The true cost of buying a narrowboat

Boy do narrowboats cost more than you think, I guess that’s why BOAT stands for Bung On Another Thousand, I just wish we’d known this before we started the exciting process of buying our boat. It might be obvious for anyone who has bought a house before, you’ll be accustomed to solicitors fees, survey costs and general moving costs which are associated with house buying, however for a naive couple who knew nothing about narrowboats, the fact that there were additional costs on top of the purchase price of the boat came as a surprise, but just not as much of a surprise as how large those costs can be. When we sat down to figure it all out we were shocked at the true cost of buying a narrowboat so we thought we’d tell you all how much it really costs so if you’re looking to buy a boat of your own you won’t have any surprises.

The day we bought our boat

Purchase Price: £23,000

The biggest and most obvious cost we started with was the purchase price of the boat, these vary wildly depending on the size and age of your boat, the boat builder or fitter, the location you are buying your boat from and even the time of year you are buying. Within our budget we were limited to what options we had, we could either get a very dilapidated large boat or a smaller boat that was liveable, the middle ground just all seemed to be far too expensive for us. We settled on a 40ft narrowboat which was liveable but needed a bit of updating, it’s not from a famous boat builder and our interior fit was by the previous owner but it was full of charm and importantly within our price range. Thankfully due to the time of year and the location we were buying from the price was reasonable plus there was plenty of wiggle room and so we took the plunge and bought the boat.

Pre Purchase Survey: £825

One thing we heard constantly is that you should never buy a boat without getting a survey first, you simply can’t know what lies beneath without taking the boat out of the water. This was certainly a hard pill to swallow, especially when we found out the price. A pre purchase survey is a series of exploratory tests on your boat that provide you with all the important information you’ll need such as steel thickness, what electric, water and gas facilities you have, as well as condition of all aspects of the boat and engine. For us as novices we still refer to our survey to this day so we can locate hidden away glands and dipsticks as well as using it as a list of repairs we know we need to tackle. Prices for surveys will vary so you should shop around but not all surveyors are created equal so make sure you find one you trust, the best ones enjoy showing you everything as they’re doing it. The cost of the survey will also include the price to remove your boat from the water, be it via dry dock, crane or slip way, out of our £825, £250 of it was for the use of a dry dock so make sure you factor that in when you’re shopping around.

Our boat passed it’s survey with flying colours

Canal and River Trust Licence: £750

So your survey goes ok, your hull thickness is up to scratch and you have an engine that runs, go ahead and purchase your boat! If you want to have your boat on any of the canals or rivers then you’re going to need a licence from the Canal and River Trust, it is after all their water your boat is on apparently. This licence pays for your right to be on the waterways, maintenance of the canals and towpaths you’ll be using, the facilities across the network as well as the locks, swing bridges and tunnels you’ll be using. It’s a necessary requirement and so a cost you’ll have to pay, but thankfully it varies based on the length of your boat, which because ours is only 40ft came to around £750 for the year.

Insurance: £190

As with any vehicle you’re going to need to insure it and a narrowboat is no different. Thankfully boat insurance is significantly cheaper than car insurance and so although it’s an additional cost it didn’t break the bank. For better or for worse their aren’t a tonne of insurers out there so finding one to insure us was a pretty easy and painless experience and we were insured within about 10 minutes of being on the phone.

Diesel, Gas and Oils: £80

Before selling us the boat we’re pretty sure the previous owner used all of the gas, diesel and engine oil in the entire boat, which is in stark contrast to the rest of the boat where he seemingly left behind anything and everything from old car radios to a porta potti half full. So before we could move the boat at all we had to fill up everything and so we were hit with an immediate £80 to top up tanks, replace cylinders and buy more essential oils.

Boat Moving: £600

This one is less of an essential cost but something you might have to consider if you were in the situation as we were. If you’re lucky enough to have found a boat in your price range in the exact area you plan to use it you won’t need to move your boat, for all others this will be a consideration. Now a lot of people would simply cruise with their boat from the location they bought it from to their new mooring on their own at no additional cost, which of course was our preference, however due to a combination of canal closures and temporary work contracts neither me nor Olivia were able to be free during the time the boat was to be moved and so we had to employ a professional boat mover to take it from the marina we bought it from to our new mooring. The going rate for a boat mover is around £100 per day, they move your boat, sleep aboard and repeat daily until your boat arrives at your desired location. Despite buying a boat only 1 hours drive in our van away from our new mooring we soon found out that narrowboats move extremely slowly and the canal network is not in any way as the crow flies and so we ended up with a 6 day boat moving cost to deal with.

Breakdown Cover: £140

Cruising for a week from the marina to our new mooring in a boat which hadn’t been run for nearly 6 years filled both me and the boat mover with dread. The engine had been looked at as part of the survey but our narrowboat hadn’t seen extended cruising time for a number of years and so we thought it was prudent to get breakdown cover for our boat. Our package covers us for on water repairs including basic parts for breakdowns across the entire network for the next year so we can cruise in confidence whenever we like knowing if s**t hits the propeller we can call for assistance. Breakdown cover was another in a long list of unexpected but necessary costs we incurred, all within hours of buying our boat!

We got a lovely mooring and a new home

Mooring Fees: £3400 (£285 a month)

Some people will continuously cruise and avoid mooring fees but for us and especially in our first year of boating we have opted for a residential mooring and the security and stability that provides. Similar to renting a house this money comes out monthly (thankfully!) and provides us with a 60ft pontoon and the stretch of water next to it, not to mention a lockable gate and the use of marina facilities. The fact we don’t have to move regularly and we have a base for our renovations, parking for our campervan and an address where our friends and family can easily visit is worth the cost to us. Mooring fees differ greatly by marina and by location and before we bought our narrowboat we heard horror stories about the tens of thousands boaters in London were paying just to be able to moor up in and around the city, so when we heard the fees for the marina we chose we were pleasantly surprised. There sure are cheaper ways to live in a narrowboat but this was a cost we were happy to pay, at least for the first year while we learn the ropes.

Keys: £130

We got our boat, insured it, licenced it, moved it, secured a mooring and then we found out that we’d need to pay for keys to actually use some of these facilities and marinas. Our mooring requires a key to enter which required a £50 per key (we had to get one each of course!), luckily we will get this money back once we leave however until then that money is not in our account. Our post box needed a key £12, our facilities block needed a key (£8), the locks, bridges, toilets and water taps across the canal network need a key (£8), in the first few weeks it seemed everything needed a key and every key cost us more money, we felt like we were stuck in the greatest key selling scam of the decade! We finally think we have all the keys we need but I live in constant fear that I’m going to arrive at a door I can’t open and the Canal and River Trust is going to slap me with another £8 fee!

The day we signed the papers for our boat we also paid out £26,000 from our account, £23,000 of it was expected, the final £3,000 that day just kept creeping up on us! We still have mooring fees on a monthly basis as well as the usual continued costs but all in all the true cost of buying a narrowboat was much more than we expected. Thankfully for us the £3,000 was money we could afford thanks to negotiating the price of the boat down from £27,000 but it’s never nice to be hit with so much all at once. I hope that this quick breakdown gives you something to think about when buying a narrowboat and sheds some light on the true cost of buying a narrowboat.