Living aboard a narrowboat with a cat

You might have seen from our logbook entry for April 2019 that we have welcomed a cat aboard our narrowboat and are living with our very own ship’s cat. Since we spoke about our cat Tebay we’ve received plenty of messages on Instagram and emails questioning the wisdom of having a cat on a floating home surrounded by water, worried for the safety and happiness of a cat in that situation, well we’re here to tell you that not only can it be a safe place it can also be an excellent home for your cat and an exciting, enriched and happy life for them to lead. In this article we’ll discuss how we prepared the boat for our newest arrival, how we integrated him to boat life over the first 4 weeks and how we continue living aboard a narrowboat with a cat harmoniously.

Preparing your narrowboat for a cat

We’re going to try and keep preparations here as simple and to a minimum so that we cover the essentials you will need to do in order for your cat to have everything they need to survive and thrive aboard your narrowboat. Don’t let this list of preparations stop you for any additional ideas you have for your cat, after all we all know we want to spoil them with toys and treats!

Litter tray

Fill a litter tray with 2 inches of unscented cat litter. You’re going to need somewhere for your cat to do its business unless you plan on having an actual poop deck and so a litter tray is essential and not only for that reason. Litter trays form the centre of a cats territory as it is a big box that smells like your cat and so making sure you have this set up and especially that you don’t use scented litter will help your cat to not only have a facility they need but will help them to understand your boat as its safe territory. 

Food and Water

Feeding station for Tebay

Set up a feeding station with two bowls, one for food and one for water. Like any creature a cat will need food and water, we won’t tell you what types to buy and how much to spend as this is really up to you but what we will say is that you should have your two bowls set up in a prominent but safe place, located away from the litter tray, after all you wouldn’t like to s**t where you eat and neither would your cat.

Scratching post

Add a scratching post to your boat. Cat’s claws need to be worn down regularly and we’re guessing you won’t want that to be on your sofa or curtains and that’s why we recommend a scratching post for your narrowboat. These come in all kinds of shapes and sizes and which one you get really depends on how much room you have available. The best one we found was this wall mounted post which is fantastic for narrowboat living as it screws straight into the wall of the narrowboat, sits perfectly under the gunwales and takes up no floor space which anyone who lives on a narrowboat knows is at a premium.

Ensure your boat is safe

Add an escape route for your cat. Although you will want to keep your cat inside the boat for at least the first 4 weeks to enable them to realise your narrowboat is their home now there is always a chance they will escape and find themselves in the canal, it’s simply a hazard of cats on the cut. And while cats are good swimmers they struggle to get out of the canal due to the high sides and boats with nothing to get purchase on to get back out again. We simply added an old bit of carpet to the outside of our mooring so that should Tebay fall in (which he has done many times) he can at least climb out back to safety using the carpet (which he has also done thankfully)

Catify your narrowboat

He adores his hammock

Add hiding places and viewing places for your cat. Look at your narrowboat through the eyes of a territorial cat and you will soon realise that you might need to make some additions to your interior to help your cat feel safe and at home. Consider adding ledges or vantage points for your cat to be able to climb to to survey their territory or adding places for them to be able to hide. For us we cleared a space for Tebay to be able to sit on our cupboard and see out of the front window, we added a hammock attached to the window so he can sit above us all and keep an eye on us and then bought a pop up tunnel so he can slink about unseen by us. These three simple changes mean he feels in control of his boat and we can also clear them away if we need to make room for other activities such as playing!

First day on the narrowboat

How exciting, they day has arrived for your cat to come to your narrowboat, you’ve followed the above steps to prepare and now you’re eagerly awaiting their arrival. Unfortunately it’s not as simple as opening your doors and letting your cat in as you’re most likely going to be getting a nervous and slightly disorientated cat into the boat and so here are some tips to make the first day on the narrowboat a stress free and successful day for both you and your new cat.

Set up a safe space

When you’re bringing a cat into a house it is much easier to set up a quiet and warm room for your cat with everything it needs so that it can feel safe and start setting up it’s new territory, however you may not have this luxury on a narrowboat, I know we didn’t. Tebay arrived to us in the morning and we had decided that we would avoid the bedroom at the stern of the boat until it was time for our bedtime. Although there was no door to close it still gave our cat a space where he knew he could go to if he felt scared where we wouldn’t be. We had some food and water back there and avoided disturbing him in there as much as we could despite wanting to be around him as much as we did!

Let them come to you

It is so tempting when you get a new cat to stroke and play with them, follow them around and try to coral them into doing things however especially on the first day you will want to give them plenty of space and let them come to you rather than chasing them around. When they arrive in their pet carrier sit on the floor and open it up, let them take their time to come out and sniff you and the area and don’t be upset if they run away and hide from you, they will come round in time.

Temper your expectations

Day one will be a strange and stressful day for your cat so don’t be surprised if they don’t eat as much as you would have hoped or if they hide from you all of the time, this kind of thing can last for a few days, a week or even a month depending on the cat and is all totally normal. Don’t expect everything to be all go right from the off! We were very lucky that Tebay is the most inquisitive and also affectionate cat we have seen and so within an hour he was already marking us as part of the family and was jumping all over us playing in his new home.

The first few weeks

Congratulations to both you and your cat in surviving your first day together on the narrowboat however integration continues for the next few weeks. As we have said it might take your cat a few weeks to really settle in so be patient. Here are some things to consider in the following weeks.

Keep your cat indoors

He longs for the great outdoors

It’s vital that you don’t let your cat out and about for at least the first few weeks (for us we waited a full month). This is to be sure that they have had a chance to establish the narrowboat as their territory and for them to realise that they live there now. If you let them out too soon you may find that they simply don’t come back because they don’t see the narrowboat as their home yet so it’s always better to play it safe. We kept Tebay in the boat for the first 4 weeks despite his meowing to be let out to explore, by that point he had explored every inch of the boat, sniffed every surface and smeared his scent over everything including us and so he was comfortable that he was at home now.

Introduce play time

Introduce play time – Play time plays a key role in the happiness of your new cat especially if they are being kept in a small boat for the first 4 weeks. Playing with a cat serves a number of purposes, it helps them scratch their hunting itch which is one way to calm down a cat who might be a little bit violent, it tires them out which helps them to sleep through the night and it strengthens the bond between you and the cat through play. We have a variety of toys including this feather wand which Tebay loves to pounce on, balls for him to play by himself when we are out and a laser pointer for him to chase endlessly once he’s tired us out of swinging the wand all evening.

Slowly allow your cat to explore

After you have kept your cat for a few weeks and you are ready to start letting your cat out you need to remember that it is a big and scary world out there and so you want to make its first forays into the nearby world calm and stress free. Try to keep the interaction with other people and pets to a minimum the first few times they go out and give them time to expand their territory without being startled too much and taking a step back. Slowly you will notice the circle you cat explores grow and grow as they become more confident. For us this was a scary prospect, Tebay is under a year old and is very inquisitive so we were worried about him getting too excited and losing his way home. He hasn’t yet and always likes to know we’re nearby, whether that’s running back to the boat to make sure it’s still there or popping his head up from the bushes to make sure me or Olivia are still within sight. He seems fine but it still worries us so we invested in a cat tracking device which sits on his collar, we got a Tabcat tracker which is extremely light so it doesn’t encumber him and allows us to be able to locate him when he decides to hide in the bushes. It’s been a great buy because it gives us piece of mind even if we haven’t had to use it yet!

Enjoy your time together

One sure fire way to make sure you’re cat has a happy life in these first few weeks and even beyond is to make sure you enjoy your time together, yes cats have a mind of their own and can do some frustrating things at 3am but you have to remember that they feel the same about some of our habits! Once you get into a routine with them you will find them great company and they will feel the same, soon you will find yourself one of the cat family and they will show you their affection, whether that’s through slow blinks at you, chatting to you through meows, sleeping with/on you or even licking and grooming you.

Here’s what we bought…

To try and help we put together an Amazon list of the gear we bought to help make Tebay an adventure cat. Click the photo below or head over to