Living on a canal boat is a fast-growing trend in the UK. Many people dream of gliding along our nation’s waterways, enjoying a nomadic existence, and being close to nature. But funding a narrowboat lifestyle isn’t just about buying a boat. If you’re looking to retire, semi-retire or live and work on a narrowboat, there are important factors to consider.
Living on the water
Whether you’re a seasonal sailor or you’re planning to live aboard a narrowboat permanently, you need to be aware of the pros and cons of living on the water and what’s involved when funding a narrowboat lifestyle.
The appeal of living on a narrowboat is; the cost compared to buying a house, the freedom to visit different places and a more relaxing pace of life. This can be very enjoyable in the summer but bear in mind that the UK weather can be cold during the winter. You may rely on a wood burner for warmth, which requires constant fuel. Also, check the conditions of windows and doors to reduce any potential draughts.
Although minimalist living can be rewarding, if you’re sharing a small space, you will have less privacy and storage areas. Prioritise space for fuel and essential items. Although you can use dead branches and found wood for wood burners to save a bit of space. You’ll need to open canal locks, so having a good level of fitness is useful. You will also need to regularly empty toilet and waste tanks at a sanitary station or a boatyard if you need to pump the waste out (see Nicholsons Canal Guide for a list of locations).
Depending on the age and condition, an average used narrowboat could cost you between £20,000 – £50,000. Allow enough budget to bring the boat up to your desired standard, including any maintenance costs. Your annual running costs will depend on the size of the boat. You will need a waterways licence to cruise the canals; for example, a 20-metre narrowboat currently costs around £1,160 – £1,190 for 12 months (June 2022).
Unless you abide by the “continuous cruiser” rules set by the Canal & River Trust, you will need to find a place to moor your boat, which incurs a fee. Otherwise, you must keep your boat moving and not stay in one place for more than two weeks. Most boat moor at a set base, usually during the winter months. Mooring fees vary depending on the location and usually start from £3,000 to £18,000 (London area).
Mooring your boat at a marina, may mean you can’t liveaboard. Due to council tax restrictions, some marinas only have a limited number of liveaboard permits. As the popularity of this lifestyle continues to grow, marinas are getting increasingly crowded. So plan ahead, and take seasons into account.
Damage to the boat is a risk at any time you are on the water, and this will require an urgent fix. Propellor damage require lifting the boat out of the water. Hot water tanks can corrode over time resulting in leaks. Preparation is key – by getting specialist narrowboat insurance, which costs around £200 – £500. Also, it’s good to understand the cost of repairing equipment inside the boat. For example, if you are relying on a wood burner for heating and cooking, you will need to know where to buy a replacement.
Engines need a regular service to avoid you breaking down in remote areas of the canal. You may need to visit a boatyard every two years for some essential boat maintenance known as “blacking.” Blacking the hull protects the bottom of the boat, costing around £600 —also factor in some bilge maintenance, checking seals, clamps, and gaskets.
Funding a narrowboat lifestyle
There are different options for buying a boat. Some owners prefer to sell directly to private buyers, so a good place to start is by contacting your local boatyard. Some companies offer finance to support this type of large purchase, but as with any large loan, it’s important to make sure you are aware of the interest and any charges. Whether you’re thinking of buying a canal boat to live in or for leisure use, it’s crucial you have a sound financial plan in place to help with funding a narrowboat lifestyle.
Just as you would make plans to maintain a bricks and mortar home, you will need to ensure you have a pot of money for boat maintenance and repairs. Asides from fees, your day-to-day living costs could be relatively cheap, costing just a few thousand a year. The best way to test this lifestyle is to hire a boat for a holiday and see how you get on. Happy cruising!
Do you need help with a financial plan to explore funding a narrowboat lifestyle? Get in touch with our independent financial planning team.