Country houses for sale

Buying a houseboat

What is life on the water really? Here we reveal all you need to know about purchasing a floating home.

Seventy years ago, Cressy, the Shropshire Union Canal boat immortalised in Tom Rolt’s elegaic travelogue Narrow Boat, inspired a generation to take to the waterways and discover a Britain untouched since the Industrial Revolution. The book is still in print and, today, canals, once-forgotten relics hidden behind corrugated iron, are home to a floating population of 15,000 that encompasses young professionals, families and retirees.

Boaters can still enjoy the simpler way of life and ever-changing scenery, but, these days, thanks to regeneration initiated by British Waterways (now the Canal & River Trust), canals attract wildlife such as kingfishers, water voles and otters and are vibrant and cultural places on which to live and work.

Life on the water is also eco-friendly and markedly cheaper than living in a house; an average houseboat costs less than £100,000, enabling those selling their home to release some equity and live mortgage-free.

And you don’t have to forgo the comforts of 21st-century living, either: the most luxurious vessels have hot tubs and swimming pools on deck. Boats on fixed moorings can be supplied with broadband, telephone lines, mains electricity and water; those on continuous cruising licences, moving to a new mooring every 14 days, can run washing machines, power showers and plasma televisions via 12v or 240v batteries.

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Canals aren’t for everyone. Boats leak, batteries run flat and the water attracts mice and rats. However, those who yearn for a simpler life relish the freedom— and find their boat becomes so much more than just a place to sleep.

Thinkings of buying a houseboat?

  • Boaters can choose between a static houseboat or one with an engine that you can move around. A houseboat in good working condition on a mooring can be bought for less than £100,000, although the most luxurious sell for up to £1 million. Visit and for listings.
  • Mortgages for houseboats from high-street banks can be costly. More reasonable rates can be found by using a specialist marine financier such as RoyScot Larch ( or Collidge & Partners ( For legal information, visit
  • If you intend to use UK canals or rivers, you must obtain a licence from the Canal & River Trust plus a Boat Safety Scheme certificate and third-party insurance to a minimum value of £2 million. There is no licence required to pilot a houseboat, but the Canal & River Trust recommends a boat-handling course by the Royal Yachting Association ( For more information, consult the Residential Boat Owners’ Association (
  • Moorings are listed on the Canal & River Trust website at The Canal & River Trust auctions off 4,000 berths each year and the Environment Agency and Port of London Authority also have moorings. A monthly mooring costs from £70 to £750.
  • Fixed or ‘home’ moorings cost from £1,800 a year up to £10,000 depending on the area; continuous cruising licences, which require owners to move to a new berth every 14 days, are about £1,000.
  • Fuel, electricity, tax, boat insurance and repair costs must also be factored in to your annual budget.

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