Buying a Narrowboat: What you need to know

With the rise of COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown taking up most of our 2020, more than ever UK residents are craving a sense of freedom, adventure and exploration opportunities. 

Boat sales have been booming across the globe in recent months and it’s easy to see why. Cruising the UK on a narrowboat is social distancing at its best and it allows you to explore the UK from a completely different perspective.

Narrowboat living holds many advantages, but before you purchase your very own vessel, we’re here to give you the insider knowledge, tips and advice for what to expect.

What is your narrowboat for?

It might sound obvious, but have you actually considered what you want to use your narrowboat for? Perhaps you’re looking to downsize and are thinking of making your vessel a permanent home, or are you looking to use it solely for weekend trips to explore various parts of the UK? Once you identify the reason for purchasing, this will inevitably influence the type of canal boat you choose to buy.

Take square footage into consideration. If you’re intending to live on your boat you’ll most likely require a larger vessel which houses all the necessary plumbing, electricity and facilities for daily living. If you’re looking to use your vessel for short trips, square footage and facilities such as a fully equipped kitchen might not be your top priority.

Research running costs

Owning a canal boat may sound good in theory, but one of the first things to consider is costs. Boat owning doesn’t come cheap, so budgeting will be a major factor in your purchasing decision.

Consider a pre-purchase survey carried out by a qualified marine surveyor for the ultimate peace of mind. The size, age and facilities of your canal boat will influence the total amount for running costs. Performing regular maintenance checks, mooring fees, canal and river trust licences are just some of the other associated costs to take into account. You should also consider buying breakdown cover from a reputable company, such as RCR

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Prepare for regular maintenance

narrowboats docked at uk canalSource

Narrowboats require adequate upkeep in order to run smoothly. Regular tweaks and careful checks of your canal boat are key for comfortable living and longevity.

Prior to purchasing, it’s essential to consider any upfront maintenance costs by checking the condition of your chosen narrowboat thoroughly. Look for signs of wear and tear and check the paintwork and varnish is in good condition. An essential pre-purchase check is plumbing, electrical and gas installations are compliant to safety regulations and are up to date.

From an operational perspective, make sure you conduct thorough checks of your vessel’s engine and gearbox. Look out for leaks and obvious signs of wear and tear to parts. Check your oil and coolant levels, as well as air filters to make sure that all the relevant servicing is up to date and documented. 

Becoming familiar with maintaining your vessel takes practice, that’s why we’ve put together a video guide so you can become an expert on narrowboat maintenance.

Ensure you have the correct paperwork

Similar to owning a house, your newly purchased narrowboat will require certain paperwork. This includes boat insurance, a boat safety certificate, a canal and river trust licence, as well as ownership papers.

Keeping track of this paperwork can feel overwhelming, that’s why having a dedicated digital organiser like MyBoat can help you to safely store that important documentation in one place. You can also create and customise reminders for renewing your insurance papers.

Canal cruising with confidencenarrowboat cruising on canal


All that's left to do now is enjoy the waterways. Make the most of your trips and get inspiration for the top must-have narrowboat holidays in the UK.

For further help, support and guidance, the RYA’s Inland Waterways Helmsman Course provides all the tools you’ll need to operate your narrowboat confidently.

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