What advice would you give to a guy new to living on a canal boat?


You’re adaptable, independent and free-minded… At least you thought you were until you decided you were going to live on a canal boat. It’s OK its not for everyone, we guess you’ll be going back to the two up-two down and the 9-5 then?

Still here… Good, that’s the answer we were looking for.

Remember the reason you decided to live on a boat? It’s different. And with change comes a settling in period. Whilst we can’t tell you what to expect, what we can do is give you some idea about the things that might be new for you, but will eventually become ‘normal’.  Let’s take a look at some things you might already know and some little surprises.

What you need to know: –

It’s only cheaper when everything works.

Boating is one of those things where you’ve definitely got to work on worst-case scenarios. This includes managing your finances to ensure you’ve got a bit of a backstop in case the ‘what if’ becomes the ‘what now?’… The engine that keeps you happily chugging along? Consider the what if… Without it you are stuck, literally. If you can, always make sure you have a rainy day fund. Don’t rely on everything working all the time.

Alternatively, decide what you can live without, and then focus on the things that you definitely can’t.

You’re going to have less space… Much less space (Pt. 1)

Obvious? You’ll be surprised how it often only dawns on people when they finally live aboard… Its not like a house, where you can throw stuff in the garage, or the porch. Everything you own must fit within the confines of your boat. Everything. You’ll slowly come to accept the fact that, generally, if something comes onto your boat, something else is going to have to come off… Nice new kettle? What are you going to throw out so that you’ve got room for it? What you will become adept at is innovative storage solutions, and proving your maths teacher knew nothing. No Mr Wetherby, 9 cubic feet can fit into 3 cubic feet!

You’re going to have much less space… (Pt. 2)

Some see it as a blessing, for others it’s a curse, but what we will tell you is it’s a fact… You’ll be able to stir the soup, watch TV, close the curtains and put the pan in the sink, without moving anything but your arm. Sounds ideal? How do you feel about a sink full of dirty dishes about a yard from your face? It’s going to be part of your life, so will take some getting used to.

Speaking of washing up…

Gone are the days of 15-minute showers… you’ll become so miserly with water that if boating doesn’t work out you could take a second job as a desert rat. You’ll start to set yourself time limits and be amazed that you used to do anything else whilst performing your ablutions… Shave, shampoo, shower, scrub the teeth. 3 minutes and 3 litres used? Must do better next time. You’ll start to feel ‘responsible’ not doing the washing up… Not because you are being lazy, oh no! Because you are saving water…

Post? What’s that?

Ever seen a canal boat with a letterbox? There’s a reason for that. In answer to the question, the post is something that you have delivered to your parents (or a post office box if you are super organised). You’ll feel slight annoyance when your old man rings up to ask can he open the letter from the bank… You’ll feel the weight of the real world and it will bother you.

Ok, let’s talk toilets…

We aren’t going to be too vulgar, but it’s something that we need to discuss… Boats aren’t plumbed into a sewer.

That’s obvious, right?

But what it does mean is you are carrying around a whole lot of badness onboard your home. Grim? Yes and no. Pump out toilets are cleaner, and generally a nicer experience, but you’ll pay to have them emptied, and facilities are not always available… Not so bad? Let’s talk about cassette toilets.

Ever been on a caravan holiday? Chances are you’ve lugged a cassette already. It fills up with waste, and then when it is full, you empty it. It is a tough job… But someone has got to do it. That person is you. The snag comes is if there is nowhere to empty it. A spare cassette is handy, but the full one will reek. This is one of those things that is just a part of liveaboard life, you will have to deal with it.

More about toilets…

More about etiquette actually, and you won’t know until you are getting evil looks from your new friends… If you are in company on a different boat, it is the done thing to go back to your own boat if you need a ‘comfort break’. The only exceptions to this rule are… in fact there are no exceptions. Sorry.

You’re an engineer…

Alright we know you aren’t, but there isn’t a problem on a boat that can’t be fixed with duct tape. So, buy a few rolls of it. Leak at night? Duct tape. Gas leak on your stove? Duct tape? Severed a finger? Duct tape.

Oh, and the other engineering solution. WD40… Useful for a variety of situations, just don’t try cooking with it.

The law of the water…

This one is as immutable as Einstein’s theory relativity and Newtons laws of motion, it goes like this: “For every task you manage to complete, there will be another 2 that need doing”.

When you embarked on this journey, you thought it would be watching the world go by and leaving your cares behind… It’s true to a point, the people who are successful at it, just don’t worry about what’s on the list… Even if it’s growing.

You’ll change as a person… in a good way

When you start out, you’ll come across many weird and wonderful characters, you’ll think, “what an odd chap” or “she was a bit strange”… After a few months, you’ll come across someone who is brand new. Guess what they are thinking about you?

It’s not always going to go right…

If it was that easy, everyone would be doing it. Try and see any mishaps, or unexpected difficulties as ‘part of the experience’ and try to enjoy them… Yes, we know a toilet cassette that has disgorged its contents all over isn’t the most pleasant, but you have to take the rough with the smooth.

In summary

There’s loads more to think about, some of it funny, some of it a little less so. There’s many experiences when you are new to living on a canal boat that you are only going to get by actually doing. But that’s what makes boating life so appealing. Each person will have a slightly different experience. Why not be one of the people who really enjoy it, and get the most out of it?


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