How to live on a boat without sinking your finances

For those tempted to abandon their fixed abode for the pleasures of Britain's canals and waterways, Ian Hunter provides some pointers on buying and licensing a vessel

Michael Sharon wanted to buy a place in the country. He decided he would like a place in Warwickshire, in Oxfordshire, in Wiltshire and occasionally in London. The solution was a 60ft narrowboat which, at pounds 20,000, was considerably more affordable than a brace of cottages.

An estimated 15,000 people live on houseboats dotted all over Britain. Boats are regularly advertised in such magazines as Exchange & Mart as well as the more specialised publications such as Waterways World.

Prices vary widely depending on the condition and size of the boat. The Chelsea Yacht & Boat Company recently offered a 16.2m ex-Admiralty steam pinnace for sale at pounds 35,000, while a 29.85m, converted Dutch Klipper barge was there for the taking at pounds 248,500.

Mr Sharon explains: "Many boats are now very well equipped with central heating, fitted kitchens and bathrooms; some even have washing machines and microwaves. It is possible to live very comfortably. If you want to make alterations, specialist help is usually available at a nearby boatyard. Acting on recommendation is, in my experience, the best way to proceed."

Potential buyers should always obtain a survey before completing a sale. A survey will usually cost between pounds 250 and pounds 500.

There are a number of finance companies that offer loans with repayments typically stretching over 10 to 15 years. Most loans are capped at 80 per cent of the purchase prices. Building societies and banks are usually reluctant to lend money to buy houseboats unless the boat is intended as a second home. In these circumstances the owner's main home can be used as security for the loan.

Every boat must have a licence, which can cost up to pounds 300 a year. The British Waterways Board, which controls much of Britain's canal network, will require a boat safety certificate before it issues a licence. The safety certificate will confirm that the boat has a mooring and that it complies with certain construction standards.

Finding the right mooring, however, is often more difficult than the right boat. Mr Sharon, who has bought and sold three boats, says that the boat often comes with a mooring.

Every boat is required to have a registered permanent mooring or to be continuously cruising. Permanent moorings can be at designated sites along the canal bank or in marinas. Most moorings do not allow the boat to be used for permanent residential use. Residential moorings are often in short supply.

Birmingham, home of Europe's most extensive canal system, offers a range of residential moorings. These are typically let on contracts of between one and seven years. The prices of the mooring permit - as opposed to the BWB cruising licence - varies depending on location. Fees are usually calculated by reference to the length of the vessel and the facilities offered.

There are a range of private marines and boatyards spread all over Britain. These sites offer varying degrees of facilities for their boat people. These typically include a sewage system, refuse collections and a water supply.

In the prime sites of London, such as Chelsea's Cheyne Walk or Maida Vale's Little Venice, a mooring permit can cost as much as pounds 4,000 a year. The Chelsea Yacht & Boat Company charges pounds 195 a metre per year for a mooring permit, plus pounds 60 per metre for annual maintenance.

Outside London the fees are usually somewhat lower. "A rural site with few facilities can cost less than pounds 40 per metre per year," says Mr Sharon.

Boats require regular maintenance. A wooden-hulled boat should be removed from the water at least once every two years so the hull can be scraped.

No boat should be left uninsured. The policy should also contain a "homehold" contents section.

"Unfortunately we have suffered a number of break-ins," says Mr Sharon. "The problem is that too many people think that because their boat is moored in the countryside and not a city it is therefore safe from burglary. This is not the case."

Additional specialist information regarding houseboats can be obtained from the Macclesfield-based Residential Boat Owners' Association. Write to the RGBA, PO Box 181, Macclesfield, Cheshire SK11 ONT.

Independent Partners; Do you need financial advice on your investments, pension or insurance? Book a free consultation with an independent Financial Adviser at

Finacial products from our partners
Property search
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Money & Business

    Recruitment Genius: Collections Agent

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company was established in...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + OTE 40k: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 busi...

    SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

    £20000 - £25000 per annum + competitive: SThree: SThree are a global FTSE 250 ...

    Reach Volunteering: Trustees with Finance, Fundraising and IT skills

    Voluntary and unpaid, reasonable expenses reimbursable: Reach Volunteering: St...

    Day In a Page

    Isis profits from destruction of antiquities by selling relics to dealers - and then blowing up the buildings they come from to conceal the evidence of looting

    How Isis profits from destruction of antiquities

    Robert Fisk on the terrorist group's manipulation of the market to increase the price of artefacts
    Labour leadership: Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea

    'If we lose touch we’ll end up with two decades of the Tories'

    In an exclusive interview, Andy Burnham urges Jeremy Corbyn voters to think again in last-minute plea
    Tunisia fears its Arab Spring could be reversed as the new regime becomes as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor

    The Arab Spring reversed

    Tunisian protesters fear that a new law will whitewash corrupt businessmen and officials, but they are finding that the new regime is becoming as intolerant of dissent as its predecessor
    King Arthur: Legendary figure was real and lived most of his life in Strathclyde, academic claims

    Academic claims King Arthur was real - and reveals where he lived

    Dr Andrew Breeze says the legendary figure did exist – but was a general, not a king
    Who is Oliver Bonas and how has he captured middle-class hearts?

    Who is Oliver Bonas?

    It's the first high-street store to pay its staff the living wage, and it saw out the recession in style
    Earth has 'lost more than half its trees' since humans first started cutting them down

    Axe-wielding Man fells half the world’s trees – leaving us just 422 each

    However, the number of trees may be eight times higher than previously thought
    60 years of Scalextric: Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones

    60 years of Scalextric

    Model cars are now stuffed with as much tech as real ones
    Theme parks continue to draw in thrill-seekers despite the risks - so why are we so addicted?

    Why are we addicted to theme parks?

    Now that Banksy has unveiled his own dystopian version, Christopher Beanland considers the ups and downs of our endless quest for amusement
    Tourism in Iran: The country will soon be opening up again after years of isolation

    Iran is opening up again to tourists

    After years of isolation, Iran is reopening its embassies abroad. Soon, there'll be the chance for the adventurous to holiday there
    10 best PS4 games

    10 best PS4 games

    Can’t wait for the new round of blockbusters due out this autumn? We played through last year’s offering
    Transfer window: Ten things we learnt

    Ten things we learnt from the transfer window

    Record-breaking spending shows FFP restraint no longer applies
    Migrant crisis: UN official Philippe Douste-Blazy reveals the harrowing sights he encountered among refugees arriving on Lampedusa

    ‘Can we really just turn away?’

    Dead bodies, men drowning, women miscarrying – a senior UN figure on the horrors he has witnessed among migrants arriving on Lampedusa, and urges politicians not to underestimate our caring nature
    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger as Isis ravages centuries of history

    Nine of Syria and Iraq's 10 world heritage sites are in danger...

    ... and not just because of Isis vandalism
    Girl on a Plane: An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack

    Girl on a Plane

    An exclusive extract of the novelisation inspired by the 1970 Palestinian fighters hijack
    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    Why Frederick Forsyth's spying days could spell disaster for today's journalists

    The author of 'The Day of the Jackal' has revealed he spied for MI6 while a foreign correspondent