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Living on a Narrowboat: How much does it cost?

Buying a narrowboat as a home is a great way to escape the rising tide of UK house prices. But how much does it really cost to make your dream narrowboat safe, legal and comfortable to live on?

Here's our useful breakdown of typical costs you should consider when deciding to living on a narrowboat. 


To browse a vast range of narrowboats and barges for sale click here.

[Case study: Tony Jones lives and works on The Watchman narrowboat]

Buying a narrowboat - the initial investment

A narrowboat can cost as little as £15,000 for a 'project craft' to more than £150,000 for a brand new boat, built to your own specification. If you’re buying second-hand, a pre-purchase survey (costing around £700 for a 62ft boat) would normally be done out of the water - i.e. on a dry-dock or slipway – so the condition of the hull can be checked. It can also cost between £100-£200 in docking charges to take the boat out of the water.


Click here to view all narrowboats.

BoatsandOutboards The cost of living on a narrowboat

Initial work, post purchase

Bodywork: For a narrowboat specialist to carry out a basic woodwork and rust treatment, it will usually cost between £500-£800. 

Battery banks replacing: Replacing a narrowboat battery can cost around £200 depending on the type, capacity and quality of the batteries.  

Repaint:  Repainting can be expensive, you should expect approximately £600 to touch up, especially on boats at the lower end of the market. If it’s a project boat, it will probably need a complete repaint, after stripping down. This can cost anything between £1,500 and £5,000. You can find an expert coach painter who is trained in graphic design and decorative painting. Or tackling it yourself can be fun - there's some good advice at Canal Junction

Updating onboard equipment i.e cooker: This depends on how complex your plans are and how out of date the existing equipment is. If you need to replace a lot of items, this can cost as much as £1,000. 

New engine: A new engine will set you back around £4,000 (plus installation costs) so this is not a cheap update to make!

The cost of living on a narrowboat www.Boatsandoutboards.co.uk


Mooring fees

Unless you plan to continuously cruise the canal network, you are obliged by the Canal & River Trust’s licensing regulations to declare a home mooring. However, you don’t need one of these if you are planning to be permanently on the move and are moving on at least every 14 days.

A marina mooring will cost over £2,000 a year in most parts of the country, with a premium of £10,000-18,000 when mooring in London. Fees are usually charged per foot, so this is a consideration when deciding on the size of vessel you would like.

Narrowboat licence

Your boat licence is determined by the length of your boat. Costs range from £700 a year for a 40ft boat, to £1,000 for the longest 70ft narrowboats. You will also need a Boat Safety Certificate (BSC) which is the equivalent of a boat MOT and costs around £180.  


When you take out insurance, you need to state that you will be using the boat for residential purposes. Insurance costs around £250-£500 per annum, dependent on how much cruising you will be doing. Contents can normally be added to your policy for a pro rata amount, depending on value insured.

Ongoing maintenance costs

Steel hulls needs to be protected to prevent rust, which means that every two or three years you have to take your boat out of the water to black the hull at a cost of between £700 and £1,000. 

Every 7 to 10 years the cabin will need to be professionally painted (from £100 per foot).

Regular engine servicing is essential. The engine oil will need to be changed once a year. Engine servicing should be done every year or two and can cost up to £200 plus VAT. The cost will depend on what’s needed - e.g. new oil and diesel filters, air filter, engine oil, gearbox oil, injectors may need servicing, etc.

Onboard heat

Utilities on board can be costly, especially off grid electrical generation. Most boats use propane for cooking which is reasonably economical, but remember that you have to get it to your boat, and lift the heavy cylinder into the gas locker. A solid fuel stove is an economical way to heat your boat. A multi-fuel stove also allows you to burn wood, but this needs to be properly dried seasoned wood, or it can cause problems. The RBOA estimates that 40 x 25kg bags of coal will last a year through the year – roughly £300.



The boat’s main electrical system will be 12volt (or sometimes 24 volt) and the batteries are supplied when the engine is running. If you have a marina mooring, you may have access to a 230 volt electricity supply, for which you will have to pay.


Your diesel engine will probably consume somewhere between 1ltr and 1.5ltrs per hour. Therefore at an average cruising speed of just over two miles an hour your boat will use as much diesel as a large four wheel drive car. Costs will obviously depend on how much cruising you do. And remember you don’t pay duty on diesel that is used to heat your boat. 



Further essential reading if you are thinking of buying a narrowboat to live on: 

Case study: Tony Jones lives and works on The Watchman narrowboat

Useful websites:

Residential Boat Owners Association


Canal Junction 


Click here to view all narrowboats.

Boats and Outboards Team
Published on 2016-04-15