Life on a London canal boat

Life on a London canal boat

People who want a home of their own in super expensive London are increasingly looking at the viability of living on a canal boat, since they are much more affordable than a flat. But how easy is it to live in a confined space that floats?

Living on a canal boat might seem like an novel, exciting.. and to some extent a practical...idea. However, try before you buy, as the saying goes, because life on water is very different to living in a flat or house. 

The thought of living on a narrow boat on a canal has a certain romantic allure. And for those wanting to live in London and other expensive cities, buying a houseboat might seem the only sensible option, given the cost of bricks and mortar dwellings. Some 10,000 people are living on canals in and around London, and many of them say it's worth it to be in the place they want to live. But no one denies that you need to be realistic about living in a floating confined space and you have to factor in that you will have to move the boat every two weeks if you don't have a permanent mooring. The latter are hard to come by so most boats have what's known as a Continuous Cruiser License ( £500-£1,100 per year). So if you're looking into joining the canal boat communitiy, what do you need to consider?
 
Where can I put this?
 
The clue's in the word 'narrow'..which means space on a canal boat is at a premium. Every square millimetre requires careful consideration. You’ll probably have to forgo a washing machine and rely on finding a launderette. If you’re moving into a boat from dry land you’ll probably have much more stuff than can fit comfortably into your vessel. So work on a needs rather than wants basis and do some rigorous de-cluttering. For items you really don't want to get rid of, put them in affordable, secure storage facilities.
 
DIY 101
 
On a boat, you quickly learn that independence is the key to a tolerable life. You’ll have to figure out how to put up curtains and shelves on a slanted wall, for example. With perseverance you’ll learn lots of ways to solve all the large and small DIY problems that seem to pop up on a daily basis. Leaky windows, the boiler that dies for no obvious reason, frozen pipes in winter, suffocating humidity in summer… these may not be a few of your favourite things, but be prepared to deal with them.
 
Getting along with the neighbours
 
No matter the location, people are territorial and if you're mooring in a new place for the first time, you will need to be courteous and you will quickly learn the specific etiquette of the neighbourhood you're moored in Most boat folk are, of course, sociable and kind, but, as with everything else when living on a boat, don't make assumptions. Many canal boat old-timers will be only too happy to offer advice and solutions to problems you might ask for help with. But remember the no-nos of canal boat living: never ask to use a neighbouring boat's toilet; when invited for a drink, take your own glass; never ask to borrow gas canisters. 
 
Living with the boat
 
The boat is a vessel as well as a home and you need to develop a sixth sense to ensure it's wellbeing. You will know when the water level drops. If machinery develops funny noises, you’ll sense it before anyone else. Did a gas leak develop when you were out? you’ll most likely smell it long before you get back on board. You learn to recognise problems before they happen. It is vital to be attuned to your boat and take action when it's telling you something. This will make the difference between enjoying a comfortable life or enduring a living hell. 
 
Planning ahead
 
Get to grips with utilities and how systems work for the canal boat community, because you will have to move on every fortnight. When you get to your new mooring you have to have organised the electricity connection and you'll need to be able to fill your tank with water. The toilet tank also needs to be emptied and the garbage needs to be disposed of responsibly. Commutes change constantly, and you quickly become a human GPS unit. Shopping centres and laundry facilities have to be located and researched. You won't want to repeat the experience of a woman who moored in Hackney found that the local laundrette was also where the local crack dealers operated. 
 
You'll become super environmentally-friendly
 
In the unlikely event you've not paid attention to packaging nor been an avid recycler, well, living on a canal boat will focus your mind. Waste disposal is a problem when you live on water, so try not to generate much. And store your recycling carefully so when you do find recycling units, you can quickly avail yourself of them. It goes without saying that you should never throw waste into the canal nor dump stuff on the towpath..even if it's 'only' veg peelings. A big plus for the environment is that you’re likely to go for solar panels on the boat for lighting, especially during spring and summer. In short, being a boat dweller will train you to hate waste, never leave lights on or take long showers. 
 
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