Taking the plunge on houseboat living

With the cost of property soaring, canal life is looking more attractive than ever for some

Britain's canals and rivers have long had a magnetic attraction for people looking for a slower pace of life, but it seems that growing numbers of tenants and homeowners struggling against rising prices are turning to a life along the waterways.

"In the past few years the appeal of living this sort of lifestyle has really taken off. Houseboats can offer the same space as a flat and, with the peaceful, waterside location, are often an interesting option for many buyers," says Chris Early of estate agent Kinleigh Folkard & Hayward. "Often, they are considerably cheaper than a flat of a similar size and, with the wildlife and tranquil outlook, are gaining in popularity – especially among families and young professionals."

About 10,000 people are living along the 100-plus miles of canals in London alone, but the number of moorings has not kept up with demand. A lack of supply has caused "hotspots of overcrowding", according to a recent London Assembly report that called for the Canal and River Trust (CRT) to increase the number of moorings.

But if you can find a water berth, what do you need to know before you give up on bricks and mortar? The first choice is whether to have a permanent mooring, or to fire up and cruise the waterways.

Julia Jacks from the Residential Boat Owners' Association (RBOA) says: "A boat with an engine, designed for cruising, on which you live full-time, is referred to as a residential boat or live-aboard. This could be any boat – a converted fishing boat, Dutch barge, retired lifeboat, narrowboat, ex-oil tanker – you name it, the variety is unlimited".

If you want the security of an entirely fixed abode, there are also static boats custom-built for full-time living in one place. On the Thames, where there is more space, these houseboats can be giant structures built on rectangular hulls or pontoons, but you tend to find smaller, flat-like boats on other waterways. A standpipe connects water, mains electricity, telephone and broadband. Bottled gas is delivered.

Like a car, prices vary depending on the condition and size of the boat, from a few hundred pounds to many thousands. However, prices for permanently moored houseboats will reflect local property values and that of the mooring, whether it is leased or owned. You can find boats for sale in trade magazines or newspapers such as Waterways World and Towpath Talk, at boat shows and boat yards, or on dedicated sites such as Apollo Duck, Premier Houseboats and Boats & Outboards.

As a continuous cruiser, you will need to be licensed by the waterway authority wherever you go. For most of the waterways this is the CRT, but there are independent owners and for the Thames it is the Environment Agency or the Port of London Authority, while the Broads Authority presides over East Anglia. You will need a Boat Safety Certificate (costing about £150) and insurance (which could vary from £100 for a small river cruiser to about £500). There will be restrictions on how long you can moor in one place – for example, on Canal and River Trust waters you can stay for up to 14 days. If you're staying put, it can be surprisingly expensive. Like a leasehold property, the moorings are either bought for a set amount of years or as a rolling licence. The cost will depend on the size of the boat, the facilities and the area, with London generally the most expensive. Costs could start from £1,000, rising to £12,000 a year in London.

One sought-after mooring spot in London is the Wenlock Basin, off the Regent's Canal near the Angel, Islington, and Emma Fildes of boutique estate agency Fyfe Mcdade has sold a number of narrowboats in this private basin. "Mooring fees are around £1,350 per quarter, which includes maintenance of the basin and use of its facilities, including security, communal areas and refuse collection," she says. "When you consider that the going rate for flats in the area [is] £500,000 upwards, it's an effective way to enjoy waterside living and a central location on a budget."

You often find moorings for sale with a vessel, and the value of a houseboat often reflects the number of years remaining. For example, Riverhomes is selling a five-year mooring near Kew Bridge that comes with a one-bedroom narrowboat for £75,000. At the other end of the scale, it has a £1.85m four-bedroom houseboat with a 45-year mooring near Putney which has its own underground parking space and access to a swimming pool and gym. Owners with a permanent mooring also have to factor in council tax (albeit in the cheapest band), running costs and boat maintenance.

High street banks steer clear of lending for a canal boat so many people buy in cash, although HSBC and RBS have divisions that handle lending for engineless houseboats. If your bank won't bite, there are specialist marine finance firms such as RoyScot Larch and Collidge and Partners, but rates are higher and the borrowing term is shorter than for standard residential mortgages – you typically need a 25 per cent deposit and to pay the loan back over 10 or 15 years.

The message from everyone who has had a taste of canal boat life is that you must be committed to it. You have even less protection than a normal tenant because a houseboat is not legally regarded as a home, so you have no specific safeguards from bad landlords and unfair leases.

Discover more property articles at Homes and Property
Susan Sarandon described David Bowie as
peopleSusan Sarandon reveals more on her David Bowie romance
sportDidier Drogba returns to Chelsea on one-year deal
Arts and Entertainment
Christian Grey cradles Ana in the Fifty Shades of Grey film
filmFifty Shades of Grey trailer provokes moral outrage in US
Louis van Gaal would have been impressed with Darren Fletcher’s performance against LA Galaxy during Manchester United’s 7-0 victory
The new dawn heralded by George Osborne has yet to rise
voicesJames Moore: As the Tories rub their hands together, the average voter will be asking why they're not getting a piece of the action
Dejan Lovren celebrates scoring for Southampton although the goal was later credited to Adam Lallana
newsComedy club forced to apologise as maggots eating a dead pigeon fall out of air-conditioning
Arts and Entertainment
Jo Brand says she's mellowed a lot
tvJo Brand says shows encourage people to laugh at the vulnerable
Life and Style
People may feel that they're procrastinating by watching TV in the evening
Rhys Williams
commonwealth games
Isis fighters travel in a vehicle as they take part in a military parade along the streets of Syria's northern Raqqa province
Arts and Entertainment
Southern charm: Nicolas Cage and Tye Sheridan in ‘Joe’
filmReview: Actor delivers astonishing performance in low budget drama
Life and Style
fashionLatex dresses hit the catwalk to raise awareness for HIV and Aids
Property search
Property search
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Senior Risk Manager - Banking - London - £650

£600 - £650 per day: Orgtel: Conduct Risk Liaison Manager - Banking - London -...

Commercial Litigation Associate

Highly Attractive Package: Austen Lloyd: CITY - COMMERCIAL LITIGATION - GLOBAL...

Systems Manager - Dynamics AX

£65000 - £75000 per annum + Benefits: Progressive Recruitment: The client is a...

Service Delivery Manager (Software Development, Testing)

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A well-established software house ba...

Day In a Page

Backhanders, bribery and abuses of power have soared in China as economy surges

Bribery and abuses of power soar in China

The bribery is fuelled by the surge in China's economy but the rules of corruption are subtle and unspoken, finds Evan Osnos, as he learns the dark arts from a master
Commonwealth Games 2014: Highland terriers stole the show at the opening ceremony

Highland terriers steal the show at opening ceremony

Gillian Orr explores why a dog loved by film stars and presidents is finally having its day
German art world rocked as artists use renowned fat sculpture to distil schnapps

Brewing the fat from artwork angers widow of sculptor

Part of Joseph Beuys' 1982 sculpture 'Fettecke' used to distil schnapps
BBC's The Secret History of Our Streets reveals a fascinating window into Britain's past

BBC takes viewers back down memory lane

The Secret History of Our Streets, which returns with three films looking at Scottish streets, is the inverse of Benefits Street - delivering warmth instead of cynicism
Joe, film review: Nicolas Cage delivers an astonishing performance in low budget drama

Nicolas Cage shines in low-budget drama Joe

Cage plays an ex-con in David Gordon Green's independent drama, which has been adapted from a novel by Larry Brown
How to make your own gourmet ice lollies, granitas, slushy cocktails and frozen yoghurt

Make your own ice lollies and frozen yoghurt

Think outside the cool box for this summer's tempting frozen treats
Ford Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time, with sales topping 4.1 million since 1976

Fiesta is UK's most popular car of all-time

Sales have topped 4.1 million since 1976. To celebrate this milestone, four Independent writers recall their Fiestas with pride
10 best reed diffusers

Heaven scent: 10 best reed diffusers

Keep your rooms smelling summery and fresh with one of these subtle but distinctive home fragrances that’ll last you months
Commonwealth Games 2014: Female boxers set to compete for first time

Female boxers set to compete at Commonwealth Games for first time

There’s no favourites and with no headguards anything could happen
Five things we’ve learned so far about Manchester United under Louis van Gaal

Five things we’ve learned so far about United under Van Gaal

It’s impossible to avoid the impression that the Dutch manager is playing to the gallery a little
Screwing your way to the top? Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth

Screwing your way to the top?

Good for Lana Del Rey for helping kill that myth, says Grace Dent
Will the young Britons fighting in Syria be allowed to return home and resume their lives?

Will Britons fighting in Syria be able to resume their lives?

Tony Blair's Terrorism Act 2006 has made it an offence to take part in military action abroad with a "political, ideological, religious or racial motive"
Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter, the wartime poster girl who became a feminist pin-up

Beyoncé poses as Rosie the Riveter

The wartime poster girl became the ultimate American symbol of female empowerment
The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones: Are custom, 3D printed earbuds the solution?

The quest to find the perfect pair of earphones

Earphones don't fit properly, offer mediocre audio quality and can even be painful. So the quest to design the perfect pair is music to Seth Stevenson's ears
US Army's shooting star: Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform

Meet the US Army's shooting star

Lt-Col Steven Cole is the man Hollywood calls when it wants to borrow a tank or check a military uniform