Finding and buying a canal boat to live aboard

Choosing a boat to live on is a big decision, lots of options about something you may not have any experience of. So do your research, there’s plenty of information online and talk to some liveaboards if you can. Time spent now could avoid later expenses and heartaches.

  • Buying a boat lets you adapt a boat to how you want it, it usually won’t come with a mooring.
  • Boat Rental is largely unregulated and standards often poor. Do your research and take care.
  • Decisions – your budget, boat age, how much room, what facilities, and can you DIY?
  • Cruising or moored? – you should probably be looking for a boat with different features.
  • Steel boats can be easier to keep warm and dry, fibreglass boats are usually cheaper.

Buying a canal boat or narrowboat to live aboard.

You could buy a well equipped new narrowboat designed for living afloat with all conveniences for £150,000 or more. Or you could buy a reasonably habitable second-hand boat from about £20,000 upwards, more comfort and space and features pushing that up to £70,000 plus. Your budget will obviously be an important factor! See our full advice section on Buying a Canal Boat.

Most relatively modern boats (say last 15 years) are reasonably well equipped and can probably be lived on as well as cruised for a few weeks as designed. Most boats on canals have to have a valid ‘Boat Safety Scheme Certificate of Compliance’ which is basically evidence of a fairly recent expert examination of gas, electric, heating, ventilation and fuel systems to make sure there are no major dangers.

The most sensible advice is to get a marine survey done before you buy. The Boat Safety Scheme Certificate of Compliance tells you nothing about the condition of the hull or cabin or engine for instance. There is a list of marine surveyors in the Contacts section of Canal Junction. There are various types of ‘in  water’ and ‘out of water’ surveys which start from a cost of about a few hundred pounds. You may need to be add the cost of the dry docking. You can see details of the Boat Safety Scheme at

Alternatives to buying

Rent a boat and mooring

In London and elsewhere you can find privately owned moored boats advertised to let. But renting a boat, unlike housing rental, is largely unregulated – in fact it isn’t legally ‘renting’ at all – see here or here for a legal explanation. Get a contract, make sure the boat belongs to the ‘rentor’ and is on a residential mooring. All lived-on boats not on a registered residential mooring must find a new mooring every few weeks.

Long Term Hire

Some firms offer boats on extended hire, 6 months or more, a decent option if you want to try cruising for a few months without the hassle of buying and selling the boat.

Narrowboat Exchanges

You can also swap your house for a Canal Boat for a Holiday for a trial, see Holiday Exchanges.

Choosing the right liveaboard boat

Private boats have often been well looked after and had relatively little usage. Quality of maintenance may be variable. Retired hire boats are often available at lower prices and usually have been well equipped and maintained. Hulls may be worn but can be patch welded, engines and fittings may be tired. Get a steel hull and cabin unless you are prepared to put up with leaks above and below the water! Old fibreglass cruisers can be very cheap but often lack insulation, ventilation and heating.

Ex hire boats and many other canal boats were built to holiday on for just few weeks. For a liveaboard boat check for adequate watertank and waste capacity, storage, permanent bedrooms, mains wiring, insulation, ventilation and heating. List your requirements and rate each boat you see against those requirements. There are plenty of boats, don’t buy the first you see and regret it later!

Places to buy a second hand boat to live on

When looking for a second hand boat many people go to narrowboat brokers. Visiting boat brokerages could let you see and compare 30 or more boats in a single location, see our Boat Sales page. That gives you a great opportunity to compare layouts and features and decide which will suit you best.

Of course boats may be put up for sale privately; advertising in the Media, Waterways Magazines and online Listings and Auction sites.

Wherever you buy you should satisfy yourself that the person selling the boat owns the boat or has the right to legally sell it on. Unlike motor vehicles, boats are not covered by any registration scheme. Buying through a reputable broker/ marina based seller may provide an element of confidence in this respect, though in many cases they are only acting as brokers, they do not own the boat themselves which may limit their responsibilities if something goes wrong. Importantly consider getting the boat surveyed by a fully qualified surveyor, who should also be able to offer advice on safe buying practices. This is equally important if you are buying a new boat, see our listings of Boatbuilders.

Narrowboat market values have been very strong recently, due to more people staying home and holidaying in the UK, and to the increasing demand for liveaboard boats. Prices may also vary significantly depending on where you are in the UK, it may be worth travelling outside your local area to see boats.

Well equipped boat and dog!
Well equipped boat and dog!

All materials and images © Canal Junction Ltd. Dalton House, 35 Chester St, Wrexham LL13 8AH. No unauthorised reproduction.

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