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The pros and cons of living on a boat

Rows of houseboats and narrow boats on the canal banks at Regent's Canal next to Paddington in Little Venice, London - England, UK
Rows of houseboats on the banks of Regent's Canal in Little Venice, London. Photo: Getty

Around 15,000 people currently live on the UK's waterways, a number that has grown significantly in recent years and is expected to rise further as cities struggling with high rents and house prices push their residents into houseboats.

But living on a boat is not a decision to be rushed without thought or care. While there are pros to boat life, there are a number of cons too.

The Pros


The cost of living on a boat is considerably less than in a traditional home. You can pick up a half-decent boat for a few thousand pounds and then live rent free if you don’t have a permanent mooring, which can be expensive as they’re in short supply. There’s also no council tax.

In areas where the cost of renting and house prices are high, such as London, living on a boat is an affordable alternative. Boat-living for a couple of years could be a way to save enough money for a deposit.


Those with green inclinations may find it easier to live a more eco-friendly life on a boat because you can drastically reduce your energy consumption compared to living in a traditional property.

For example, your water use is limited to what’s in your boat’s tank, which encourages efficiency. Similarly, you’ll use your electricity generator sparingly, if you even bother with one at all. It’s also easier to hook up solar panels to a boat than a house.


While boat life shouldn’t be romanticised, there’s a good reason lots of people choose it. It offers a lifestyle that’s potentially calmer, more in touch with nature, and simply more pleasant than living on dry land. There’s a certain freedom that comes with it, not to mention the supportive community of fellow boaters who make for nice neighbours.

A houseboat passes along the Bridgewater canal at Lymm in Cheshire, on what is expected to be the hottest day of the year so far. (Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images)
A houseboat passes along the Bridgewater canal at Lymm in Cheshire. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images

The Cons

Hard work

You shouldn’t underestimate the amount of hard work it takes to live on a boat, especially if you’re constantly on the move. Under the law, boats without permanent moorings must move every 14 days.

You’ll need to do things like maintain the vessel, empty your toilet, fill up your water tank, keep a fire going in the bitterly cold winter, navigate locks, tie your boat up properly, and much more. It’s not for the faint-hearted or those who need their creature comforts.

Practicality of day-to-day life

When you don’t have a permanent address, things like signing up to a doctor, voting in elections, getting post, and a decent internet connection are significantly more difficult.

While you may save on rent and utility bills, you’ll still need to register or licence your boat, insure it, maintain it, and fuel it. The costs involved in running a boat can grow particularly large if there are any major faults, such as with the engine.

Safety and security

If you’re on the canals in cities such as London and Manchester, you might find yourself moored up along a dark, narrow towpath. You may feel vulnerable having to walk back to your boat at night.

Boats are also easy targets for burglars. You have to keep your wits about you more than usual when living on a boat.