Living On A Narrowboat – The Complete Guide

Living an off-grid lifestyle is an increasingly popular choice among people who want to make the most of their freedom and live a more sustainable life.

But what about those seeking something a bit different?

Then why not consider living on a narrowboat?

It might sound crazy, but it’s actually one of the best ways to enjoy all that comes with off grid living while also saving some money along the way.

In this blog post, we’ll dive deep into what you need to know in order to successfully become a (modern day) river dweller.

So grab your coffee, kick back and let’s explore together the incredible joys — yes – joys — of narrowboat living!

So let’s start with some FAQ

Can you permanently live on a canal boat?

Absolutely! Thanks to increased amenities, living on a canal boat these days can be just as comfortable and luxurious as living in an apartment.

From modern kitchens complete with fridges and dishwashers, to well-thought out bathrooms, there really is no reason why one couldn’t lead a full and contented life whilst enjoying life on the water.

Is it cheaper to live on a narrowboat?

Generally speaking, living on a narrowboat is cheaper than living in a house or apartment.

This is because when living on a narrowboat, there are no property taxes or utility bills to pay.

Additionally, most canal boats are smaller than the average home, which makes storage and maintenance much easier.

The cost of mooring in different locations also needs to be taken into consideration as it can vary depending on the length of time you stay at any one location.

All these costs should be weighed up before making the decision to live on a canal boat permanently.

How much does a narrowboat cost to buy?

While of course this varies greatly depending on factors like size, make and age of the boat, it can generally range from around £18,000 for a secondhand one to £120,000 for a small new one.

Older boats tend to be more affordable but require more maintenance and updating, such as replacing windows and installing modern equipment.

Meanwhile new boats can cost up to around £250.00 due to higher quality features like insulation and heating systems and size.

If you’re considering buying a narrowboat for yourself, there are plenty of options available whatever your budget!

Can you rent or hire a narrowboat?

Yes, it is possible to rent or hire a narrowboat for a canal holiday in the UK.

There are many companies that offer narrowboat rentals, and you can choose from a variety of boats that range in size from two-person boats to larger boats that can accommodate groups of six or more.

When renting a narrowboat, you will typically need to provide a deposit and proof of insurance, and you will be given a thorough briefing on how to operate the boat safely.

It is important to have some prior boating experience or to take a narrowboat handling course before embarking on your canal holiday.

How do you get power & water on a narrowboat?

Power and water on a narrowboat can be provided through off-grid sources, such as battery power, solar panels, and wind turbines.

Battery power can provide a low-cost source of energy for running appliances and lighting on the boat.

Solar panels can charge batteries and provide energy for appliances, lights and devices that use AC power.

Wind turbines may also be used to generate electricity, but are generally more expensive.

Water can be stored in containers and topped up when you stop in certain places or it can be collected from rainwater harvesting or from natural rivers and streams via pumping systems and cleaned via a filter system.

It is important to ensure that regulations regarding the collection of potable water from rivers are followed when using this type of system.

Cost to run a narrowboat?

The cost to run a narrowboat or canal boat can vary depending on a number of factors, such as the size of the boat, the type of engine it has, the amount of usage it gets, and the cost of mooring and maintenance.

Here is a general chart of some of the expenses you can expect when running a narrowboat in the UK:

ExpenseApproximate Cost per year
Mooring Fees£1,000 – £5,000+
Boat Insurance£200 – £1,000+
Boat Safety Certificate£100 – £200+
Licence Fees£500 – £1,000+
Fuel£500 – £1,000+
Engine Maintenance£500 – £1,000+
Hull Maintenance£500 – £1,000+
Interior Maintenance£500 – £1,000+
Total£4,300 – £11,200+

These are rough estimates and the actual cost will depend on the specific circumstances of your boat and usage.

It is important to budget for unexpected expenses and factor in the cost of emergency repairs or replacements.

Overall, running a narrowboat can be a significant expense, but many people find the experience of living and travelling on the water to be worth the cost and it’s still cheaper than living in a house or flat.

Must have appliances on a narrowboat

The appliances you choose to have on your narrowboat will depend on your personal preferences and needs, as well as the size and layout of your boat.

However, here are some common small appliances that many people find useful on their narrowboat:

  1. Cooker/hob: A gas or electric stove is essential for cooking meals on board.
  2. Fridge: A small refrigerator or cooler can be useful for storing perishable foods and drinks.
  3. Heating: A heating system is important for keeping the boat warm during colder months. Options include central heating, solid fuel stoves, or portable heaters.
  4. Toilet: A toilet is a must-have on any boat, and options include cassette toilets or pump-out toilets.
  5. Shower: A shower can be a convenient way to clean up after a day of cruising or exploring.
  6. Water pump: A water pump is needed to supply water to the sink, shower, and toilet.
  7. Lighting: LED lighting is a popular choice for narrowboats, as it is energy-efficient and long-lasting.
  8. Power inverter: A power inverter is essential if you plan to use electronic devices such as laptops or smartphones on board, as it will convert the boat’s DC power to AC power.
  9. Battery charger: A battery charger is needed to keep the boat’s batteries charged and ready for use.
  10. Navigation equipment: Depending on your boating experience and the areas you plan to navigate, you may need a GPS, depth sounder, or other navigation equipment to help you safely navigate the waterways.

These are just some of the most common appliances that people have on their narrowboats.

Other appliances you may want to consider include a washing machine, TV, or sound system, but these are not essential for basic boat living.

Narrowboat Maintenance

Maintaining a narrowboat is essential to keep it safe, reliable, and in good condition.

Here is a chart of some of the maintenance tasks that should be performed regularly on a narrowboat:

Engine servicingAnnuallyAn annual engine service is important to keep the engine running smoothly and to identify any potential issues before they become major problems.
Hull blackingEvery 2-5 yearsBlacking the hull helps to protect it from rust and corrosion, and should be done every 2-5 years depending on the type of blacking used and the amount of usage the boat gets.
Anode replacementEvery 2-3 yearsAnodes are sacrificial zinc or aluminum blocks that help to protect the boat from corrosion. They should be replaced every 2-3 years depending on the type of anodes used and the water conditions.
Exterior cleaningMonthlyRegular cleaning of the boat’s exterior can help to prevent the build-up of dirt and grime that can lead to corrosion and damage.
Interior cleaningWeeklyRegular cleaning of the boat’s interior is important to keep it hygienic and to prevent the build-up of mold or mildew.
Pump-out of holding tankWhen fullHolding tanks for waste should be emptied regularly to prevent overfilling and odors.
Gas system inspectionAnnuallyAn annual inspection of the gas system is important to ensure that it is safe and functioning properly.
Electrical system inspectionAnnuallyAn annual inspection of the electrical system can help to identify any potential issues with wiring, batteries, or other components.
Fire extinguisher checkAnnuallyFire extinguishers should be checked annually to ensure that they are in good working order and properly charged.

It is important to note that this is not an exhaustive list, and other maintenance tasks may be required depending on the specific circumstances of your boat.

Regular maintenance and inspections can help to prevent costly repairs and ensure that your narrowboat is safe and enjoyable to use.

Is a narrowboat the same as a canal boat?

A narrowboat is a type of canal boat, but not all canal boats are narrowboats.

Canal boats are boats designed for use on canals, rivers, and other inland waterways.

They are typically long and narrow, with a flat bottom and a shallow draft.

Canal boats can be used for a variety of purposes, such as transportation of goods and people, leisure cruising, or even as permanent residence.

Narrowboats are a specific type of canal boat that are designed to navigate the narrow canals of the UK.

They are typically up to 7 feet (2.1 meters) wide and up to 70 feet (21 meters) long.

Narrowboats are often used for leisure cruising or as floating homes.

So, while all narrowboats are canal boats, not all canal boats are narrowboats.

The term “canal boat” is a more general term that can include a variety of different boat types, including narrowboats, wide-beam boats, and Dutch barges, among others.

Best UK Canals

The UK has a large network of canals, each with its own unique charm and character.

Here are some of the best UK canals to explore:

  1. Llangollen Canal – This picturesque canal in North Wales is known for its stunning scenery, including the UNESCO World Heritage Site Pontcysyllte Aqueduct.
  2. Kennet and Avon Canal – This canal runs from Reading to Bristol, passing through picturesque countryside and historic towns and cities, including Bath.
  3. Grand Union Canal – This is the longest canal in the UK, stretching from London to Birmingham. It passes through a variety of landscapes, including urban areas and rural countryside.
  4. Caledonian Canal – This canal runs through the Scottish Highlands, offering spectacular views of mountains, lochs, and forests.
  5. Leeds and Liverpool Canal – This canal runs from Leeds to Liverpool, passing through the Pennines and offering stunning views of the countryside.
  6. Oxford Canal – This canal runs from Oxford to Coventry, passing through pretty villages, historic towns, and picturesque countryside.
  7. Rochdale Canal – This canal runs from Manchester to Sowerby Bridge, passing through the Pennines and offering spectacular views of the surrounding landscape.
  8. Forth and Clyde Canal – This canal runs from Glasgow to Edinburgh, passing through the Scottish countryside and offering stunning views of the cities.
  9. Monmouthshire and Brecon Canal – This canal runs through the Brecon Beacons National Park, offering stunning views of the Welsh countryside and historic towns and villages.
  10. Norfolk Broads – While not a canal, the Norfolk Broads are a network of rivers and lakes in Norfolk, offering picturesque scenery, historic towns and villages, and plenty of opportunities for boating and fishing.

These are just a few of the many beautiful canals and waterways to explore in the UK.

Each canal offers its own unique charms and attractions, making it difficult to choose just one!

Pros & Cons of living on a narrowboat off grid

Living on a narrowboat off the grid can be an attractive lifestyle choice for some people, but it does come with its own set of pros and cons.

Here are some of the main pros and cons of living on a narrowboat off-grid:


  1. Independence and self-sufficiency – Living off-grid on a narrowboat allows you to be completely independent and self-sufficient. You are not reliant on external utilities such as electricity, water, and gas.
  2. Cost-effective – Living off-grid can be much cheaper than living on land, as you can avoid utility bills and other associated costs.
  3. Eco-friendly – Living off-grid means you can reduce your carbon footprint by relying on renewable energy sources such as solar panels and wind turbines.
  4. Mobility – Living on a narrowboat off-grid allows you to be mobile and explore different waterways and locations.


  1. Limited living space – Narrowboats are by nature, narrow, and can feel cramped, especially when you’re trying to live off-grid.
  2. Lack of amenities – Living off-grid means you have to rely on alternative methods for utilities, such as composting toilets and solar panels. These can be less convenient than traditional amenities.
  3. Maintenance – Living off-grid requires more maintenance work to keep your boat and systems running smoothly, which can be time-consuming and expensive.
  4. Seasonal challenges – Living on a narrowboat off-grid in the winter can be particularly challenging, as you may need to deal with freezing temperatures, ice, and reduced sunlight for solar panels.

Overall, living on a narrowboat off the grid can be a rewarding lifestyle choice, but it requires careful consideration and planning to ensure it suits your needs and preferences.


Living on a narrowboat can be a unique and rewarding lifestyle choice for those who enjoy the peace and tranquility of living on the water.

While there are certainly some challenges associated with narrowboat living, such as limited space and the need for ongoing maintenance, the benefits can often outweigh the negatives.

Some of the advantages of living on a narrowboat include the freedom to explore different waterways and locations, the opportunity to be completely self-sufficient and independent, and the ability to live in a more eco-friendly and sustainable way.

Additionally, many people enjoy the sense of community and camaraderie that comes with living on a narrowboat, as there is often a strong sense of community among those who share this lifestyle.

Of course, living on a narrowboat is not for everyone, and it’s important to carefully consider your own needs and preferences before making the decision to live on a boat.

However, for those who are adventurous, independent, and open to new experiences, living on a narrowboat can be a truly rewarding way to live.


  • Zero & Zen

    Dedicated to the cause of sustainability and eco-friendliness, our mission is to raise awareness about the importance of eco-conscious living.

    We firmly believe that individual actions can spark collective change and recognise the need for sustainable living to be tailored to your unique circumstances and pace.

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