How to do it - you will have to moor somewhere!
It is possible to live on a narrowboat in one location, and many people do it. However if you don't have an official residential mooring, it can be a very 'insecure' way of life, you can be moved on at any time. Residential moorings do exist, The Canal & River Trust run some, there are privately owned residential moorings and some boatyards and marinas offer some. But the majority of moorings are non residential , meaning that you are not allowed to live aboard.
Residential moorings on canals
For many years British Waterways actively discouraged 'liveaboards'. During the eighties living on a boat was seen, rightly or wrongly, as a way of avoiding rates or poll tax and of getting to the top of the council house waiting lists. The freedom of living afloat with low overheads can appeal to many people who wish to 'turn their back on consumer society'. Equally though, some of the most desirable London properties are floating on the Thames or Regents Canal, and many hard working people retire, sell the house and buy a canal boat to live on and explore their own country. Residential moorings certainly cost more and they are especially difficult to find in urban areas where demand is greater than supply. In cities such as London most accommodation gets advertised and let through the normal property sales and letting channels, estate agents etc.
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 British Waterways to see if they have any residential moorings locally, they are trying to find more residential places. (See contacts)
Many people living on their boats move regularly and claim that they are on an 'extended cruise'. British Waterways had a 'Moorings Code' intended to 'rule out repetitive 'to-ing' and 'froing' within the same geographical area'. This should not create problems for those genuinely cruising the system but by stipulating allowable temporary mooring durations, minimum distance to the next temporary moorings and restrictions on return it will certainly make life difficult for livaboards who wish to stay in the same geographical area. Although the Authorities express sympathy for those who cannot 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'. The legality of insisting that continuous cruising must mean real movement has now been upheld in the courts.
British Waterways (now the Canal & River Trust CRT) will tell you that a continuous cruising licence is intended for those who are moving continuously, and they want to restrict boaters from staying more than a couple of weeks in one place or moving to within a few miles of their last mooring. If you are living on your boat they want you to have an official residential mooring. They don't want you to be living on a boat in one place or shuffling it about to beat the system. Essentially they are not a housing authority and don't want the canal system to get a bad name for having people living in bad conditions outside the normal housing rules and conditions that Local Authorities would apply. And they don’t want boats in various conditions of repair moored along the scenic or urban parts of canals, filling temporary moorings when they are promoting canals for as a leisure attraction. And they do need to generate the maximum income from canals. All of which is understandable.
Continuous cruising can be difficult in winter because of bad weather and canal maintenance closures. British Waterways (CRT) have started making some temporary residential moorings available over the winter, continuous cruisers can stay in one place through the winter, then cruise from spring to autumn.
Dodging the System
You could try moving up and down the local length but CRT, as we've detailed above, will not approve and are now getting more able to stop you. You also need to consider security and access, boats moored on the towpath can be easily broken into when you are out, not too good if you have all your worldly possessions onboard. (It's happened to us!) You should only consider mooring without a residential licence as a temporary solution while you look for a decent permanent mooring. People do live on boats across the canal system without having residential or continuous cruising licences, but it can involve subterfuge, midnight flits and not hanging washing out on Fridays etc!