Everything you need to know about living on a boat

BY Ben West

6th Mar 2024 Property

4 min read

Everything you need to know about living on a boat
Living on a houseboat has a romantic appeal, and can be more affordable than a flat or a house. But life on the water does come with some important costs
Swapping bricks and mortar for a houseboat can be very tempting. At first glance it can look very romantic, offering ever-changing scenery, a strong connection with nature and a great sense of community.
And in these times of financial constraint and a cost-of-living crisis, the fact that you can buy a boat for a fraction of the cost of a house or flat is very appealing. 
Houseboats make it possible to live in highly desirable city centre postcodes at a fraction of the usual cost, and if you can't choose between town or country, buying a boat enables you to live in both.
Boats can be a tranquil option, even in the centre of a city. Many waterways go through the quieter parts of a city or town, water tends to deaden sound, and often boats are situated below road level and the roar of the traffic. 
Although you will lose some home comforts, many boats today have fitted kitchens, refrigerators, dishwashers, and central heating, while many boatyards and marinas offer security, electricity, water and sewerage facilities plus secure car parking and wifi.
"Boats can be a tranquil option, even in the centre of a city"
Heating costs are generally low compared with those for a house.
However, the reality is that living on a boat involves plenty of hard work, ongoing costs and maintenance, and numerous disadvantages to consider before you take the plunge.
These can include limited space for possessions and food, and boats being very hot at times in summer and cold in winter.
Properties on land generally increase in value over time, while boats depreciate the older they get. However, they are not subject to stamp duty like land-based properties.
You can’t obtain a mortgage on a boat, however specialist loans are available. They typically need quite a hefty deposit, have a higher interest rate than a mortgage and a shorter repayment term.
Running costs depend on the type, size, how often the boat is used, and where it is moored.

Boat types

permanently moored houseboat and narrowboat by town houses in city
Boats that are permanently moored static homes without engines are rare in the UK.
The most common houseboat types is the steel narrowboat, typically 6ft 10in wide and up to 72ft long. There’s limited living space, but they are the cheapest option for living on a boat and a size that is ideal for navigating the waterways.
If you want more space, opt for a Dutch barge, which must be moored on rivers. They can be up to 120ft in length and 20ft wide, and being flat bottomed, they rock far less than narrow boats.


If you are going to live on a boat full-time, you will need to be either continuously cruising or have a residential mooring.
Boat owners who are continuously cruising are required to move their boat every 14 days and a minimum of 20 miles per year. You may have to move before the 14 days are up, for example if there is a time limit specified or you’re near a lock. 
"You will need to be either continuously cruising or have a residential mooring"
If you need to stay in one place, for example for your children’s schooling or work commitments, you will need a residential mooring.
They can be hard to obtain and can be a considerable expense, especially in the most desired locations such as cities and the southeast. They typically cost from a few hundred pounds to several thousand pounds per month.
Bear in mind that moorings are usually short-term agreements that can be terminated at little notice. Residential moorings are also subject to the lowest council tax band, A.

Boat licence

Moored houseboat
Whether you have a mooring or not, you will need to get a boat licence, which typically costs from several hundred pounds to more than £1500 annually.
There are different licenses for the different navigation authorities, which include the Canal and River Trust and the Environment Agency.


As a minimum to obtain your boat licence, you will need third-party insurance for your boat. If you also want contents insurance, it will probably cost more than for a house or flat due to the added security risk.

Boat safety certificate

Like an MOT for boats, this will cost around £200 upwards including the examiner’s fee, and there may be extra repair costs on top.


blue houseboat on canal
Boats require ongoing maintenance, and things like rust, mildew and mould accumulate quickly and need to be addressed. You’ll need some contingency funds in place in case there’s a big ticket item to pay for, such as the engine packing in.
However, that’s little different to preparing for the things that go wrong with a house, such as the roof needing replacing or the boiler needed repairing.

Hull blacking and painting

One costly area of maintenance that can’t be scrimped upon each three to five years or so is hull blacking and painting to avoid expensive steel damage.
Here your boat is taken out of the water, pressure washed, blacked with bitumen and painted, at a cost of around £1000 upwards.
It typically takes a few days and so you will need to factor in the cost of alternative accommodation.

Boat survey

If you’re buying a boat, to avoid being lumbered with a vessel in need of lots of costly repairs you should invest in a boat survey, which will typically cost £400 or more.

Try it out first

If you’re thinking of living on a houseboat, it is a good idea to initially book a holiday of a few days in summer and winter to see exactly what it’s like.
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