Cost of living on a narrowboat

Many people believe that living on a narrowboat is cheap as chips. Here we give you a summary of all the standard costs of owning a narrowboat. Please note, there is no one size fits all for the cost of living on a narrowboat. People live differently, have different practical skills and boats are different. But here, we have tried to give a representation of some “standard” costs as well as some general figures for the unknown.

Maintenance

Really, the answer to this is how much do you want to spend and how long do you want your narrowboat to run.

There are a few main things that everyone talks about:

  • blacking – which is basically taking the narrowboat out of water, cleaning it and adding a few coats of bitumen black paint to help reduce the speed of rusting.
  • anodes – again related to rust / erosion of the hull.
  • engine service – oil changes, filter changes, usual stuff for trying to keep an engine healthy!
  • breakdowns.

Blacking

Out for blacking

This refers to applying black paint to the parts of the hull that are under water. It protects the steel from the water to reduce the progression of rust. There are two different paint options – bitumen or epoxy.

Blacking costs vary depending on if you do it yourself or pay someone to do it. Also the paint choice. Epoxy is not really a DIY job so will cost more.

You have to cover the cost of renting the slipway or dry dock, the paint and time. It takes 3 – 4 days to complete to allow for each coat of paint to dry before it goes in the water. As with most narrowboat related costs, the longer the boat, the more it costs. Blacking with bitumen needs to be re-done every 2 – 3 years. Blacking with epoxy can last 5 – 7 years.

Here is a link to our first blacking – we didn’t do the work ourselves as we were in full time employment but we filmed as much as we could. For reference, bitumen blacking costs approximately £10 per foot. Removing the boat from water generally costs £250 and dock hire varies.

Blacking with epoxy is more expensive as to apply initially, the hull needs to be grit blasted. Not many yards will let you do this yourself, or apply the epoxy for health and safety reasons. You can expect to pay between £2000 and £3000 for this process.

Anodes

The anodes are sacrificial – the theory is that by attaching a piece of metal to the hull that is more reactive than the hull itself then this piece of metal will corrode first.

Anodes start from £10 each (not including the welding). Expect to have at least 4 anodes on a narrowboat, some people opt to have 6 or more.

Engine Service

Engine servicing can be another DIY job if you are a bit handy or mechanical. Paying for an engine service will cost up to £200 – the majority to cover labour. If you opt to do the service yourself, you only have to pay for the parts – which is new oil and filters. The prices of these vary depending on the type of engine on your narrowboat. Allow up to £80 for this cost if you are doing the work yourself.

Other maintenance costs

Like in a house, things on a narrowboat break. What would you do if your water pump decided to give up the ghost? It would leave you with no running water. Water pumps easily cost £100 each. If your whale gulper broke, you would be unable to shower – these also cost in the region of £100.

Light bulbs need to be regulated so that they can handle the change in voltage on a narrowboat – expect to pay at least £8 for an LED bulb. It isn’t much but what if you buy a boat and need to change 20 bulbs in one go?

What about if your fridge conks out? If you are used to living in a house with a standard electricity supply, you might be used to seeing lots of low cost deals on white goods. However, on a boat, if you want to run a 12v refrigerator, expect to pay in the region of £500 for a new one.

If your narrowboat has diesel central heating and this breaks down, you may need to pay an engineer to visit and cover the cost of replacement parts or even a new unit. As an example, a new Webasto ThermoTop heater on eBay is upwards of £1200.

It is hard to estimate how much repairs are going to cost as it is impossible to guess in advance what will go wrong. But there is a reason that people joke that B-O-A-T stands for bring out another thousand.

My suggestion is that when budgeting for maintenance costs for a narrowboat, take the figure you think and double or even triple it. Then maybe double it again to be sure you have enough money in the bank for an emergency.

Mooring and licensing

When you have a boat and use it on the public waterways, you have to pay for a license. This can either be to Canal and River Trust or the Environment Agency, depending on where you plan to travel. There is lots of information about licensing, including a table showing the costs (which are dependent on the length of the boat) on the CaRT website. If you wish to hold a traders license (which is required if you are going to generate an income from your narrowboat) you will need to apply and pay extra.

The other thing to think about is where you are going to keep your narrowboat, which is where mooring costs need to be added to the list. Of course, you can choose to be a continuous cruiser and not take up a home mooring.

As with everything, mooring costs can be linked to the length. It is possible to get moorings through CaRT Waterside Moorings website, a private marina and sometimes off towpath moorings are available privately too.

The mooring costs also vary depending on the facilities available. For example, if there are shower and laundry facilities, plus electricity, water and pump out, you would pay more than a mooring that perhaps only had water and electricity. The cost tends to reduce the further north of the country you moor too. London is the top end of the price range. Moorings can cost anything between £1000 (for a basic leisure mooring) to upwards of £12,000 (for a residential mooring in London).

Insurance and Safety

You will need to have insurance for your narrowboat. As with all things narrowboat, this varies on the length and value of your narrowboat and the cost of replacing it. As a ballpark figure, expect insurance costs to be between £200 and £600.

The boat safety certificate needs to be renewed every 4 years. On average, this costs in the region of £200. For more information on this and a list of registered examiners, check the BSS website.

Other Cost of Living on a Narrowboat

As with a house, you have to consider the cost of heating, water and electricity. If you are going to run a TV, you still need to pay for a TV license if the boat will be your primary residence. If you have a residential mooring, you will need to pay council tax – this will be the lowest band for the area.

At the beginning of 2017, we put together a video to discuss the cost of running our narrowboat over winter. Many people commented that our costs seemed a little high but as we say all the time, every boat and boater is different. If you are moving onto a brand new narrowboat with thick spray foam insulation and well sealed windows, I would guess your heating costs might be a little lower. If you are moving on to an older narrowboat, you won’t know until you have lived through a very cold winter how much you will need to spend to keep warm.

Anything else?

If you are a narrowboat owner and want to share your cost of living on a narrowboat, please do so in the comments section. If you think we’ve missed anything, please also let us know.