If you’ve clicked onto this article, then you must be here to learn how to live on a canal boat.
Are we geniuses (genie-i?), or is it fate? Who knows…
One thing we do know is that you’ll find all the answers and more right here, setting you up for life on the water with ease.
Having lived on a canal boat for the past 6 months, I have all the necessary information fresh at the front of my mind for you to soak up and literally ‘take onboard’.
I’m here to run you through the dos, don’ts, and how’s of canal boat living.
Don’t forget the where’s and why’s too!
And, as I learn more, I’ll be back here to update the article with more pearls of wisdom.
Though probably, it’ll mainly involve scenarios where I’ve ended up like a right ti… I mean, fool.
So, let’s crack on and learn how to live on a canal boat from a bona fide boater learning the hard way…
… that’s me, incase you were wondering.
Featured image: @thewoodlandcarver
How To Buy A Canal Boat?
If you’re wondering how to live on a canal boat, then the chances are you’re thinking about buying one.
The process of buying a canal boat or narrowboat can be pretty daunting, especially when you’re talking about spending thousands of pounds or looking into marine finance.
Still, help is at hand. Don’t worry; there are plenty of places to look for your new floating home.
For starters, Apollo Duck is a great website to search for potential canal boats. It’s basically Auto Trader for boats and features both private and marine brokerage listings all over the world.
It always pays to check out marina brokerage companies in your area too, as not everyone choses to advertise through Apollo Duck. There are so many throughout the country that searching can quickly become addictive…
… I think my screen time went up by about 300% while buying mine!
One thing I will say is that boats go very quickly. You’ve got to move fast if you want to snap up the perfect home.
Some companies like Great Haywood Boat Sales offer a deposit system, allowing you free reign to view a boat without anyone else swooping in to take it form under your nose.
Still, a lot of brokerage companies work on a first-come-first-served basis, as do sellers on Facebook and eBay, so get a move on!
How Do I Get Finance For A Canal Boat?
At some point while considering how to live on a canal boat, you’re going to have to take a deep breath and look at your bank balance.
It might not be pretty, but might as well do it sooner or later!
We’re not here to tell you how to pay for a canal boat, but we do know that for many people, marine finance provides the ways and means of purchasing their dream boat.
It’s no different from getting a mortgage, after all…
… though it is a heck of a lot cheaper!
There are two companies that spring to mind when considering applying for marine finance; Pegasus, and Promarine Finance. They provide loans against boats that you’re looking to buy and have useful loan calculator tools on their websites.
N.B I should point out at this point that Tiny Home Hub aren’t affiliated to either of these companies or being paid to mention them. These are just two companies that I’ve contacted in the past for information.
Of course, it’s always easier to purchase a boat if you have the cash ready and waiting. Some sellers prefer ‘cash buyers’ or those with the funds in their bank, as there isn’t the chance of finance falling through.
‘Cash is king’ as my uncle always says. And in the narrowboat world, he’s not wrong!
How To Insure A Canal Boat?
Insuring a canal boat is one of the main legal requirements for life on the water. So, if you’ve come to this article on how to live on a canal boat and haven’t even thought about insurance, then get your head in the game.
Insuring a canal boat is a little like insuring a lawn mower. Both move slowly, both are very unlikely to crash, but you should really be covered if you do plough into someone or it sets on fire.
At the end of the day (it’s night time?), a canal boat is a moving vehicle, so you need insurance for it.
I asked lots of people about which the best insurance company was and got lots of different answers.
The reality is that most people never have to claim on their insurance, so they don’t know how good the companies they are with actually are!
In the end, I went with a company called CraftInsure. The process was super simple, the price for a 60ft boat was 12.50 per month, and they were a pleasure to deal with via email.
Open our article on how much does it cost to live on a canal boat on a new tab for when you’ve finished reading this one!
Should I Get A Canal Boat Survey?
Yes, you most definitely should get a canal boat survey.
Whatever you do, make sure you get a narrowboat surveyor to come and look at your canal boat before you part with any cash. That is the most important bit of advice on how to live on a canal boat that I can give you.
I wish that people did a similar process when buying cars. I always get advice from my friend who is a mechanic when purchasing a new vehicle as it’s often hard to know what to look for.
It’s even harder to look for corroded anodes or cracked hulls when half the boat is submerged in water too!
A marine surveyor will require your chosen narrowboat to be pulled out of the water at a dry dock. Not all marinas have them, so look for one nearby to the boat you’re searching for.
If it’s already in a marina with a brokerage attached, then you might well be in luck!
Narrowboat surveyors look at steel density, overall structure, and whether the boat is safe to live on, all things you need to know before you part with thousands of pounds worth of hard-earned cash!
Which Side Of The Canal Do I Drive My Canal Boat?
Canal boats must be driven on the right-hand side of the canal, creating two lines of flowing floating traffic.
That’s a simple answer, and there’s not really more you need to know!
Remember to put your engine on tick over when going past moored boats. That basically means crawling past so you don’t end up rocking their floating home and knocking all their plates onto the floor.
How To Continuously Cruise On A Canal Boat?
For many people, this is one of the most important questions to consider when planning how to live on a canal boat. It’s no surprise, as lots of people chose this lifestyle as its a cheaper way to live…
… and can you blame them? I did the same thing because I value a life without stress where I can spend time more time living my life!
There are rules to follow, however.
For starters, you’ll need to get a long-term boat license. That’s non-negotiable and can be bought from the Canal River Trust website.
Boaters continuously cruising must try to keep moving along the canal and not just shimmy up and down the same spot. You should aim to move a total of 20 miles along the countries waterways over a period of 12 months.
It’s also expected that you don’t spend more than 14 days in one area unless notified otherwise. Some visitor moorings explain that you can only stay for 48 hours, so bear this in mind when arriving at a new spot.
It’s expected that you stick to these rules on ‘good faith’ and don’t overstay your welcome.
I will say that continuously cruising can be tough at times though, especially in winter.
Battling with swing bridges with cold wet hands, only to realise that all your wood is damp and your coal has fallen into the canal can be stressful, especially when (not if) you fall in.
Still, nothing worth having is ever easy, and it’s not always like that… just sometimes.
How To Find A Marina Mooring On A Canal Boat?
Marina moorings can be as rare as hens teeth… which is to say impossible to get hold of.
That’s not always the case, however, especially if you look for moorings in the Spring when Winter moorers are taking to the canal once more to cruise England’s canal network.
The best thing to do is to ring up a couple of marinas and speak to them directly. They may know of someone who is thinking about leaving or have an idea if someone on the marina is thinking of selling their boat.
That could leave you with a mooring and a potential boat to look around!
You might find that lots of marinas require you to go on a waiting list. Again, it’s worth doing for the right spot.
Plus, you can always give up your position if you find somewhere else.
Many marinas require you to have a ‘bricks and mortar’ address, even if you’re planning living on your canal boat full time.
Better speak to a family member or friend and see what you can sort out!
How Do I Get Clean Water On A Canal Boat?
It’s important to know how to get clean water when you’re considering how to live on a canal boat.
This answer depends on how you live on your boat. Every boat has a water tank, some bigger than others.
If you’re living on a marina, then every birth usually has running water via a tap on the end of the jetty. It’s just a case of running a hose along your boat to the water tank and turning on the tap!
Continuous cruisers don’t have instant access to fresh water wherever they are, which is why they tend to carry extra water in canisters and jerrycans. These can be stored on the stern or the bow, wherever your tank is situated.
Getting water isn’t tough; there are taps everywhere. If you have a pumpout toilet or a porta-potti, then the chances are you’re going to need to empty it at an Elsan point in a marina en-route from time to time.
Tanks can run low pretty quickly, especially when taking regular showers and cooking. It’s just a case of having enough water to keep you going in the mean time until you pass the next fill-up spot!
Where Does My Dirty Water Go On A Canal Boat?
You might be shocked to know that your dirty, or ‘grey water’, goes into the canal, but that’s just how it is.
All canal boats are built the same way. Water from washing machines, your sink, the shower, and cooking utensils can go into the canal.
Obviously, it’s a good idea to use environmentally friendly products, so bear that in mind when doing the weekly shop.
Oily water, fuel, and basically anything that could be harmful to animals and the environment shouldn’t be emptied into the canal.
Just use your noggin and don’t do anything stupid, and you’ll be fine.
How Do I Empty A Canal Boat Toilet?
Not in the canal, that’s for sure! Boaters use Elsan points to empty their toilets.
I touched upon this a little earlier, but if you’re desperate to empty your loo and skipped ahead to this section, then here it is.
Black water, i.e the stuff in your porta-potti tank or in your waste tank, must be emptied in designated stations up and down the canal. More often than not, pumpout stations have a cassette emptying area next to them.
If pumping out, there’s usually a hose to pump water into the tank to break everything up, making it easier to suck out. Insert a tube, press a button, and let the system do the rest.
Emptying a cassette toilet is easier though can be a little messy, especially if you mistime your pour…
… hey, we’ve all done it! That’s why I wear wellies when emptying my loo now…
Just remember to leave toilet emptying stations as you found them, unless they weren’t clean when you found them… then leave them clean!
How To Get Electricity On A Canal Boat?
Again, the answer to this questions depends on how you want to live on your canal boat.
If you’re planning on continuously cruising, then the chances are that most of your devices will be 12V. It’s the same for camper vans too.
Whether living in a marina or continuously cruising, solar panels are a great way of getting free electricity for powering 12V devices. They keep batteries topped up, which in turn powers inverters that convert 12V electricity to 240V.
It’s all a little complicated if you’ve never done it before, so let me break it down.
- Cruising with the engine on charges batteries via a split charge relay.
- Solar panels provide electricity and top batteries up.
- 12V appliances use less electricity, which means you have to charge batteries less often.
Boaters in a marina have the luxury of hooking up to an electricity supply. The cost is set by the marina, and boaters can usually top up their account themselves.
This is why marinas are often full during the winter. With less sunlight for solar panels to soak up, sometimes it’s just less stressful to rely on shoreline power.
It’s not cheating, it’s just making life easier!
How Do I Heat A Canal Boat?
One of the questions we get the most when people ask us how to live on a canal boat is how to keep one warm.
Log burners are by far the most common method. And they make an amazing feature piece too!
I’ve always used smokeless fuel on the log burner, and it heats the boat up a treat. With a stove fan on top, it can easily keep the whole boat aired and makes winter evenings super cosy.
Of course, if you’re continuously cruising, then finding bits of wood to burn on the towpath is a piece of cake.
As is getting coal. Did you know that Coal Boats are a thing?
They trundle up and down the canal selling gas, coal, kindling, logs, and all sorts of goods that you might find at a chandlery.
Alternatively, you can pick up coal at some marinas or from local businesses.
Other boaters use diesel heaters to keep their boats warm. Sometimes having instant heat is a godsend, especially when you’re trying to make a kindling tower with numb fingers!
How To Stay Cool On A Canal Boat?
Through-draughts are a boaters best friend. Unless it’s cold, that is, then replace ‘through-drafts’ with fire.
Opening doors on both the bow and the stern and creating a through-draught is the best way to keep a boat cool. Keep windows open and blinds down on sides where the sun is shining, and make sure you have a couple of fans to hand.
If you have a freezer, then fill a bottle full of ice and place it behind the fan. That’s a bona fide boaters AC unit right there!
How To Keep A Pet Cool On A Canal Boat?
Boaters and dogs go hand in hand. It’s just one of those unwritten rules, and there’s nothing better than having a furry friends on board to share adventures with.
Keeping a pooch cool in the summer can be tough, especially when you live in a big hunk of floating steel.
Fans are essential. I only had one through hot patches during the summer, and guess who out of me and the dog got the cool air?
It wasn’t me…
Wet tea towels are also a good idea, as are cooling mats if you can get your dog to sit on one.
How To Keep A Canal Boat Clean?
Are you a clean and tidy person? If you’re wondering how to live on a canal boat, then I’m afraid you’re going to have to be!
Tiny spaces can get dirty real quickly, so it’s important to keep on top of your cleaning and chores and not let them get on top of you!
Remember the dirty water going into the canal section above?
Well, using cleaning products like Method and Ecover are important when cleaning your narrowboat. They’re kind to the environment and smell awesome too.
And who doesn’t want a boat that smells awesome?
Cordless vacuums are a lifesaver. Just being able to speed down the central corridor without faffing around makes everything easier.
Listen, it’s not rocket science. Get a routine, keep things clean, and look after wooden surfaces with the proper polish.
How To Cook On A Canal Boat?
Considering how to live on a canal boat but worried you’ll have to give up oven chips?
One of the most exciting things about moving from a van into a boat was having the space for an oven. Boat ovens, along with the hobs on top,hook up to a gas bottle in the bow of the boat.
A 13kg gas bottle lasts me around 3 months. That’s with cooking meals, showering, and using hot water for washing up.
Cooking on a canal boat is just like cooking in a house. The main difference is that the gas ends up being cheaper!
A 13kg gas bottle costs around £35, which is cheap compared to £35-50 a month on gas in a house!
How To Get Hot Water On A Canal Boat?
I’ve touched on this in the section above, but a lot of narrowboats have calorifier tanks. Using the gas from the bottle in the bow, tiny home lovers can get hot water on their floating homes for showers and baths.
Yes, you can have a bath on a boat too!
Some boaters need to run their engine to get hot water, a system that ensures continuous cruisers have hot water when they get to their end destination.
Where there’s a will, there’s a way!
Is It Easy To Sleep On A Canal Boat?
It’s easy to sleep on a canal boat, and once laid down, you don’t even notice the rocking.
Not that canal boats rock violently like a ship in the ocean. It’s more of a gentle swaying, but I never notice it once in bed.
Most narrowboats have a small double bed, though sleeping quarters differ between builds.
How Do I Use Canal Swing Bridges?
Swing bridges are essentially bridges on pivots. They can be moved by manually pushing/pulling a long lever or using a motorised system.
In most cases, swing bridges require a CRT key to unlock. That’s to prevent anyone from just messing around with them.
Swing bridges often provide access to roads or footpaths and must be closed after use.
How Do I Use Canal Locks?
Canal locks are the toughest bits to get to grips with and often scare new boaters. They’re one of those things that you need to get on and do in order to get over the fear, like a skydive or eating your grandma’s dodgy cooking.
Locks essentially allow boaters to rise up to a higher canal level or drop down to a lower canal level. They save boaters riding down hills log flume-style or getting stuck trying to chug up a hill.
Essentially, boaters enter one side, close a gate, allow the water level to rise or lower, and then continue out the other side.
Locks take around 15 minutes to navigate through in most cases. If, however, you’re a seasoned boater, you might shave this down a little.
How Do I Sign Up To A Doctor’s Surgery While Living On A Canal Boat?
There is actually a law that states that boaters are able to register at any doctors surgery, though convincing some practice managers will require a lot of printed sheets and long discussions.
If living in a marina, proof of your ‘long-term residence’ is often enough to get you registered.
There’s even a Covid-19 vaccination barge floating around for people to get their jabs if they don’t have a fixed address.
Can I Get Parcels Delivered To A Canal Boat?
Yes; if you live in a marina, then you can get parcels delivered to your canal boat.
Continuous cruisers don’t have it as easy, unfortunatley. It’s hard to give the postman directions when you’re never in the same place!
Systems such as Amazon Lockers and Parcel Shop Drop-off points are a boaters best friend. Ask members of the community if you’re unsure where your nearest drop-off points are!
And that’s a wrap!
Thanks for checking out this article covering all aspects of how to live on a canal boat. As I said at the beginning, I’ll be coming back periodically to add more information to this article as I learn it (undoubtedly the hard way).
I hope it’s answered all of your questions about canal living, and good luck with your new floating home adventure!