December 9, 2023
daisy and chloe and matt on their boats
‘We’re able to live in an area we wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise’ (Picture: James Linsell-Clark/ SWNS/Chloe Hill/ Matt Robinson

With rents continuing to rise and the sting of food prices, life is already incredibly expensive at the moment.

So, currently, the idea of saving up a sizeable chunk for a deposit and getting on the property ladder – as well as the eye-watering mortgage rates to contend with – can feel daunting.

It’s only natural to want an escape – and some people have taken the plunge and done exactly that.

A small cohort of the country have swapped ‘conventional living’ for life on a boat, and are saving a considerable amount of money for it.

Daisy on her boat
‘We definitely believe we are saving money on a houseboat’ (Picture: James Linsell-Clark/ SWNS/

One of these individuals is Daisy, who recently featured in our property series What I Own. She took out a loan to buy her boat for £24,000 a few years ago.

Daisy, who lives in Cambridgeshire, says: ‘We definitely believe we are saving money on a houseboat – especially now the cost of living has increased so much. We still pay very little for gas and electric (maybe £50 twice a year for gas) and with our solar panels, we pay perhaps £30 every three months for electric. In the summer this is usually cheaper, too. 

‘Our heating comes from the wood burner and the central heating (which uses diesel). Our boat is like a sauna when we get the wood burner going.’

Daisy says the biggest costs for her and her partner are the £1,500-a-year year mooring fees (if you stay in a marina) and the river licence fee – as well as blacking the boat (when it needs to be painted underneath every three years) and diesel, when they’re on the move.

Nevertheless, Daisy currently pays £181 per month to cover the loan for the boat, as well as roughly £10 per month on electricity. So, if you take the mooring fee and gas into account (split across 12 months), that’s less than £330 per month in total on outgoings.

There are a few hidden costs though, says Daisy, such as the boat’s safety certification, as well the costs when things break.

She explains: ‘We had to pay £2,000 for a new Webasto heater when ours broke. Also, if you’re not very handy or don’t have people to help, boat jobs can be very expensive.

‘We found a leak in our shower recently which would have been very expensive if we had to get it fixed professionally. 

‘Also, 12-volt items seem to be so much more expensive than the usual 240-volt household items – so you’ll find yourself paying more money for fridges, freezers or washing machines etc, even though they are much smaller.’

But it’s worth pointing out that this is the exception not the norm.

Daisy on her boat
Daisy is happy with her decision (Picture: James Linsell-Clark/ SWNS/

Unlike Daisy – who has spent the past four years on a boat – Nick, from Wiltshire, is relatively new to ‘boat life’, having previously owned a four-bed property.

He tells ‘For me, I had reached a point in my life (my marriage broke up) where I could either buy myself a two-bed flat somewhere I didn’t want, or do something different.

‘I decided on the latter; so I bought a boat.

‘It’s very beautiful – 60ft long x 10ft wide (known as a widebeam canal boat). It’s not the biggest you can buy but large enough to have decent space on-board and easier to handle around the canals and locks – basically it’s an apartment on the water that you can move around.’

Nick’s boat cost him £130,000 and includes a stern area, kitchen, sitting room, bathroom and a double bedroom with wardrobes and plenty of storage space. Additional features include granite worktops, a Belfast sink, a bookcase, and a log burning stove.

And his monthly outgoings are considerably cheaper than owning a home.

‘I also have the benefit of solar panels, so my electricity is cheap as chips,’ he continues.

‘It is definitely cheaper than living in a house – that said, the one I came from was a large four-bed detached house, so I would expect that. I’m very lucky though as I was able to buy the boat outright, so my total cost (mooring, heating, licence fee and electricity) is about £600 – £700 per month.’

Swapping mortgages for mooring fees: Why life on a houseboat is a cheaper way of life right now
Nick’s new home (Picture: Supplied)

Nick adds that he’s currently in a non-residential marina, on the on the Kennet and Avon canal, while he finds the right spot – which means there are different fees.

‘If you have a home mooring in a residential marina, you have to pay, but I believe for a narrow boat or widebeam, you pay the basic band A,’ he says.

‘I am currently living in a non-residential marina while I find a permanent home, or I may just go cruising on the canal (I have to call it that as there are no sails!), in which case, I wouldn’t pay for anything to moor up at the side of the canal. You do have to move every two weeks to avoid additional charges – but only a total of 20 miles a year.

‘Your annual licence fee (mine was just shy of £1,200 a year), allows you to stay pretty much where you want along the canal. If you want to live on the Thames, you have to upgrade your licence to allow you to do that.’

Swapping mortgages for mooring fees: Why life on a houseboat is a cheaper way of life right now
‘It’s still much cheaper than renting though’ (Picture: Chloe Hill / Matt Robinson)

Chloe Hill and Matt Robinson do have to pay rent for their permanent mooring in central London – but they say they are still saving money.

They tell us: ‘While our setup isn’t super cheap by boat standards, it’s still much cheaper than renting – so we’re able to live in an area we wouldn’t be able to afford otherwise.’

Chloe and Matt paid £60,000 in total for their 69ft narrowboat and stress that their bills cost a fair bit more during the winter on a boat – but the summer months make up for this.

They add: ‘There’s a seasonal split here. Our solid-fuel stove is our only way of heating the boat, so in the winter we probably spend around £250 on coal.

‘Add in council tax, money for the laundrette, the electric we use when plugged into the shore power, plus the occasional gas bottle, and monthly bills tot up to between £300-350 during the chillier half of the year.

‘Once summer arrives, our electric bills drop to practically zero thanks to our solar panels. And we don’t need to buy coal to heat the boat either, so if you take out council tax, we probably only pay around £20 per month. We like summer.’

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