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Buying a boat

Buying a boat is obviously not something you do every day so you’ll want to find out all you can. Read our advice on buying a boat – including information on boat sizes, types of boat, running costs and buying a secondhand boat.

Likewise, you can find out what paperwork and legal requirements you will need when buying a boat. Unless you are planning on continuously cruising, you will also need to find a mooring for your boat before you buy one.

Advice on buying a boat

What size boat should I buy?

Canal and river navigations vary in size, so you’ll want to buy a craft suitable for all the waterways you want to use it on.

Many locks on the narrow network can take boats up to 70 to 72 foot in length, but some locks are shorter and there are some tight corners so we recommend a length of 58 to 60 foot (17.62 to 18.22 metres) for cruising the whole network. Boats wider than 7 foot (i.e. wide-beam boats) won’t fit through narrow locks.

What type of boat should I buy?

Cruisers come in a variety of lengths and widths and are mainly of fibreglass construction. Narrowboats come in a range of lengths and styles but are usually just under 7 foot wide and up to about 70′foot long. Narrowboat cruisers allow more rear deck space and narrowboat semi-trads maintain the look of a traditional narrowboat with more rear deck space.

Wide beam narrowboat-style boats look like narrow boats but are built up to 13 foot wide – although, practically, a beam of 10 to 12 foot is a good maximum – and offers more internal space. Some old working boats that carried goods under canvas with a rear cabin have been adapted for pleasure use. Converted barges, both English and Dutch, can vary from 40 to 120 foot plus with beams from 10 to over 16 foot.

Static houseboats are not powered and not suitable for a lot of moving around, although they can sometimes be towed. They normally comprise a rectangular steel floating pontoon with a caravan or mobile home type structure built on top.

Buying a boat to live on

If you own or hire a boat just for your annual fortnight’s cruising holiday, the boat’s electrical and heating systems can be fairly straightforward. However, a liveaboard boat’s heating, electrical and charging systems must be efficient – and preferably integrated – for comfortable cruising all year round.

See Ten Things I wish knew before living afloat, by Amy Tillson, who lives aboard her historic narrow boat.

Is owning a boat expensive?

As a very rough estimate, for a 50-foot boat, it costs around £4,000 a year to run.

  • Licence £750
  • Marina mooring £1,900 (Can be considerably more in the south east; residential moorings may cost up to 30% more.)
  • Insurance (on £20,000) £250
  • Hull blacking (bi-annually) £300
  • General maintenance £500 (Older boats may require considerable one-off expenditure eg. on engines or hull repairs)
  • Fuel (100 hrs) £300

TOTAL £4,000

Buying a boat second-hand

Some of the key things to look out for when you’re buying a second hand boat are:

  • a sound hull
  • a well maintained engine
  • a sound internal infrastructure without rot (be suspicious of air freshener – what’s it hiding?)
  • a fairly clean engine bilge shows good maintenance (but if too clean, was it steam-cleaned just for the sale?)

Using a boat surveyor

We recommend using a professional surveyor with a marine engineering background to determine the quality and condition of a boat you’re considering buying.

The Boat Safety Scheme survey will not give you a valuation or hull integrity assessment that you may need for insurance and that you will need if you are seeking a mortgage for your boat.

The survey fee will depend on its scope as to whether it includes a Boat Safety Scheme certificate and / or involves taking the boat out of the water, but a rough guide would be around £300 plus VAT.

Find a mooring before you buy a boat

Unless you intend to continuously cruise the inland waterways network, you will need to find a mooring for it.  Finding somewhere suitable to berth your boat can take a bit of research.

Offline moorings

Offline moorings, such as marinas and basins, are generally run by businesses. More expensive than online moorings, they include facilities such as water, toilets, sanitary disposal, showers, a diesel pump, electricity, coal, gas and Wi-Fi. Some may also have boatyards, chandlery shops, basic security, transport links and car parking.  Some boat clubs have off-line moorings too.

Apart from the cost, possible downsides include the fact that some marinas may have a waiting list for their berths.  Some marinas have planning permission for residential moorings, which are likely to be more expensive, and a few marinas may offer a ‘caretaker’ (residential) berth, but these are rare.

Online moorings

Online moorings along the main line of a canal are usually run by the navigation authority or a boat club, or in some cases, by local farmers who set up moorings alongside their land. They tend to cost less than offline moorings because there aren’t as many – or any – facilities.  Apart from the cost, advantages of online moorings include being closer to nature, heritage and often beautiful scenery.

Moorings on the non-towpath (off-side) are preferable and will have some security depending on the access, fencing and gating arrangements.  Some moorings are available along the towpath side, but these lack privacy and any degree of security.

You could buy or lease a length of land alongside the waterways, but that this does not necessarily mean that you have rights to moor a boat there. There may be planning restrictions and on canals you will still have to pay the navigation authority for mooring. These can be referred to as ‘end of garden moorings’ or ‘farmers’ field moorings’.

On rivers, the situation is different as riparian owners generally have the right to moor alongside their land where they own the land under their side of the river.  Rivers are prone to flood and varying water levels, so you will need suitable mooring arrangements to allow for this, and you may not be able to get to your boat in flood conditions.  In either case, you should consult with the navigation authority first before committing to a mooring.

Residential moorings

If you intend to live on your boat, you’ll need a suitable mooring (unless you intend to continuously cruise the waterways). Permanent residential moorings usually require planning approval, so you should always make enquiries to check the mooring offered to you is legitimate.

Some residential mooring operators require boats to be away from the mooring for a certain time each year or for you to have an address elsewhere. You may need to pay Council Tax, but Housing Benefits can contribute towards mooring fees.

Residential berths are often based on short-term mooring agreements that can be terminated at little notice – it is important to read and understand the ‘small print’ of any agreement.