The Secret Of Living Cheaply In London
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Thu Jan 16, 2014 at 3:01pm

Noticing A Change

We have noticed a trend in the past 18 months of young people purchasing narrow boats from us with the intention of cruising to London and living on the canal system in the city.

An amazing 3rd of all narrow boats sold from our Marina each year make their way down to London. This alternative living accommodation is allowing young people to get their foot on the property ladder, and have an investment in the future.
Young people who are looking to leave home and find their own accommodation and independence are choosing to buy a narrow boat. Affording a bricks and mortar property has just become too expensive for many. Young professional people are now choosing to live on the water ways creating a wonderful way of life with no ties and enjoying the experience living and cruising around the many miles of canals in London.
It is estimated that there is around 100,000 narrow boats currently in London already, with easy access to commute via the underground getting around London couldn’t be easier, many Londoners also use a bicycle to get around the city.
Being able to cruise around the canals and rivers of the city enables young people to enjoy and experience the different areas of London, staying in trendy and sort after places such as; Little Venice, Camden Town, Richmond, Uxbridge and Islington to name just a few. The communities are very friendly and people tend to moor in groups creating small tight knit communities. Mooring together also makes living on the waterways a safer place.
Becoming a continuous cruiser means you don’t need to buy a permanent mooring licence and as long as you cruise every two weeks you are able to continue to enjoy living on the water ways. If you wanted to consider a permanent mooring the cost will be determined on the length of your boat, but as an example a 60 foot mooring in a popular London dockland marina would cost around £6,000 per annum. This is still a very cost effective solution for living in a major city.

With London property prices rising to record levels people are opting to livaboard as it’s an affordable option. As a guideline even renting a one bedroom flat in London can cost anywhere from £850 to £1,500 per week and a single room in a shared situation costing as much as £600 a month, prices obviously depend on the area you are living. On top of the rent there are all the other additional expenses to consider; poll tax, water rates, electricity and gas.
When living aboard all you have to pay is a cruising licence to the Canal and River Trust  and cover the running costs of diesel to heat your boat. There is of course the usual maintenance costs involved to owning a boat, but not the overheads like the examples above, making day to day living very reasonable in a city location.
There is now a growing community of young people living on the waterways not just in London, but across the whole of the country. With over 3000 miles of canals in the UK there is plenty of room to accommodate this new trendy style of living.

What To Expect From A Narrow Boat

Depending on how much you spend on a narrow boat will determine the spec, but basically buying a boat for around £20,000 will be like living home from home, with all the modern amenities of living in a brick home; central heating, hot water, electricity, washing machine, fully fitted kitchen with fridge freezer, cooker, microwave etc, bath or shower room and toilet.
And the biggest garden you can imagine!

Typical Interior Of A Narrow Boat Will Include:

  • Lounge Area
  • Kitchen/Diner
  • Bedroom
  • Bathroom/Shower room

Paying For Your Dream

Everyone’s financial circumstances are different, but there are plenty of options to finance a purchase. If you are lucky enough to have the money in the bank then a straight cash deal can be made, but for those needing additional finance there are a few other solutions available:

The Bank Of Mum And Dad - Many parents are in a position to release some equity from the home property or to take out a 2nd mortgage. This enables them to help get their child get onto the property ladder, giving them peace of mind their child has a secure base and also at the same time they have an investment. Investing money in a narrow boat also gives the parents additional accommodation. Many parents are more than happy to help finance a purchase rather than seeing their child paying out money on rental every month and have nothing to show for it in years to come.

Personal Loan From A High Street Bank – Below is an example of the repayments you would expect to pay for a personal loan from one high street bank. (These figures were calculated and correct at the time and date of this article).

Marine Mortgage – Can be organised through a company such as RoyScot Larch this type of funding to buy a boat is the same as purchasing a house with a mortgage. You will need a deposit typically 20% of the purchase price, for most boat purchases your Inland Waterways loan will need to be secured against the boat you purchase. More detailed information can be obtained from RoyScot Larch on 01235 438280

Useful Information

The London Regional office of British Waterways will send you two useful guides free of charge. “Boaters Guide to Moorings in the London Region”, telephone 020 7286 6101.

Read About Pete and Sarah’s experience of buying a narrow boat

1 Why did you choose to buy a narrow boat?

"Two friends of ours bought a Dutch barge to live on, in London, two or three years ago. Every time I went to see them I thought it was the best way to live, and anytime they were away we offered to look after it. It seemed to be a way of living in London but moving away from roads and nearer open space".

2 How did you find the purchase process at Whilton Marina?
"I can't speak more highly of buying from Whilton Marina. Looking at the boats was a very relaxed experience, we were just handed the keys and could peruse at our leisure. The offer process was pressure free and, once we'd bought it, they took the pressure of negotiating any maintenance to the boat, organising work to be done etc. upon themselves."

3 Can you tell us more about the community you will be living in?
"London canals have become much busier in the last year. The cost of rent is, for many people, unmanageable and it is demoralizing to work extremely hard to only just cover costs. So the community of boaters is a mixed demographic. There are the long term boaters, those that have been living on the canals for years, a diverse array of bohemian types who don't mind living in small spaces and think that there might be more to life than work, and people in smarter boats who perhaps are on more substantial incomes but still can't afford a house and want a place of their own."

4 What do you consider the main benefits of living on a boat?
"A huge benefit is the financial aspect mentioned above. Sarah and I can have a place of our own rather than sharing a small room in a shared house. But what initially attracted us remains. We're much more in touch with the seasons, nearer to open space, aware of the energy we use and aware of the waste we create as we don't enjoy the same conveniences in place in a house."

5 What was the cruising experience like from Whilton to London?
"Cruising from Whilton to London was epic, in fact still is as we're still doing it. We're having to do it in stages as both of us have to work, so it's taking some time."

6 What are your occupations?
"I'm a musician and Sarah is a Landscape Architect"

7 Would you recommend this life style and Whilton Marina to other people?
"I would recommend it and, in fact, many of our friends are following suit. There seems to be little option for many. London will soon be unaffordable to many of the people who make it such a vibrant place to live. People have to live further and further out and travel further and further to find work. Not a recipe for a happy city. Whilton were great and a really nice bunch of chaps."


Alasdair | Fri Jul 21, 2017 at 8:02am
Jjust did this for a bit - ended up with no end of trouble because I moved on in October and had to get to grips with the winter! Still, at least now the summer is nice but I'm selling up as I don't think I can bear another winter. It's a shame - because you're right; the community is wonderful and it's very cost effective! One of the things I wish I'd known is how to make sure your boat is set up well for longer term winter moorings - mine was an old hire boat used to shorter summer trips and I didn't buy well! I cruised around quite a bit with one couple who were trying out living aboard for a while before they took the plunge - i think they got their boat through - and it seemed like an interesting half way house. Something I'd definitely have done had I known, even just to try it for 3 months or so. It isn't for everyone - I found it far more work than I realised and on top of working 50 hours a week it was just too much!
Whilton Marina | Tue Jul 25, 2017 at 11:27am
Hello Alasdair,Thanks for giving your opinions and advice about living aboard a narrowboat. We are sorry to hear that it hasn't worked out for you living aboard. Narrowboating life is not for everyone, but some people love it too.
Anuradha | Wed Nov 8, 2017 at 10:31am
Can somebody please tell me about how many people live permanently in narrow boats today? There must be residence statistics right? I just can't seem to find it anywhere!
Whilton Marina | Mon Nov 13, 2017 at 12:26pm
We are unsure where you would find statistics relating to how many people permanently live aboard a narrowboat. The Canal and River Trust may have some figures so we suggest asking them.
Max | Fri Sep 6, 2019 at 4:58pm
I am planning to buy a narrowboat from your company, then cruise to London. But I am looking for a Residential/permanent mooring in London city somewhere near underground. Can you handle all these through your company (including to find a reasonable fee of residential mooring). Looking forward to hear your reply asap.
Whilton Marina | Mon Sep 9, 2019 at 2:42pm
Hello Max, We would be very happy to sell you a narrowboat. However we wouldn't be able to find you a London mooring. We would advise that you find the London mooring before purchasing a narrowboat, as the length of boat you could buy would be determined by the mooring space available. Moorings in London can be hard to find, look at the Canal and River Trusts website for more help in finding a London mooring
Michelle Cope | Tue Sep 10, 2019 at 11:43am
Can you cruise legally in London all year ? And do you have to stop at specific moorings when cruising or can you stop anywhere where you can safely get off the boat ? Would really appreciate advice on this
Whilton Marina | Tue Sep 10, 2019 at 12:46pm
Hello Michelle, As a rule of thumb, you can stay anywhere on the towpath for up to 14 days, unless there’s a sign with a time limit, if it’s on a lock landing, or next to facilities. If you’re intending to continuously cruise around the Greater London area, it’s worth keeping an eye out for the latest updates on the Canal and River Trusts website, copy this hyperlink into your web browser:
Whilton Marina | Tue Sep 10, 2019 at 12:50pm
Hello again Michelle, However, if you wanted to live aboard a boat in London you'd obviously need permanent moorings.
Gary Fassioms | Sat Nov 16, 2019 at 10:52pm
I’m interested in buying a narrow boat preferably a 57 foot I’m not experienced in canal boat life style but have been thinking about making the transition for almost a year now Kind regards Gary
Whilton Marina | Fri Nov 22, 2019 at 4:05pm
Hi Gary, We can certainly help you buying a narrowboat. We have plenty 57ft narrowboats in stock, when the times right give us a call.
Will | Mon Oct 12, 2020 at 10:28am
Hi, thanks for the article it's very helpful. I'm weighing up buying a narrowboat to escape the London rental cycle but was wondering about what sort of length is feasible. I'm conscious London waterways are filling up and would like to do continuous cruiser; how difficult is it to drive and find moorings if you're 50 or 60 feet and/or widebeam? Obviously the extra length makes a big difference inside and my partner and I both work from home so need a bit of space, but I don't want to have something that is impossible to get through the Islington tunnel or park anywhere!
Whilton Marina | Fri Oct 16, 2020 at 2:54pm
Hi Will, What exiting times ahead for you. You are right the London canals are filling up fast so I smaller narrowboat would be easier to find a mooring for although you do want a big enough boat to live on. We would suggest finding an area where you'd ideally like to moor and contact near by marinas and the Canal River Trust as the CRT offer canal moorings. Something to be aware of is a 70ft boat will not allow you to cruise the whole canal network.Thanks
Don Nadie | Sat Jan 9, 2021 at 12:47pm
Me and my GF want to buy and live in a narrow boat or house boat
Whilton Marina | Thu Jan 21, 2021 at 12:43pm
Hi Don, Pleased to hear your girlfriend wants to live on a narrowboat, make sure you come and visit to have a look at narrowboat when you're able to.
Paula | Tue Jul 11, 2023 at 10:10am
Very interesting , informative.

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