Is living on a narrowboat worth it?

Picture of a narrow boat moored

Looking out upon a river on a warm summer’s day, living on a boat can seem like the solution to life’s problems. It’s not just the cruising experience that appeals, it’s getting around the notoriously tough property ladder and saving money on your bills.

But is this dream an illusion?

Well, the romantic quality of living on a boat isn’t an illusion. The cost, however, can be. If you buy a second hand boat, you’ll need a minimum of £20,000 for one that’s fully functional. To check that everything’s in working condition, you’ll need to pay for an examination to be carried out by a marine surveyor too. That alone is going to set you back £200-300.

You can always choose to have a boat built so that it’s to your taste, but then you’ll need upwards of £20,000 (depending on the size) for the exterior and engine. To make it liveable, with wiring, plumbing, painting and insulation, you’ll need to hire tradespeople to carry out the work at an additional cost – or expect to pay your original multi-skilled boat builder around the region of £60,000. The good news is that a new boat won’t need to be surveyed.

As for the extra charges, they’ll add up. You’ll have your fuel costs, regular battery replacements for your appliances, repainting jobs and annual engine servicing, but you’ll also have your main certifications.

Picture of a narrowboat with red paint

Boat Safety Scheme Certificate

This is the certificate awarded by the Boat Safety Scheme which makes sure that your boat is safe. They’ll check everything from markings to identify fuel system emergency shut-off devices to fuel filling arrangements to prevent any overflow from entering the boat. It’s valid for four years at a cost of around £35. While the certificate itself isn’t a legal requirement, you’ll need it to access those waterways that have adopted the scheme. The majority have! To find an examiner, contact the Boat Safety Scheme.

Licence to be on the water

Licences vary depending on where you live but you’ll need to register with the Canal & River Trust for the majority of canals and some rivers; the Environment Agency for the River Thames; River Medway and East Anglian rivers; and the Broads Authority for the Norfolk and Suffolk broads. If you’d rather explore somewhere different, you’ll need to contact the Association of Inland Navigation Authorities to find the right one in the area.

Picture at an angle of a moored narrowboat

Mooring permit or a continuous cruising licence

If you plan on parking your boat, you’ll need a mooring permit. Many boatowners arrange their mooring before they buy a boat as they can be quite hard to come by. They also vary in cost by location. A permit in London’s Little Venice for example, will cost you around £7,000 a year. If you can’t locate a mooring, you can opt for a continuous cruising licence instead but you’ll have to move location every 2 weeks by more than 2 miles and you can’t keep on returning to the same spot. You also can’t have a fixed place of work or study so it might not be ideal if you have a family to support.

Living on a boat can be idyll but it requires regular maintenance. And while it’s on the water, you should protect it the same as any property – don’t forget the insurance!

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  1. I agree that living on a narrowboat can be an idyllic lifestyle. I moved onto my own boat three years ago without knowing a thing about the lifestyle or the costs involved. The real costs came as quite a shock. I’ve documented everything I’ve has to spend on my boat James in the last three years here…

    Although the lifestyle cost far more than I expected, I’ve loved every minute of my time on board. I agree that residential moorings can be extremely difficult to find. Potential liveaboards need to thoroughly research mooring availability before they buy a boat to live on.

  2. We’re a bunch of volunteers and opening a brand new scheme in our community. Your website provided us with helpful information to work on. You have performed a formidable activity and our entire neighborhood will probably be thankful to you.

  3. Really sound advice for someone like me who is considering buying a liveaboard narrow boat. And its in plain English!

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