Winter is here – Are You And Your Narrowboat Prepared!
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Tue Jan 20, 2015 at 10:26am

How to Live on Your Narrowboat Over The Winter Time

People who are new to boating often ask whether it’s possible to live on a narrowboat over the Winter; the answer is Yes it is possible, it’s just a case of being prepared for the colder weather in the winter months.


Having good housekeeping in place will enable you to enjoy living comfortably on your boat even in the coldest and wettest weather. Being prepared for the winter winds, rain, snow and ice will make living on your boat do-able and you shouldn’t run into any issues.

If you plan to keep cruising over the Winter you will need to check for stoppages as this may affect your journey.  'Stoppages' are when the Canal and River Trust close or restrict parts of the canal systems to carry out maintenance work, this usually happens in the winter when the canals are quieter. Stoppages can be found on the CRT website and you'll be able to search for stoppages on their site using the interactive map.

A frozen canal will cause a problem if you want to cruise. However it will not affect your day to day living IF you are prepared! Our advice to you if you find yourself in frozen water is to NOT try and break the ice by driving the boat through it, especially if it is over half an inch thick. If you insist on doing this you will be putting your engine under a huge strain and it may also cause damage to your hull, as the ice pieces can scrape the blacking away. You need also to consider other boaters; if you are crashing through thick ice these slabs of ice are going to be hitting the other boats around you causing damage.  This is not something other boat owners will appreciate! So unless there is an emergency, be patient, sit tight until the water starts to thaw.

Warning - If the canal freezes and has two or more inches of ice, then no matter how much you try to move, you aren’t going anywhere until the temperature rises and the ice releases you!

If the canal allows it, and you are cruising, remember to wrap up and keep warm. Take turns at the helm, sharing this task will ensure no one ends up with hypothermia. A steady supply of warm drinks will help keep you going when it’s your turn to cruise the boat.

As tempting as it may be, please do not let any of your party walk on the frozen canal, this is very dangerous and should be left to the swans and ducks!

Top Tips

Follow these simple steps whether you are cruising or mooring to ensure the boat will run efficiently over the winter;

  • Emergency food should be stocked up just in case the canal claims you for a few days or weeks!
  • Ensure the fuel tank is filled up.
  • Make sure you have about 30% of anti-freeze in your water and heating system
  • Stock up the solid fuel for your stove, Insulate your pipes to prevent damage
  • Check the batteries are in good working order
  • Make sure the boat is well ventilated to reduce the chance of condensation arising.
  • Protect the hull by hanging planks of wood alongside the boat to prevent ice slabs bumping into your hull when you are mooring.
  • If you use a pump out toilet, it is worth carrying a cassette toilet to use in case you get stuck for a long period of time and you are unable to empty your usual facility.

Outside Advice

It goes without saying that icy surfaces are potentially lethal, so extra care needs to be taken when you are outside. Take extra care getting on and off your boat and when walking on the towpath and using the locks.

Dress for the weather; if you are warm and dry then carrying out jobs like operating the lock, tying up the boat, and other outdoor tasks are much more comfortable and you stand less chance of catching a cold.

If you are using the water pipes on the towpath or at a marina make sure you completely turn off the tap and also take care not to spill any water which will create an icy puddle.

For those of you who intend to leave your boat unattended over the winter then read our blog about winterising your narrow boat.