The costs of living on a canal boat
Living aboard a narrowboat and continuously cruising our UK canals can be a wonderful way of life, free to move and change the view from the window whenever you want, we know, we've done it since 1995! But what does it really cost?
Is living aboard a narrowboat cheaper than living in a house?
YES for most people. Although I often describe narrowboating as being either a very expensive hobby OR a very cheap way of life. Sure moorings can be expensive, as can Waterway Licences, not to mention the initial cost of buying a narrowboat and kitting it out to be suitable for living aboard. But when you compare these costs with home ownership, living aboard a narrowboat can be a very cost effective alternative. BUT and it's a BIG BUT, I would not recommend that people move onto a narrowboat home UNLESS they are also very committed to the lifestyle and values that go along with living aboard a narrowboat. Those committed to the change of lifestyle are likely to succeed with real contentment - To assume that you will be happy just and merely because it is cheaper to be on a narrowboat rather than living in a house is a false premise. WE HAVE SEEN PEOPLE TRY THIS AND IT DON'T WORK - THEY DON'T LAST!
What are the costs of moving aboard?
Well first you need to buy your narrowboat. With a substantial budget, perhaps from sale of a house, you might pay well over £70,000 for a narrowboat but ……….. it won't necessarily make you a successful 'liveaboard'. Equally we see people limited to a budget of £20,000 - £30,000 buy a very suitable and comfortable (albeit older) narrowboat and take to the lifestyle like the proverbial duck to canal.
Other costs include the British Waterways annual pleasure cruising licence (a fee that changes annually so check their licensing site); Insurance - possibly £250 - £500; and if not "continuously cruising" mooring fees which could be £1200pa for an ‘online’ mooring in rural areas (farmer’s field), or perhaps £3000pa in an average….. marina, or up to "costa bloody fortune" London area. Obviously there are ongoing maintenance costs for engine and boat upkeep. But that will probably be much less than properly maintaining a house with council tax added on.
If in a modern marina you are likely to be paying for electric hook-up (in the past, those meters could wiz round very fast, but I understand that regulations are now in place to prevent that from happening unfairly). Out on the cut, if continuously cruising, you will need to run your engine to charge batteries and heat water, so there is the cost of red diesel (the cost per litre depends on where you buy it – we have noticed differences of more than 30p per litre between marinas situated less than 10 miles from each other). EU rules have forced red diesel prices up but it does need to be said that narrowboat diesel engines don’t tend to consume anything like the amount of diesel that road vehicles do. To put this into context – as a commercial cruising hotelboat we use approx 10 litres of diesel per day (and that’s for a full 8 hours of cruising). Try driving your car for 8 hours on 10 litres of fuel. Also remember that, out on the cut, your diesel engine will also be generating all your domestic 12v battery power (and charging the inverter battery banks) - not to mention heating your domestic hot water, presuming your boat has the normal calorifier set up (so diesel costs offset marina mains electric hook up costs). We fill up perhaps every three weeks or so - compare that with your car. On the subject of cars - until we went hotelboating we didn't have, or want, a car when we were just living aboard (think of the saving of no road tax or insurance to pay). We frequently go shopping in the boat - there are shops adjacent to the canals.
Heating bills - well some coal perhaps. We use about two 25kg bags of coal per week (approx £10) in winter. This cost can be reduced by burning wood (fallen trees / branches found on the cut), the cost being only a bit of sweat - personally I'm too lazy to bother.
Do Narrowboat Prices, and 'liveaboard' costs vary in differing parts of the UK?
Market forces are market forces. I'm sure some brokers would disagree, but in my opinion there is a big differential. I am quite sure that in the South narrowboats can be very expensive (Home Counties house prices influences and 'supply & demand') . I think that in the Midlands (heart of the UK canal system) things do tend to be a bit more sensible. We have bought three personal narrowboats now. The two that we have sold were both bought cheaply or reasonably in the midlands and sold for a premium price in Surrey. One boat boat purchased for £12,000 from a respected broker near Middlewich, sold 12 months later for £18,500 - try matching that return on the stock market. Living costs once on the canals can vary a bit from area to area (differing diesel / pump out costs etc) - but not to a huge extent. Mooring costs in the London and surrounding areas will be very costly - but then housing costs there are even more costly. I should mention that I have observed second hand narrowboat prices suffering a bit of a dip in the recent years, but I think that the price explosion of earlier years had gone a bit ‘too far’.