Living on a Boat: The Ultimate Narrowboat Lifestyle Guide

Explore living on a boat with our in-depth guide to narrowboat life, covering affordability, sustainability, and the joys of waterborne living.

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Welcome to our guide to living on a narrowboat – a lifestyle that's gaining popularity as people seek alternatives to traditional housing. Many are discovering that narrowboat living provides a unique opportunity to embrace a simpler, more sustainable way of life, while enjoying the beauty of the British waterways.

In this guide, we'll explore the benefits and challenges of living on a narrowboat, and provide tips and advice for those considering this lifestyle. Whether you're an experienced boater or just starting out, we hope this guide will be a valuable resource as you navigate the world of narrowboat living.

So, sit back, relax and let's explore this wonderful and growing community together.

Table of Contents (Click to Jump)

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Considerations to make before living on a boat

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Necessities: Storage, Comfort, and Connectivity

Moving from a full sized house to a narrow boat can be difficult to adjust to. You'll realise just how much space your belongings take up when you no longer have lots of cupboards, under-the-stairs storage or a garage for all your things. We'd recommend having a good de-clutter of all your storage spaces before you move, and keep your bulky winter clothes in off-boat storage to save space if you can.

When making a boat feel like home, be prepared for mildew and condensation to become a more prevalent problem than in your house. Make sure your boat is kept warm and dry with plenty of ventilation to prevent this.

Living on a boat doesn't mean being cut off from the rest of the world. Whether you need high speed internet to work from home and stream your favourite series, or you just want to keep in touch with your loved ones, make sure you can access the internet from your floating home. Most marinas have WiFi, or you can intall your own WiFi on board.

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Cost of Living on a Boat

Creating a budget and adhering to it is the most effective approach for managing expenses. Yes, a narrowboat is cheaper to buy than a house, but don’t assume you’ll save money by moving aboard. Some expenses you can expect when you live on a narrowboat include boat mortgage payments, insurance, waste management, slip fees, gas and fuel, and your usual expenses such as groceries and entertainment.

While boat insurance can be just as expensive as house insurance depending on the value of your boat, you will save on electricity as you're heating and lighting a much smaller space. It is likely that you will be able to save money on waste management, as well as gas and water expenses.

Maintenance is where you'll mainly see your costs rise. Marine parts and labor can be up to 20% more expensive than in a typical household. You could teach yourself how to do it and save some money but it is up to you to decide whether this would be worth it, or better to leave the trickier maintenance to a professional. There are plenty of online tutorials, otherwise, you can ask some experienced boaters or staff in your marina.

Even better, Barton Marina has an onsite Workshop, whom you can work with to ensure top-quality maintenance.

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Safety & Security

Moving from a house or flat to a narrowboat comes with different kinds of safety and security concerns to consider.

The most obvious include installing a smoke alarm, carbon monoxide alarm and fire extinguishers if they aren't already there, and checking them regularly as well as the basics like bilge and battery levels. But there are other issues to consider that only come with living aboard a boat.

Will you be safe walking on towpaths and jetties at night? If you will be inviting friends and family to visit, is it safe for them, their children and their pets to walk to the boat? Will your car be safe in a car park instead of a garage? Where can you safely leave your boat unattended, and who will contact you if the boat has a problem while you're not there?

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Daily Life & Socialisation

When you live aboard a boat, you won't want to underestimate the importance of staying social. In fact, many solo boaters, primarily single men, struggle with loneliness and isolation and aren't sure who to reach out to or how.

Socialising is easier in a marina. Neighbours help neighbours, and there's usually somebody who can advise you on an issue, but it’s a two-way street so be ready to return the favour and lend a hand when you can.

The advice, support, knowledge and tales of boating experience you can learn from your marina neighbours is invaluable. So, whether you're a social butterfly or an introvert, always greet your neighbours and don't be afraid to approach them if you need help.

Sustainable Living

One of the most significant benefits of narrowboat living is the ability to harness renewable energy sources. Many boaters install solar panels on the roof of their boat, which generate enough power to run lights, charge devices, and power appliances. Some boaters even install wind turbines or hydroelectric generators to further reduce their carbon footprint.

Waste management is also a crucial aspect of narrowboat living. With limited space, boat owners are forced to be mindful of their waste output and disposal. Some narrowboats have composting toilets, which use natural processes to break down waste without the need for chemicals or water. Greywater systems which recycle water from sinks and showers are also common on narrowboats.

Freshwater tanks are limited in size, so boaters must learn to use and conserve water efficiently. Many boaters install water-efficient appliances such as low-flow shower heads and taps to reduce their water usage. Rain water harvesting systems are also becoming more popular, providing a sustainable source of non-potable water.

Living on a narrowboat encourages a minimalist lifestyle. With limited space, boaters have to prioritise what is truly essential. This mindset encourages conscious consumption, reducing waste and encouraging a more sustainable way of living.

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Finding a boat to live on

When it comes to finding the right narrowboat to live aboard, it's important to decide on the size of the boat that will best suit your needs. Think about how many people will be living aboard, as well as any pets, and consider whether you'll need space for guests. You'll also want to think about the layout of the boat and whether it will accommodate your lifestyle and storage needs.

It's crucial to consider the condition of the boat. While older boats can offer charm and character, they may require more maintenance and repairs than newer boats. It's important to take a tour and thoroughly inspect any potential boats before making a purchase, or to enlist the help of a professional surveyor to ensure that you're making a sound investment. The team at our Lakeland Leisure Boat Sales office will be a great help when it comes to addressing your needs and concerns and finding the right boat to suit you.

It's also essential to consider the location and mooring of your narrowboat. Research different marinas and whether or not they offer residential moorings to find the perfect location for your needs, and consider factors such as the availability of amenities, transport and other services.

By taking the time to research and inspect potential boats, you'll be able to find the perfect home on the water that meets your needs and allows you to fully embrace the narrowboat lifestyle.

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Commissioning a new boat to live on

Have you ever considered commissioning your own new and bespoke narrowboat?

On the surface, purchasing a new boat seems like an expensive decision. However, this can benefit you in the long run. When you opt for a brand new vessel, your boat will be equipped with more advanced engineering and a newer engine, which makes it more fuel-efficient and considerably cheaper long term. You also gain peace of mind knowing there's a warranty available if anything goes wrong down the line.

It also means that your boat will meet all of your needs, so you won't have to compromise on anything or settle for less than perfect when it comes to the floating home of your dreams.

At Lakeland Leisure Boat Sales we are proud to partner with the build teams at Kingsground Narrowboats and Bickerstaffe Boat Builders. Together we will create your perfect vessel, from layout and design to colours and finish. We'll guide you through the buying process so you can bring home your perfect narrowboat. All you need to do is find your ideal layout by answering a few questions, then, our team will take care of the rest!

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Legal and Practical Considerations

Living on a narrowboat can be a unique and rewarding experience, but it does require a certain level of planning and preparation. It's important to take the time to understand the regulations and logistics involved so you can enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with living on a narrowboat, while also ensuring that you're doing so safely and legally.

It's important to understand the rules of the waterways before you set out on your narrowboat adventure. This includes understanding the right of navigation, as well as the rules around mooring and using locks. There are also regulations around the disposal of waste and the use of generators, so it's important to familiarise yourself with these rules to avoid any potential fines or legal issues.

You'll also need to find suitable moorings for your narrowboat. This can be a little more challenging than finding a traditional home, as you'll need to consider factors such as water depth, access to amenities and local regulations.

You'll also need a safety certificate and insurance

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Boat safety certificate

In the UK, you'll need a Boat Safety Scheme certificate, as well as a Canal & River Trust license to use the waterways.

These licenses ensure that your boat is up to the required safety standards and that you're able to navigate the waterways legally.

Boat insurance

You are legally required to obtain narrowboat insurance in the UK when you're navigating the inland waterways. Plus, buying a new or used narrowboat is a big investment, so it only makes sense that you would want to protect your belongings.

Insurance will give you the protection you need should your narrowboat and its contents get damaged or stolen, and it can provide cover for you if you accidentally damage another person's boat or cause someone an injury.

Liveaboard insurance

A liveaboard insurance policy can cover damages to your boat its contents, protecting your floating home against a range of risks including theft, fire, explosion, sinking, grounding or striking submerged objects, as well as damage caused by vermin, water ingress, storms or negligence of third parties.

Insurance costs will vary based on the amount of coverage you need and the type of boat you call home.

Liveaboard moorage

Residential moorings require planning permission. The marina must prove to the local council that they have adequate sewage and waste disposal services to accommodate residential moorings. As it is your home, you can use your residential mooring as your postal address.

You are not allowed to live on a leisure mooring, and the local council may take legal action to move you on if you do so.

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Pros & Cons

Overall, living on a narrowboat can be a rewarding and exciting experience, but it's important to weigh up the advantages and disadvantages before making the decision to do so. By considering the potential challenges and investing in the right equipment and resources, you can enjoy the unique lifestyle that comes with living on a narrowboat.

One of the main advantages of living on a narrowboat is the sense of freedom and adventure it provides. With the ability to travel along the waterways, you can explore different parts of the country and enjoy stunning scenery along the way.

However, there are also some downsides to living on a narrowboat that should be considered. One of the biggest challenges is the lack of space. Narrowboats are, by their very nature, small and compact, and this can make it difficult to store belongings and live comfortably, particularly for families or those with pets. Additionally, living on a narrowboat requires a certain level of self-sufficiency, as you'll need to carry out a range of seasonal maintenance and manage your own water and power supply, which can be challenging for those who aren't used to it.

Another potential downside is the weather. Living on a narrowboat means you're exposed to the elements more than you would be in a traditional home, and this can be particularly challenging during the winter months. You'll need to invest in heating and insulation to stay warm and comfortable, and the lack of natural light can also be a factor for some.

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Is it legal to live on a boat?

Yes, it is completely legal to live aboard in our marina as long as you have a residential mooring. On a leisure mooring you are allowed to stay aboard your boat for a matter of days at a time, but if you use a non-residential mooring as your home, the local authority has the power to take legal action to move you on.

If you're a continuous cruiser, you may moor in one place on the waterways for up to 14 days at a time.

Do you pay council tax if you live on a boat?

Just living on a boat does not entitle you to pay council tax. If you're a continuous cruiser, and have no link to a mooring where you have a permanent right to return, you do not need to pay council tax. In a residential mooring, you are required to pay council tax as it is your permanent address. This provides you with the convenience of receiving post to your marina.

Do you need a boating license for a houseboat?

All types and sizes of boat with or without a motor need a license. Motorised boats include river boats, canal boats and houseboats.

You must have a Boat Safety Scheme certificate before you purchase a boating license. The BSS is like a boating version of the MOT.

What are the benefits of residential mooring?

Choosing a residential mooring means you can experience the freedom and adventure of narrowboat living without sacrificing any of your home comforts.

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Having a residential mooring gives you that extra feeling of safety and security, knowing you don't need to keep continously moving, and you'll always have a secure marina to come home to where there are plenty of experienced boaters and tradespeople, whether they're your neighbours or the friendly marina team, should you need any help.

Laundry, showers and toilets

With a residential mooring at Barton Marina, you'll have access to our laundry facilities, washrooms and toilets, as well as other amenities such as a chandlery for essential boating items, a mail room, a workshop and the Marina Cafe for light bites, sweet treats and catch ups over coffee as well as moorers events.

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When you live on Barton Marina, you get to call this beautiful location on the Trent & Mersey home, surrounded by the peaceful and rural Staffordshire countryside where there is lots to see and do.

Barton Marina is also home to a host of restaurants, cafés, independent retailers and grocers, so you have everything you need for a comfortable and relaxing experience.

Could I continuously cruise in the summer but find a residential mooring in the winter?

Yes! If you want to spend the summer exploring the British waterways, but don't want to commit to the nomad lifestyle of constantly being on the move all year round, it's a good idea to have a residential mooring to call home for those colder months.

Can I save money if I live on a boat in the UK?

Living on a boat can be cheaper than owning a house or flat. Some expenses you can expect when you live on a narrowboat include boat mortgage payments, insurance, waste management, slip fees, gas and fuel, and your usual expenses such as groceries and entertainment.

You will save on electricity as you're heating and lighting a much smaller space, and you will probably save on waste management, property taxes, gas, and water. Just be mindful that maintenance of your boat can be expensive, and boat insurance can be just as expensive as house insurance depending on the value. The best way to manage your living expenses is by making a budget and sticking to it.

Are there lots of chores involved when you live on a boat?

Water tanks

Narrowboats usually have a water tank at the front of the boat, which provides your water supply. This can be filled up at various water points across the waterways, or in our marina you are provided with a water supply on your mooring.

If you have a steel water tank, it should be well cleaned, relined and treated for any rust every three to five years.

General maintenance

Living aboard a narrowboat includes some regular maintenance. Not only does this include general cleaning and mildew removal, but also refuelling, keeping stocked with calor gas, wood or coal to keep warm, and waste disposal with our elsans and pump outs.

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Bilge water

The bilge is the lowest point in your boat where leaking water accumulates. Water in your bilge can come from condensation, leaky water pipes, and pumps and taps. A bilge pump is used to remove this water that has collected in the bilge. Regularly check your bilge pump to make sure it's working correctly.

Automatic bilge pumps work by switching on automatically if they sense water ingress. They are a great investment if you are planning to leave the boat for long periods of time as they can even help keep the boat afloat whilst you are away, but you should inspect them weekly.

Why does a residential mooring cost more?


The more time you spend on a marina, the more you make use of its facilities and the more it costs to run the marina. That's why there are higher costs involved with a residential mooring compared to a leisure mooring, so you can make use of all the useful amenities all year long.

Maintenance costs

Residential moorings come with increased maintenance costs in comparison to leisure moorings.

Planning permissions for residential moorings have conditions that cost additional money to implement, including providing car parks, conducting ecological surveys, and contributions to local authority.

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Residential moorings are subject to VAT in accordance with HMRC guidelines.

You can find more about this on the GOV.UK website.

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Living on a narrowboat can be a unique and rewarding way of life that offers a sense of freedom and adventure that's hard to find elsewhere. Whether you're seeking a more affordable way of living or simply want to try something different, living on a narrowboat can be a fantastic option.

By acquiring the necessary licenses, finding suitable moorings, and understanding the rules of the waterways, you can enjoy the freedom and flexibility that comes with living on a narrowboat, while also ensuring that you're doing so safely and legally.

If you're considering living on a narrowboat, we encourage you to explore this alternative lifestyle further. There are many resources available to help you get started, including online forums, directories, and narrowboat communities. By doing your research and investing in the right equipment and resources, you can enjoy the unique lifestyle that comes with living on a narrowboat.

We wish you all the best on your journey towards a more fulfilling and adventurous way of life.

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