The costs of living on a canal boat?

People live on canal boats for many reasons. For some liveaboards their canal boat is like a permanent holiday home, somewhere to escape to. For others living afloat essentially enables a friendlier and simpler lifestyle. And for many reducing their living costs is the important thing.

The real costs of living on your boat depend on why you want to move, how you want to enjoy your boat and, of course, on what you can afford!

Is living on a narrowboat cheaper than living in a house?

‘Yes’ – for most people.

  • Boats are generally cheaper to buy or rent, buy an old cruiser for a few hundred pounds!
  • Moorings usually are cheaper than property taxes, even free as long as you keep cruising!
  • But you will need a waterways licence, to cruise or moor on most rivers and canals.
  • Boats, like houses, need maintaining. Many liveaboards expect to do their own maintenance.
  • Boat running costs can be less, mainly because boats are usually smaller and simpler.
  • And not all ‘costs’ are financial. Living afloat you’ll probably have less room, less facilities, less security. Simply less of the handy stuff we expect from land based living. This can be a big price to pay!

Living costs can still be considerable; expensive moorings, waterway licences, paying rent or maybe buying, maintaining and adapting a boat to keep it suitable for living aboard. But when you compare those costs with home ownership, living on a narrowboat can seem a cost effective alternative.

What are the costs of living afloat?

Firstly you need to find a suitable boat.

For potential liveaboards with a substantial budget, perhaps from an inheritance or house sale, a budget of £50,000 upwards should give a choice of larger, well equipped boats in decent condition.

Those searching for inner city accommodation finding themselves priced out of the rocketing housing market are often forced to rent. Because boat prices can be much lower, and since there is no regulated boat rental market, many consider buying a boat to live on. A budget of £20,000 – £30,000 could buy a suitable and comfortable (albeit older or ex-hire) boat and then spend time and money converting and maintaining it. Some spend a lot less! See our Finding your Liveaboard Boat page.

Now you have to consider your Running Costs.

Boat Size , when buying a boat bear in mind that most running costs depend on the size of the boat.

Mooring fees vary greatly depending on the location of the marina or mooring, size of your boat, type of mooring and the facilities available. Annual moorings could vary from £1500 for an ‘online’ rural mooring without facilities to over £4,000 in an average marina, or much more in a desirable London location. Notice that a licence to moor your boat is not the same as a licence to live on your boat. Marinas and moorings which do offer residential moorings will often carry a considerable surcharge.


The Canal and River Trust (CRT) issue licences for most navigable canals and some rivers, like the River Severn. Their Annual Cruising Licence currently costs between £600 and £1300 depending on the length of your boat. There are surcharges for boats wider than narrowboats. A restricted Rivers Only licence costs between about £50 and £800. See the CRT website for details.

The Environment Agency (EA) issue licences for some other waterways including the River Thames. fees vary by waterway, see the EA website.

Other Authorities issue licences for other waterways, such as the Fens.

Waterway Licences give you the right to float your boat on canals or rivers and (usually) to use the locks and facilities. There are a wide range of licences with annual prices ranging from a few pounds to a few thousand pounds, see our grey WATERWAY LICENCES Information Box.

Maintenance costs for engine and boat upkeep will depend on how much work you are able to do yourself. See our Boatowner Advice pages. Engine annual servicing on a marina could cost £250 upwards, but materials for DIY costing under £100. A three yearly docking for blacking and anode replacement on a steel hulled boat could cost from about £700 to over £4,000 depending on boat length and materials used, a DIY docking probably about half that. And remember those consumables like batteries which could cost £400 or more every three or four years. Over a longer period of ten years or more boat cabins, decks and roofs will need repainting. A full professional repaint including signwriting can cost over £6,000, a DIY paint job from about half that.

Marine Insurance is required to licence a boat. This could vary between about £250 for basic third party cover to over £1,000 for fully comprehensive residential cover. Valuable items on board such as watches or cameras may need to be individually listed to be covered. In some cases an out of water survey can be required before cover is provided which could cost over £1,000.

Residential mooring liveaboards

A Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) Examination must be passed every four years by most boats. BSS Examiners charge from about £150 plus then there are the costs of any repairs or updates.

Power for lighting, heating and cooking may come from a variety of sources. If you are in a marina you are likely to be paying for electric hook-up which may cost more than a domestic supply. Out on the cut you may need to run your engine to charge batteries and heat water, so there is the cost of diesel and the cost of gas for cooking. Add in coal and wood for heating and all of that is likely to be at least £1,000 and possibly over £3,000 a year, depending on how comfortable you like to be!

Burning fallen timber just costs some hard work with a chainsaw but requires somewhere to store the wood until it is dry enough to burn. And you’d better get up early, there’s a lot of competition for that wood!

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

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