Each year, many people enjoy the tranquil, unhurried life of the inland waterways of the UK, spending their holidays on rented narrow boats or on their own narrow boat.
But a growing number of people are electing to live on a narrow boat on a rather more permanent basis – either continuously cruising the canals or staying more or less at one location. So does this watery way forward represent one viable option for “downsizers” – and, if so, what are the costs involved?
First, let’s look at the capital investment.
A new boat suitable for living aboard will cost you upwards of £100,000 – and splashing out £200,000 is certainly possible. For that you will get a boat that you have helped to design and will better suit your requirements. But you can get started for far less: budget boats from around £65,000 are also available, but will offer a more basic standard of comfort, while “previously enjoyed” boats are also available at anything from £30,000 upwards. That said, at the lower end of this price range the boats will be tired and possibly in need of some refurbishment. You would certainly be lucky to find a boat that meets your requirements exactly on that sort of shoestring.
There’s no such thing as a free launch, so just keeping yourself afloat will also set you back a tidy sum.
• Moorings: a permanent residential mooring will cost from around £2,000 to £4,000 plus depending on the area of the
country – moorings near London are naturally more expensive and also harder to find.
• Licence: all boats need a licence from the Canal and River Trust. This will cost around £900 per annum depending on the
length of the boat.
• Insurance: all boats need insurance in order to obtain a licence. This will cost from £200 to £400 per annum.
• Boat Safety Scheme: all boats need to have a BSS examination every four years – a bit like an MOT – and that’s £160.
• Then there is the general maintenance of the boat. Blacking the hull every couple of years will cost around £600 depending on
the length of the boat. Engine servicing and minor repairs have to be budgeted for too. The superstructure is generally steel
and will need repainting from time to time – this can cost up to £8,000.
• If you are travelling rather than staying put, you’ll need to top up with diesel, and that can add up if you do long distances:
allow between 7 and 13 mile per gallon depending on how many locks you are navigating.
So what are the pluses?
• The possibility of releasing equity from your property could ease your financial anxiety.
• Quality of life: exploring the inland waterways from our industrial heritage to the quiet, open countryside.
And what are the minuses?
• Obtaining supplies when not moored near shops or marinas. As well as food you will need gas, diesel and possibly coal.
These can be difficult to get to the boat in winter months if ice, snow, or mud stand between you and your nearest supplier.
Many folk jump into this way of life without ever having been on a narrow boat, others having enjoyed a week or two on holiday. It is worth hiring a boat for a longer period if you are thinking of making it a permanent way of life to make sure that this life really is for you. In financial terms, make sure you do all your sums first – check out all the very helpful forums available. Buying a newer boat will take more of a bite out of your capital but maintenance costs will probably be lower. And as annual running costs will tot up, do make sure you have sufficient income to cope with that – and a “sinking fund” to allow for any major work required. Remember, you can also use RetireEasy LifePlan – the financial planner that lets you take control of your future- to test out your long-term prospects of keeping your finances afloat!
Boat living on a canal or river mooring
You can live on a boat on a canal or river mooring, and thousands of ‘liveaboards’ do. However you must keep moving or be on a ‘residential mooring’. If you want to stay in one area but don’t have an official residential mooring it can be a very insecure way of life. You can be told to move regularly. If you don’t move far enough or frequently enough you could be refused a licence, fined and eventually have your boat seized.
So can I live on a canal boat?
Yes, if you keep to the mooring rules.
Boats are allowed to moor almost anywhere alongside canal towpaths. But nearly all these mooring places are short term, which means that no boat can stay there for more than a few days, two weeks at most. Long term moorings, where most boaters pay to keep their boats, may be ‘offline’ on marinas or ‘online’ along the canal but they usually don’t allow you to live on your boat for more than a few days or weeks. And mooring regulations do not allow you ‘shuffle’ between nearby short term moorings. So to live on a boat you need to be either ‘continuously cruising’ or to have a ‘residential mooring’.
Why can’t I moor anywhere I want for as long as I want?
Because other canal users have to be considered.
Boats are allowed to moor almost anywhere alongside canal towpaths. But nearly all these mooring places are short term, which means that no boat can stay there for more than a few days, two weeks at most. Long term moorings, where most boaters pay to keep their boats, may be ‘offline’ on marinas or ‘online’ along the canal but they usually don’t allow you to live on your boat for more than a few days or weeks.
Canal and River Trust (CRT) have taken over from British Waterways the job of managing our canals and some rivers. For many years BW publically discouraged ‘liveaboards’, but did little about it. Living on a boat was seen, rightly or wrongly, as a way of avoiding paying rent and rates or of getting to the top of the council house waiting lists. The freedom of living afloat with low overheads was thought to appeal to many people who wanted to ‘turn their backs on consumer society’. Equally though, some of the most desirable London properties float on the Thames or Regents Canal, and many people retired, sold the house and moved onto a canal boat to explore their own country.
Recently, possibly partly because of a shortage of economic accommodation, large increases in liveaboard boats have been reported, especially in a few locations. CRT reported that the total number of Continuous Cruising licences increased from 4,400 in 2012 to 5,400 in 2014, with an 85% increase in over one year in East London alone. Out of those 5,400 boats 16% moved less than 5 kilometres, and 66% moved under 20 kilometres in a year.
Leisure boaters complain that they can’t find convenient moorings because short term visitor moorings are being filled by long stay liveaboards. Canal users and local people complain about unsightly boats moored in long lines. Local Authorities may be unhappy about the extra pressure on local services. CRT has been working with local groups including boat dwellers in some of the worst affected areas, like London and the western Kennet and Avon to try to find solutions to these problems, see more in our Canal News Section. CRT also have to get as much income from canal users as possible. Boat owners have to pay for a licence and moorings can cost over £2,000 a year. They want all canal users to contribute to the costs of running the canals.
So how do I find a place to live aboard my boat?
Unfortunately residential moorings are in short supply.
Residential moorings where you can live on a boat long term certainly exist. The Canal & River Trust and The Environment Agency run some, there are privately owned residential moorings including on some boatyards and marinas. However there aren’t enough residential moorings in the places like the major cities where many people want to live. And of course mooring fees have to be paid.
It is often easier to buy a boat with a residential mooring, rather than get them separately. Getting a boat is no problem (see Buying a residential boat), finding a mooring is, and boats with a mooring often change hands for more than twice the boat value. If you know the area where you would like to moor then walk the towpath and talk to people on boats to see what they know.
Visit boatyards (see our listings) and ask if they know of any residential moorings. Contact the Canal and River Trust to see if they have any residential moorings locally, they are trying to set up more residential places. In cities such as London most floating accommodation gets advertised and let through the normal property sales and letting channels, estate agents etc.
Can I keep on moving, become a continuous cruiser?
Yes, so long as you are genuinely going somewhere, not shuffling about!
Many people living on their boats move around the canal system regularly and they are known as ‘Continuous Cruisers’. They are on ‘extended cruises’. They don’t pay for a ‘home mooring’ on a marina or canalside and can use short term moorings around the canals.
This is fully acceptable under the licensing regulations, however there are important restrictions. The Canal and River Trust explains to boaters who don’t have a home mooring ‘… you don’t have a home mooring for your boat, so you’re registered as a ‘continuous cruiser’. This means that throughout the period of your licence you must ‘bona fide’ navigate and not stay in the same place for more than 14 days.
The definition of navigating implies a journey of some length, so you can’t shuffle to and fro in a small area, just because that’s where your work or other commitments are.’ This definition of continuous cruising meaning ‘real movement’ has been upheld in the courts. Make sure you read the CRT ‘Guidance for Boaters without a Home Mooring’.
How far must I move and how often? And what if I don’t?
Hard to say, but it could make living in a single area impossible.
A stay of 2 weeks is the maximum on most short term moorings, sometimes it is just 48 hours. Boaters must then continue their journey. This shouldn’t create problems if you are genuinely cruising the system, but by restricting mooring duration in one place, minimum distance to the next temporary moorings and restrictions on return, it will make your life difficult if you live on a boat and want to stay in the same geographical area, for work perhaps.
Although CRT express sympathy for those who can’t find residential moorings in the area in which they work or wish to live, they state ‘ Our duties do not include those of a housing authority’. If you don’t comply CRT say they will be examining how far boats have moved over the course of their previous licence to see if they satisfy the requirement for continuous cruising. Regular reminders will be sent to all those boaters whose limited movement is causing a concern. On the expiry of their licence, those that have consistently failed to move in accordance with the Trust’s Guidance will be refused a new licence unless they take a home mooring. See their Enforcement Information.
What about in the winter?
Special November to March Winter Mooring Permits are available
Continuous cruisers can find moving difficult in winter because of bad weather and canal maintenance closures. CRT now offer some temporary residential moorings available over the winter so continuous cruisers can stay in one place through the winter, then cruise from spring to autumn. See the CRT website for more details.
(Article source: Various)