with high winds and a canal full of working boats returning home after the rally, I had the pleasure of taking some very nervous hirers out on the cut.
Anticipating winter weather – You may well be enjoying unusually warm winter weather but the winter will be with us all too soon. Now is the time that you need to plan for the cold weather ahead.
Fenland river cruising – Another boater’s maiden voyage to whet your appetite.
Hire boat expectations – Fully understanding what facilities will be available to you is essential if you’re going to enjoy a narrowboat holiday. Here’s what not to do.
The cost of living on a narrowboat – An article in the Daily Mail… and why most boaters disagree with what they said.
The perfect narrowboat washing machine? – It’s low cost and doesn’t need plumbing in, but does it actually clean clothes?
The cost of a continuous cruising lifestyle – How much does living the life of a water gypsy really cost?
A free download – Living On A Narrowboat: 101 Essential Narrowboat Articles
Narrowboat tips – Handy hints from experienced narrowboat owners
The cost of a continuous cruising lifestyle – How one liveaboard boater manages on a shoestring
CART Guide Approval – The waterways’ governing body is now promoting the information packages available from this site. Yippee!
Narrowboat Insurance – A summary of insurance quotes from the major narrowboat insurers
Liveaboard Case Study – Keith and Nicky downsized their property in Jersey, used the released capital to buy their 57? “go anywhere” narrowboat and now live on their boat full time while they continuously cruise the canal network. They’re ridiculously young to retire, and I’m very, very jealous
Downsizing from a 3 bed semi to a narrowboat – What do you do with a lifetime’s accumulated possessions?
Effective fly killers for boats
The downside to living on a narrowboat
Liveaboard Case Study – American Richard Varnes has taken a year out from work to cruise the canal network and write about his adventure. Here’s his case study and a few stories from his journey so far.
There are dozens of helpful and interesting articles on the site, but have you found them all? I thought you might appreciate a list of the more popular articles that you can glance through and click on the ones that take your fancy. Here it is.
There’s a wealth of information on the site in general, but if you’re struggling to find the answer to a particular issue, the forum is the place to find it. I’ve listed some of the more popular posts below but if you can’t find what you’re looking for, ask your question on the forum. If you don’t know how to create a post, or if you can’t log in, please let me know. I’ll be more than happy to get you up and running.
Living on a Narrowboat: The REAL Cost of a Life Afloat – Narrowboat costs explained in detail. My own maintenance and living cost on narrowboat James for a full year. Use this information to work out your own costs.
Find out what parts of the canal are closed and for how long. Essential cruising information for you.
Do you need to find a home for your boat? Here’s a comprehensive list of the narrowboat friendly marinas in the UK
Do you want to see where these marinas are on a map? Here it is.
Here’s a map of all the canals on the system to help you plan your route.
Newsletter Archive – Browse through a wealth of useful content in the newsletters over the last year.
Click here to get a FREE copy of “Living On A Narrowboat:101 Essential Narrowboat Articles”
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