Buying a new or used canal boat

Buying any canal boat is a big financial decision and also there are many ways to become a boat owner.
An early choice you have to make to make is whether to buy a new or used boat. You may think that cost alone may decide you, but some new boats will cost less than some used boats, so that isn't the only consideration.
If you go for a new boat you could choose between a 'bespoke' boat built to your specification, or an 'off the shelf' design. Bespoke boats mean a lot of planning and waiting, you could be cruising your off the shelf new boat almost immediately.
Or you could buy a standard hull and have it fitted out to your design, or fit it out yourself.
Buying a used boat gives you a huge choice of styles and fit outs and prices. And new owners may find it easier to buy a used boat first so they can work out what they would want before they buy a new boat.

Buy a new canal boat or a used canal boat??

Prices - new boats cost £1000 per foot, so a 50 foot craft will set you back £50,000. Second-hand boats of this size can be bought for £30,000 upwards. If buying from new, check the financial stability of the boatyard before putting in your order. Also shop around and compare costs and warranties in the same way you would for any other goods or services.

Contract - once you’ve placed an order, ensure you have a secure contract. This releases ownership of the boat in stages as the build progresses. Most builders use a British Marine Federation Standard Contract which details when money is to change hands and allows possession of some of the completed work should the builder fail.

If buying a used boat - register with a number of brokerages, this will enable you to compare prices and alert you to anything coming up for sale that meets your criteria. Also speak to brokers’ past customers; they’re always great for feedback.

Hull – check it’s been made by a reputable builder and that it meets the traditional 10/6/4mm plating or steel thickness specification; 10mm is the thickness of steel used on the bottom of the hull, 6mm is the sides and 4mm is the roof.

General maintenance - does the boat’s general condition show it’s been well-looked after? What condition is the engine and gearbox in? Are there any leaks or drips from the stern gear? If there are, it may need repacking or adjusting.

Engines - Newer boats tend to be fitted with water-cooled diesel engines, whilst older craft carry noisier air-cooled engines or vintage models. Vintage engines are common on boats over 40 foot.

Condition - Check out the paintwork and varnishing and find out when it was last ‘blacked’ (taken into dry dock, pressure washed and had the hull protected with two coats of bitumen). And what about the onboard equipment, is the fridge, cooker, heating system and shower well-maintained and in good working order?

Batteries – three leisure batteries and one starter battery is usually the norm and it’s worthwhile checking if there’s a battery management system. This regulates the flow of current into the batteries, resulting in greater efficiencies. You also need to ensure the boat has an inverter to convert 12 volt battery power to 240 volts. Without it, you’ll be unable to run electrical equipment such as a television or hair dryer, unless you’re plugging into a marina’s power supply.

Ropes – are there central, fore and aft ropes for easy mooring and is there a windlass (lock key) and mooring pins for staking into the ground?

Survey – it’s prudent to have the boat surveyed by a qualified Marine Surveyor who will advise on any faults or problems on the hull and within the boat’s internal systems. The surveyor will measure the depth of the steel in the hull under the waterline and advise on its condition, in relation to age. A survey is carried out with the boat in dry dock and usually costs up to around £800. A haul-out is in the region of £200.

Buying a Canal Boat Guide Part 3 - The costs of owning a canal boat

Buying a used or new narrowboat


Boat Safety Certificate - applicable to craft over four years-old. This confirms the basic safety systems relating to the engine installation, ventilation, heating, gas, electrics and fire extinguishers, for example, have been checked and approved. If you don’t have this, you won’t be able to apply for a British Waterways Licence.

Recreational Craft Directive
A boat under four years-old requires a certificate showing it conforms to the Recreational Craft Directive (Class D Inland Waters). This confirms it’s been built to Approved standards.

Ask the Experts

Ask the experts
View this and other Guides at (click on boat, then boat tips) and for insurance advice call 0800 515629 or 01743 284664. Lines are open 9am - 7pm weekdays/9am - 1pm Saturday (from April to September) and 9am – 5pm the remainder of the year.


Canal boat owners taking out Towergate’s Fresh Waters policy can either purchase River Canal Rescue support at a discounted rate or opt for a higher level of policy cover and receive it automatically.





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