- That everyone dreams of living on a boat. Whenever I have mentioned that I lived on a boat, a surprising amount of people would admit to me, quietly as if it was some dark secret, that they’ve always harboured the same ambition. Many similar questions might then follow – and this list will answer a few of them. But know you will be literally living the dream. It’s not for everyone but it’s a wonderful experience and we can help you decide if it is for you!
- How to use a wood burning stove. All boaters know the experience of returning to a cold boat after a wintery weekend away. However, it is also often the only place you will find people sitting with the doors wide open when it’s snowing outside. Lots of boats also have central gas heating or back boilers but there is nothing quite like a wood burner. Get the wood burner going and the boat can be very toasty indeed! Morso Squirrels are especially nice, but they all have adjustable air vents to change the air flow and all of them are slightly different. You can actually get into a rhythm where you can keep it going, without touching it, for most of a full day, and then spend 10 minutes tending to it. You can invest in a convection fan that will blow the heat through the boat as it gets warm. Keep it on low and the heat will flood the boat for hours.
- How to cope with the cold. Sometimes a cold night or a cold and wet boat move is unavoidable, particularly when you’re still getting used to life aboard and going through your first winter. I once discovered my cooking oil had frozen and had a WhatsApp group of fellow (new) boaters we called “I now live in a fridge”. But modern clothing is incredible. Invest in a good quality down jacket with a high fill power. Get some nice Merino wool base layers, or fleece layers. Own a nice gore tex jacket to keep you dry if you need to move the boat in the rain. Get the fire going so it’s ready and the boat is nice and warm when you stop. The secret to staying warm is layering and these high quality layers can transform your experience when you do need them.
- The summer is glorious. The winter is fabulous in its own way but there’s a reason people pay a small fortune to rent a week on a canal boat in the summer. When you liveaboard you feel like all the world is your garden and as though you’re fully in touch with nature. The natural light that reflects of the canal and in through the windows is like nothing else. Friends will want to visit to help you move.
- Moving the boat. Yes, you need to move it every couple of weeks. You need to be on a continuous journey. Some people live on moorings but they can miss out on the freedom and the adventure as a result.
- Getting supplies. You’ll quickly discover the diesel boats. There will be a few of them, covering a wide area. We have been doing this long enough that we can point you in the right direction. Give them a bit of notice and they’ll come by and fill you up with diesel and fit new gas bottles. Get into the rhythm and you’ll never run out. You do not want to run out – gas usually ensures you can keep your food cold in the fridge, and on some boats helps keep the boat or your water warm.
- Water. The diesel boats can’t fill up your water. You’ll need to potter along to a sanitary station. Allow a couple of hours to fill the water tank; a small price to pay for warm showers and running water. Read a book or have a coffee while it’s filling. How long it lasts depends on how much you use and how big your tank is. Two people usually get about 6-8 weeks. To make it last longer, narrowboats usually forego dishwashers and washing machines – but you’ll soon get used to that.
- Waste. There are two options. Pump outs – where the diesel boat comes along and connects a pipe that empties your tank, or cassettes. They both have their advantages and disadvantages. Most long term boaters have heard horror stories about pump out toilets getting blocked, overfilling, or smelling and happily get used to cassettes – you have a couple of spares and sequence it to align with your water filling schedule. It is the least fun job but you get used to it surprisingly quickly. The most important thing is that you think ahead and don’t fill up.
- The 8am to 8pm rule. You might notice if you walk along a canal that often boats will sit there running their engines. They might be charging their batteries or heating up their hot water via the engine. But you shouldn’t run it outside these hours. A lot of boats also have solar panels and maybe even gas water heaters, so there are other options, but it’s worth being aware.
- Toasters and hair straighteners. Your leisure batteries (separate to the starter batteries) will run most electrical appliances, but not anything with an element. You can still make toast but with a clever contraption that sits on your gas cooking hobs. If you’re using mains power through an inverter you also should get in the habit of turning it off when you’re not using it. Radiators will need to be gas, oil or heated via the back boiler.
- Checking the engine. Breakdowns can happen but we do expect everyone to carry out simple checks to make sure they are infrequent. We have been running for long enough that we have seen and found ways to maintain everything. You’ll need to check oil and water levels regularly, and know how to clear the weed hatch. We will talk you through it on the handover.
- How sociable it can be. In both the summer and the winter, your friends will love to come and help you move. But you’ll also meet a wonderfully diverse and creative group of people. You might moor up two-abreast, tieing on to a new neighbour, get chatting to the boats around you while you’re sitting on the roof or outside. Maybe you will get to know people while you’re moving through locks together or topping up supplies. Maybe you arrive in a new neighborhood and want to know where the best canal side pubs or laundromats are. The boating community is wonderfully friendly and sociable – advice is never more than a few boat widths away.
When news of the global pandemic first surfaced, I had no idea how it might impact on the waterways and how we support our clients.
Would extra restrictions mean people prefer to stay at home and wait until things were easier, or would they still try to escape? Would it become harder to live afloat – with new stoppages stranding clients in obscure places, or easier – due to workers having more time at home to tend the fire and sort supplies? How might it affect our maintenance and upgrading plans?
Would people be able to get the healthcare they need? After all, one survey recently found that long term continuous cruisers were an average of 47km away from their local GPs! It’s worth knowing that since 2015 GP practices and the NHS have been freely available to boaters, even without an address.
There have of course been challenges. This has all lasted longer than any of us imagined. The canals are a dynamic and creative space; creative industries have been hit hard.
But, surprisingly, we’ve had one of the busiest years in our 14 years of operation. From clients who’ve joined us slightly earlier than they planned – sneaking in before the borders closed, to those who have chosen to stay aboard even longer than they’d thought. Thankfully, many people still able to enjoy the waterways and fulfil their long harboured ‘liveaboard’ dreams.
We’ve just added another narrowboat, sweet pea – the 4th major development to our fleet in the last 12 months and the 26th boat since we began almost 15 years ago. The team has grown to help meet the growing demand and we’ve been working hard behind the scenes to plan adventures and escapes well into 2023.
If you’re thinking about living afloat or exploring Britain’s huge canal network over a number of months, why not explore our boats or get in touch. The waterways have plenty of unexpected surprises to discover.
We’ve still been allowed to do “essential” boaty things – unlike some of the stricter lockdowns seen elsewhere in the world. The canal and river trust have done a fantastic job of keeping the core essentials open. Pre-planning our maintenance schedules has helped. We’ve been able to not only look after the clients on our boats, but improve our service and our fleet.
I suppose it makes sense. For all the challenges, covid has caused many of us to reflect on what is important: To appreciate nature and a slower pace of life. The waterways provide that. They are a place of peace and tranquility. There’s plenty of scientific research to show that being near to water reduces stress and slows our heart rate.
Why wouldn’t you want to live on a narrow boat?
Updated to confirm that the canals are fully operational for normal cruising.
You might be wondering how Covid-19 has affected life on the waterways. Restrictions on boat movement were lifted on 12th April. You’re currently able to cruise freely and stay overnight on your boat, or a holiday hire boat,
as long as you are one household or support bubble. There are still restrictions on mingling inside the boat until at least 17 May. After then and subject to any further announcements, you’ll hopefully be able to have up to six people or two households aboard. Further details can be found here at the Canal and River Trust’s website. If you’re thinking of coming to the UK from abroad then there are also still a range of travel restrictions in place. These require you to quarantine for up to 10 days and get tested for coronavirus before you start to live on the boat. We will know more after 17 May.
In the meantime, and in case restrictions do return in the future, we’ve been working hard to make sure that your time living on the canals is as unspoilt as possible. If something goes wrong while you’re on your cruise we have systems in place to maintain social distancing while we get you cruising again. We’ve been helping people who want to live long term on the canals since 2007 so you’d be in experienced hands. We have wide network of professional engineers on hand to offer you all the help you need.
Don’t just take our word for it – here is what one of our recent clients had to say:
We’ve set them both up with everything you need to make the transition to the ‘liveaboard’ life!
Perhaps you’ve been thinking about an adventure to go on as life gradually begins to return to normal. Maybe you’ve always wanted to live on a canal boat or explore the unique waterways of England and Wales, or perhaps you’ve just decided that now is the time to escape the rat race and you want to liveaboard permanently. Maybe you’ve rented canal boat on short holiday lets in the past and are now looking for something more long term.
Some of our clients have been newly retired, or even ex pats returning to the UK after many years away. Travelling along the waterways is a great way to see the country and catch up with old friends without having to occupy one of their spare rooms!
The canals offer something for everyone. So, whether you’re planning a short trip of a few months or a longer lifestyle change over a few years, why not get in touch with us and we’d love to help.