The Real Cost Of Living On A Narrowboat

The Real Cost Of Living On A Narrowboat

Do you want to live on a narrowboat because you think it’s a low cost different to living in a house? Living on a narrowboat is a fantastic lifestyle choice but the cost is possibly a simply you expected. In this article ALL of the costs are detailed and explained.

Below, I have detailed the general narrowboat costs that you will incur followed by some specific costs that I have faced since moving onto narrowboat James in April 2010.


Your narrowboat will probably be your largest financial investment after your dry land home. If you want a brand new narrowboat designed and fitted out to your own specifications you can pay in excess of £100,000. You will be able to pick up a decent second hand boat of about 60′ appropriate for living aboard for about £40,000.

The majority of narrowboat owners have a boat in addition to a house. Some though fund the cost of their boat from the sale of their house. Whichever way you choose to fund your boast buy, make sure you include any monthly finance repayment amounts in your calculations.

I provide a link to the very best place to research narrowboat prices and specifications in this article on my web site. Last time I looked, there were eight hundred narrowboats for sale.


Insurance for your boat is a legal requirement. You can find a list of narrowboat insurers on the site. Please observe that your intention to live on your narrowboat and the age of the boat will have an impact on the insurance cost so must be declared.


Your car needs an MOT both as a legal requirement and as a regular check to make sure that it is safe to use. Your narrowboat needs a Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) Certificate when it is four years old and every four years after that. Again, tHere’s some very good information about the examination, the likely cost and what you need to do to prepare for it on my site.


You have to buy a British Waterways license if your narrowboat uses the canals of England and Wales. The fee is dependant on the length of your boat. At the time of writing (November 2010), the annual fee for 62′ long James is £804.48 with an £80 discount for prompt payment. You also need to pay a fee to use the rivers that connect some of the canals (e.g. the Thames). British Waterways is responsible for river Avon, Soar, Ouse, Severn and Ure. The ecosystem Agency controls river Thames, Medway, Nene, Great Ouse, Ancholme, Glen, Welland and Stour. British Waterways offer their Gold License which allows you to travel on all the waterways controlled by British Waterways and the Enviroment Agency. The 2010 fee for a 62′ narrowboat is £967 for payment in complete or £1,039 if paid by direct debit installments. You can find more details about British Waterways licenses here


River Canal Rescue offer breakdown cover for boat owners. They offer three levels of cover; bronze, silver and gold ranging in cost from £55 to £160 a year.

Bronze cover simply registers your boat on their database. You pay additional fees for call outs and for towing you to the closest marina if they can’t easily repair your boat. Silver and Gold membership give you additional sets and benefits such as an annual engine inspection (instead of a service).

It’s basic cover for you if you don’t like to get too close to your engine or if your craft is a little long in the tooth.


Mooring fees vary enormously but you can get an idea of the likely fees by the mooring location and the facilities on offer. A bankside mooring with no water or electricity is going to cost far less than a expansive mooring in a picturesque marina with all mod cons. At Calcutt Boats the fee for the older Locks marina is approximately £2,090 for a 60′ boat. In the newer more expansive Meadows marina the standard docks are £2,300 or £2,683 for the 70′ moorings.

Mooring fees are usually based on a single improvement payment. There are often options to pay quarterly or monthly but they ill cost you more. Please observe that many marinas also charge an additional amount for “high usage” so make sure you check the small print before you commit yourself.


I don’t use diesel heating so don’t have any first hand experience. Work colleague and fellow moorer Anthony on his posh boat Second Sister does. He claims that he uses an average of 1/4 litre per hour over a 24 hour period or six litres per day. Diesel for heating is currently 78p per litre at Calcutt Boats.


I don’t get out much so use very little propulsion duel. I am dependably informed though that, when cruising, you will use 1 – 1.5 litres of diesel per hour. Propulsion diesel is currently about £1.30 per litre

Please observe that when you pay for your diesel, you will be asked to sign a declaration. Not all boats have separate tanks for propulsion and heating so the boatyard doesn’t know which part of your boat will use the fuel. Propulsion and heating diesel are identical but attract different levels of duty. The accepted divided is 60% propulsion, 40% heating. So, if you put 100 litres into your tank, you will be charged 60 litres at the propulsion rate (about £1.30 per litre) and 40 litres at the heating rate (78p per litre). However, some boatyards allow you to declare a different divided. In theory, you can declare 100% for heating and pay for all of your fuel at the lower rate. In case of a government inspection though you need to be able to justify it.


Every two to three years you will need to take your boat out of the water to “black” the hull. Blacking is a term used for the time of action of applying several coats of bitumen or other coal tar based paint to prevent rust. You can paint the hull yourself or ask a boatyard to do it for you. Either way, your boat will need to be removed from the water so that the work can be done. You should budget £400 – £500 for both removing your boat and having the work done for you.


Just like your car, your boat needs to be serviced. And just like your car, the cost of those sets can vary enormously. Here at Calcutt Boats, the cost of a service ranges from £60 – £160 plus parts.


The costs detailed below are real costs. Every narrowboat related expense has been recorded by me since moving aboard narrowboat James. Each narrowboat’s day to day running costs will vary depending on the boat’s age, condition and equipment on board and equipment usage so let me tell you a little about James.

In boating terms, James is an old girl. Built in 1975 with a steel hull and composite top, she’s 62′ long and has seen better days. James hadn’t been used more than two or three times in the past ten years before I started to live on board complete time in April 2010. consequently she was in need of some TLC and was very damp.

Because she hadn’t been used or maintained for such a long time, the windows and roof vents leaked and there was water seeping into the boat by the skin. The substantial fuel stove (which heats four radiators along one side), had a cracked glass plate and leaks in the flu.

All of the above meant that keeping warm and dry was a problem. The stove has now been refurbished and the windows and roof vents sealed. I think that there’s nevertheless a leak somewhere on the roof channelling water behind the cladding, which ends up under the floor of the rear cabin. consequently I need to run a dehumidifier pretty much complete time to combat the damp.

As I said, every boat has differing factors which will impact on the running and maintenance costs. In addition to the boat’s age and the condition, the kind of equipment used and how much it is used will also play a part.


Whoever designed the heating on James liked to cover all obtainable options. In addition to the substantial fuel stove, there are four radiators – powered by the stove – plus gas heaters and an electric radiator. I also have a Dimplex greenhouse heater and a 1200w halogen heater for emergencies. There is a Paloma gas powered “on need” heater which supplies an unlimited amount of scalding hot water.


The hob, oven and grill are all gas and are powered by two 13kg Propane cylinders. The two cylinders do me for about two months.


How much time you use on board will have a direct impact on your fuel consumption, as will your eating and cooking habits. The costs I have listed below are based on the following…

On Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday I get up at 05:15, shower, have a quick breakfast of tea and toast and work on the web site until 07:30. From October onwards the stove is burning coal twenty four hours a day, seven days a week. Overnight and when I’m away from the boat I have the stove turned down as low as possible to ensure that it’s nevertheless alight when I return. The maximum period is between ten and eleven hours. I come back to the boat for lunch and a cup of coffee, then return after work just after 5:30 and generally stay there for the evening.

I use the gas for a shower every day, three or four kettle boils, toast in the morning, grilled meat or fish four times a week and a roast of some kind once a week. I don’t ever use the gas fires because they produce “wet” heat which contributes to the damp.

My electricity is provided via a metered shore supply which charges the boat batteries for lighting. The shore strength also allows me to charge my laptop/phone/electric razor, listen to the radio (I don’t have a television), strength two Dimplex Coldwatcher 500w heaters (on all the time) and run a 620w dehumidifier for two hours a day.

There’s a graph in this article on my site that shows the actual costs incurred for gas, coal and electricity since moving onto James in April 2010. The costs are updated on the graph at the end of each month.


Your stove will burn either wood or coal. Personally, I steer clear of wood. It’s more bulky than coal so needs more storage space than I have obtainable. My stove is also on the small side so I would struggle to fit logs in.

I use coal. I’ve tried a number of different brands and types but the ones I’ve stuck with is Pureheat. Pureheat is a manufactured smokeless fuel sold in 25kg bags of goose egg sized ovals. Pureheat produces more heat than wood or housecoal, burns away to a powder so doesn’t clog up the grate (and put the fire out) and is less messy. A bag of Pureheat usually lasts me just under three days although in December with so many sub -zero days and ridiculously cold nights, I was using a bag every two days. The cheapest supplier I can find charges £9.50 a bag.


My gas consumption has remained pretty steady over the last ten months. I only use gas for cooking and to supply hot water dish and body washing so the cold weather doesn’t alter the amount I use. One 13kg cylinder lasts me a month and costs about £22


My electricity costs dipped to just about zero in July. It was the only month as far as I can remember when I didn’t have to plug either heaters or dehumidifer in. I was also away from the boat for a week. The electricity costs appear to be very high for December. However, although December was very, very cold most of the reason for the increase is because I was away for ten days. I didn’t want there to be the slightest chance of the electricity running out so I put additional on the meter before I left. I then didn’t buy any more until 10th January (the graph shows May 2010 – April 2011)


Mobile of course. Reception varies wildly when you’re on the cut. I have very poor reception with Three on my mooring. I can only make and receive calls from one identify halfway between the dining and the seating area. I just about get a signal there. I tend not to use a phone much anyway (no friends) so my mobile phone cost is about £15 per month.


A connection to the internet is one of life’s essentials as far as I’m concerned. I update the web site daily, send out newsletters, stream TV programmes from BBC Iplayer and the ITV and channel 4 equivalents, tweet on @narrowboatlife and search for information.

I use a mobile broadband dongle from Three. They have a coverage checker on their web site and already though the site indicates that there is limited connectivity for my postcode, I rarely have a problem with my connection. Sometimes my broadband is a little slow but most of the time I can stream TV programmes and films. Three offer pay as you go top ups of 500MB for a day or 1GB, 3GB and 7GB for a month. I use the best value 7GB top up which usually lasts me the complete month (I’ve just checked on my current usage. I’ve truly used 6.5GB in twenty days. I know that is is unusually high and is because I’ve watched a few data hungry films.)

So now you know what it costs to live on a narrowboat. at the minimum, you know what it costs me to live on one. I’m sure that many narrowboat owners with newer, better insulated boats will pay less than me for heating fuel and electricity. But they will have paid more than me for their narrowboat.

I hope you find this guide useful – and I hope the costs haven’t put you off. I love living on a narrowboat. I hope you do too.

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