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Living on water, living on the canal. All about houseboats, and what they cost.

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Living on Boats

The three main alternatives are to live on a narrowboat, or a converted cruiser/fishing vessel/dutch barge, or to move into a "flatafloat".

Narrowboats are just that: they are very narrow. The outside beam measurement is just under 7ft. This means your inside width is just under six feet. The first thing you do when getting onto a narrowboat is sit down (to get out of the way). It is a useful cheap way to get a home, but it is very constricting.

A better bet is to get some other kind of boat that has been converted, such as a cruiser or a Dutch barge. They are usually wider, and you have more freedom to move about.

There is more room still in a flatafloat. These are square unboatlike structures that are really caravans on pontoons. The real boaters look down on such things, but you do have more room and can live pretty much like you do on land, hence the name "flatafloat".

The Cost

It is cheaper to buy a boat than it is to buy a home, but beware of just comparing the purchase cost. Add in the running costs.

It is easy to get a mortgage for a flat, and virtually impossible to get one for a boat. Boats are chattels. You can't mortgage them. This means you need to get an unsecured loan. They cost more than secured loans. You probably can't get an unsecured loan for more than £15,000. This means you need a bigger cash deposit for a boat than you do for a house.

You also have to pay mooring fees. You own the boat (give or take a loan or two) but the water under it is rented. £50 a week is not unusual rent for the water. Do add that to your outgoings.

Maintenance is much higher on a boat than it is on a house. You need to paint regularly, and also to treat the bottom. If you need to work on the hull you will need to take the boat out of the water: mega inconvenience, and high cost to hire a dry dock.

The bottom line is that you need a bigger cash deposit to buy a boat, a smaller but more costly loan, and higher running costs.


Boats always leak. It doesn't matter if they are timber or metal hulled, both sorts leak. Timber hulls move about more and therefore tend to leak more, but metal hulls tend to suffer from condensation which you don't usually get on timber boats. If you suffer from asthma, think twice about living on a boat. Boats are generally damper than houses. If you suffer from rheumatism, don't move onto a boat, not only will it make your disease worse, you will have trouble getting in and out.


Most moorings provide access to electricity and telephones. The postman and the milkman will usually deliver, and you can get bottled gas. If your boat has an engine you will no doubt have an oil tank, and a set of 12 volt batteries which the engine can charge. You will never be powerless. Powercuts will be a distant memory.

Most moorings are in pleasant, handy places. It's often difficult to get heavy stuff to and from your home as it is probably 200 or 300 yards from the road or a car park, but that should also mean you live in a relatively quiet place. If you have an engine, you can of course move your home, which is always fun. It's amazing what a difference it makes just to be able to turn the thing round.

There is a particular pleasure in laying in bed on a sunny morning and watching the sunlight reflected off the water as it plays in wobbly patterns on your ceiling. And it is particularly irritating if you live on the Thames, or somewhere similar, and you get woken up at three in the morning by seagulls scratching hell out of your roof.

Most moorings are operated by British Waterways. They are philistines who hate boats. They are a pain to deal with. They won't let you rent your home, so it is virtually impossible to rent a houseboat. You also only have 30 days security of tenure. You do not rent the space your boat floats on, you are granted a license which can be terminated upon 30 days notice. However, despite this, you still have to pay council tax.

Useful info from the National Boat Owners Association.

I prefer to live on land, but I did enjoy my time living on the water, but then I was born on a boat.......oops, sorry, I mean a ship, and that was in the West Indies, and the water was crystal clear, and the sky blue, and the palm trees..............

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