So get yourself a cup of tea, here goes:
I love living on my boat ~ & have never for the life of me regretted it. But you do need to walk into it informed. And even informed, you have to further go in to it with the mindset that once you’ve bought it, you may realise it isn’t your thing and that a disembarking to get a flat again, means you’ll have to endure the wait of selling it on (which a marina can do for you). You can also make a loss if not careful what price you buy it for and/or have to sell it in a rush. I remember thinking ‘still my beating heart’ when putting my bid in for my boat, whilst the back of my mind went: ‘well, hell, if it doesn’t work out, I’ll loose a few thousand putting her up on land before selling her… I can live with that!’ In short: I decided I’d rather live with the loss, than never having dared. If this is your mindset, then go ahead! :-)
Here's the basics for you:
*To start with BW is an abbreviation for British Waterways. Link here.
Picking a boat: narrowboat, widebeam and barge. Tug boats & permanent house boats.
Firstly, a boat involves continual maintenance, so the more specialised your boat is the more fiddly it becomes to find the right equipment & expertise. I have a fantastic vintage engine for example, but should the one company that supplies for it die, I’d be in trouble. So as far as buying a first boat, I’d say narrowboat is the best, & possibly a wide beam if you are a couple for that little bit more space. I saw one tugboat & it was just about a bachelor pad (no space!) & my impression is that barges require more boating experience. There are also permanent houseboats that don’t move; I’d hesitate going for one as should anything go wrong beneath the water surface, there’s no way of moving it to a marina – if going for one, find out what work would be involved if that happened. I’d suspect a costly affair!
Size of narrowboat: single people should be fine in any size, but a couple I would say would need to look for 50-70ft boats. Mine is 63ft, & I’d probably just about cope with a 2nd person aboard with me. The very longest boats won’t fit in some locks up north, so if wanting to cruise unhindered check this before buying.
Mooring versus no mooring: there are two communities on the river. They frown on each other….
Vagabonders on the canal go from guest mooring to guest mooring in the free spirit life style of no charge; even filling up water is free. All you pay for is the canal license, insurance & running costs (mainly diesel for moving & generating electricity). However: it does require moving every week + not knowing if next guest place will be full + & technically you should not return to any place for 6 weeks because BW don’t like the type of vagabonders that go back & forth between Kensal Green (west) and Tottenham (east) in order to stay in London. There’s a bit of a dodging game going on between BW & boaters… I vagabonded first half year, & it was adventuress & a great experience – but there is a relief to have my mooring now.
Moorers: mooring is exceedingly hard to get! I’m still gobsmacked I have one, but I know people sometimes bypass queues by simply showing enthusiasm & effort. Otherwise BW also auction out moorings, but they are predominantly for outside London. Generally if you want to be a moorer you have to either buy a boat with mooring/ buy mooring separately first / or take your chances (like I did!). Moorings also differ. I can plug straight up to mains on mine & fill up water without moving. It has a laundry & extra bathrooms too. Other places you may only have mains & nothing else. They range in monthly rent from £250 -600 roughly, pending on what they offer & where they are. Get in queues fast if you want one, but remember to also call & show a cheery interest = ‘everyone wants a good neighbour’. :-)
*Don’t forget on Themsen mooring is tidal, so find out what that means to you!
Buying a boat:
Survey: never ever buy without a survey first unless you are certain what you are doing. And make sure that includes a proper hull check more than anything. Mine cost around £600. It hurt, but was worth it.
Bill of sale/solicitor etc: there is no official registration for boat owning, so it is tricky to know the person who sells the boat actually owns it. The thing to insist on is to see the Bill of Sale. If the owner doesn’t want to show the price they paid, they can cross this out (although I sneakily found out by putting the paper up against the light!). I also got a marine solicitor to do additional checks (around £150), as my boat was part of a divorce ( I wanted to make sure his ex wife wouldn’t come screaming down the towpath to claim it back!) *Try to also obtain as much history/paperwork/receipts on jobs as possible as once you own the boat these may be your only way to work out what jobs are done/needs to be done.
Prices: vary wildly! With a mooring, and an attractive one, I’ve seen ludicrous prices (£100 000). Mine is a very long boat (63 feet), which I got for £43 000. She was in good shape, but in poor painting condition. That I still paid an ok price was because both the surveyor & I found her pretty unique interior wise (she’s lush!). I've seen bog standard, not very exciting boats of around 45 feet come as little as £20 000. There are boats that start at £17 000. All those prices are without mooring. And narrowboats (my area of knowledge). Good places to search are Apollo duck, ebay and gumtree.
*Important: boats are not like houses – they don’t rise in value. They, at best, retain original value. Or decrease if not looked after. A boater should only up the price if they’ve done real improvements to the boat or/and a mooring contract comes with it.
Bartering: always barter. They should expect it if they’re experienced boaters. Don’t take the piss though! Be polite. Acting suspicious of quality or critical is only going to wear negotiations down. I simply expressed what I could afford, & pointed out that the coming down-turn in economy would make it more viable for me to wait & get a cheaper boat – so I left it up to them to accept. Which they did.
*Mooring fraud: big warning! – the most common lie is that the boat comes with mooring. If mooring is issued by BW, it is not transferable!!! Always check who owns mooring & what the agreement is. No point forking out a fortune for the perk of a mooring, if you’re going to be asked to leave after 6 months!
*Selling a boat: be also aware when time comes to sell it can take up to a year to get the price you want for your boat. I’ve had people desperate to sell me their boats due to needing to go abroad & lowering it to ridiculous prices. Great if you buy! Not so great if you’re the one selling… If you don’t need cash fast, a marina can sell it for you for a fee whilst you live in a flat. But if you ever need to sell your boat fast, do be prepared for a loss. Bear this in mind when buying a boat.
Maintenance + cost:
I’m only slowly cottoning on that you have to keep up the works on a boat, which in reality means a couple of jobs per year and 1 biggie every three years or so – there’s a backlog on my boat! It’s not always apparent either, so you need to scrutinise for things like the following:
Batteries need water top ups. Inverters/electrical systems can break down. Rust around windows can not be apparent until you get close. The need to re-seal hatches or vents will become apparent when the rain gets indoors! Hull, water-tank and engines are things you need to be aware when they need checks and re-doing as they are not obvious to the eye either (engine check once a year, re-do hull every 3-4 years, when to re-paint water tank I have no clue so check it up!) If you leave these too long, job gets worse & your boat may loose in value. This upkeep is only to maintain the value of the boat. To increase the value of a boat you’d have to install something new & better, like solar panels. Or do a brand new paint job right before selling. Don’t be daunted though – I knew nothing, still only know a little, but so far I’m still floating & steadily learning. The norm is that most boaters ask other boaters ~ all the time! The Uxbridge Boat Centre ladies – link here - are absolute darlings (& honest!) too when it comes to giving advise ( but don’t take the piss; they’re busy too)!
Gas: I only use gas for cooking, so I use up 4 canister per year/£25 each = £100/year
Coal (most boats are stove heated): costly in winter! I use up to 5 bags/month = £50/month w really cold. Nil in summer.
Electricity/diesel: this is dependant on how much you move & if you run up your batteries via the engine to create electricity – ask the owner when looking at a boat.
Water license: differs per year pending boat length. Check BW link here.
Mooring fee: £250 – 600/month pending on what you get and if you’re lucky!
Re-hulling: every 3 to 4 years you’ll need to dry dock & blacken hull. £500 -1200 pending how much you do yourself.
Engine checks, repairs, re-painting: hard to say, but I’d say you’ll probably need to put at least £400 set aside every year for these kind of things, & bring it over to next year if not using it, so you’re well braced for the unexpected.
Heating: varies. I have a stove & love it.
Toilet: you’ll have either a compost/container-style toilet. Easy use, but not for the prissy: you have to empty them manually about twice a week, but generally there are places for that. Some boats have complete tanks which only need emptying after a month or two, but then you’ll need special places to empty them. Mostly this is ‘cleaner’, but accidents have occurred in which case.. *cough*.. you may regret ever having a boat.
This is a rough guide only – there are so many different solutions on boats, you will have to ask as many questions as possible about the boats you see. There is a variation of heating systems and engines; make sure you’re comfortable with the one you end up having on your boat.
Right ~ that's all I can think of now!