What to look for when you’re buying a narrowboat to live in

If you’re anything like us you will have no idea about what to look for when you’re buying a narrowboat, you’ll spend your time cruising canal forums looking for advice on what questions to ask when it comes to hull thicknesses and types of engine as well as trying to figure out whether the ballast you’re seeing in the hull is gravel or concrete or like us, what a hull was! In fact we spent so much time pouring over these important boating questions we forgot to ask questions on the things we did know about, actually living in a place. While narrowboats are strange and wonderful mysteries they are still essentially just a home with most of the facilities you get in your house however there are some subtle differences to look out for before you choose your narrowboat so to make sure they don’t get lost in the research you’re undertaking on calorifiers and whale gulpers we’ve put together a list of what to look for when you’re buying a narrowboat to live in.

Our small bedroom

Make sure the bed is big enough

You’re excitedly rushing through your potential new narrowboat and you get to the bedroom, the bed is there, check it off the list. It’s only when you sleep on your new narrowboat for the first time that you realise a lot of beds on narrowboats are not full width! The first night we slept on Toby I couldn’t figure out why it was my shoulder was continuously hanging off the side, surely Olivia can’t have been pushing me off the bed more than usual. In the morning, after a terrible night’s sleep, I realised that the bed was missing 20cm in width compared to our old bed. So when you’re viewing your narrowboat, don’t forget to take a lie down in the bed and figure out whether it is going to be wide enough for you and if not look to see what options you have to rectify this, be it a fold out bed or even rotating the bed so it is length ways across the boat itself.

Turning our storage into the right kind for us

Is there enough storage and is it right for you

Another thing which you need no experience of narrowboats to assess is whether the storage in any potential boat is going to be suitable for your needs. You’re limited on space when you move onto a narrowboat and so it is vital to not only make sure your narrowboat has enough storage, it needs to be the right kind of storage. Take our boat for example, we have plenty of built in storage, draws under the bed, draws under the sofa, shelves everywhere and plenty of ledges to keep things, these work for us because the majority of things we have can be kept on shelves and in draws. If you were someone who needed to store suits for work or long items of clothing they would find the ample storage we have insufficient for their needs. Consider what it is you have in your current house and the type of storage you use most and then figure out whether your new narrowboat has what you need.

What type of toilet do you want

A flushable toilet is one thing I think we all take for granted, when viewing narrowboats we initially were just ticking off the fact that it had a toilet in it (some of the smaller boats we saw did not) but it turns out that there is more than one way do your business on a narrowboat. There are two main ways toilets work on narrowboats and it is something you should look out for when deciding whether to buy. The first method is known as a pump out toilet, to put it simply, your poo is held in a massive tank inside your boat and you have to take it to a pump out station where it is sucked out with a huge vacuum cleaner. If you’re a fan of not having to regularly deal with your own poo and are happy to travel and pay for a pump out station then this could be the method for you. The second method is a cassette toilet, you poo into a box (all be it a snazzy one) which you then empty manually by pouring into a hole at an ELSAN point. The benefit of this method is that it is free to empty your toilet and the number of points you can do this far outnumber the number of pump out stations so convenience is increased. The downside is that you have to empty your toilet far more regularly and by hand which is not the nicest chore to complete on a Sunday morning. Which method you opt for will really be down to your circumstances, we for instance, wanted a cassette toilet as our marina did not have a pump out station and we were very used to dealing with our own poo having used a cassette toilet in our campervan for the last few years.

Thank goodness we’re short

Is there enough head height

It may seem obvious but we were amazed at how many people we spoke to who bought narrowboats to live in in which they couldn’t fully stand up. Head height can be an issue when you are looking at narrowboats and each will have different amounts of it so it’s something you’re going to need to look out for when viewing any potential homes. You can easily fall in love with a boat on the day and think that you can compromise on having to bend ever so slightly when standing, after all, you’re going to be sitting/lying down most of the time anyway right? Trust us, it won’t be long before the novelty of that runs out and the fact you can’t even stand in your own home will become a huge annoyance. You can compromise on storage or toilet but you can’t lower the floor to gain more head height so think carefully before you consider compromising on that.

So there you have it, what to look for when you’re buying a narrowboat to live in. There will of course be loads more for you to consider and plenty of criteria for your narrowboat but those are a few things we think are easily missed in the excitement of hunting for the perfect narrowboat. Once you’ve found the perfect narrowboat why not take a look at our article on the true cost of buying a narrowboat to see how much the next step is going to cost you…