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Twelve things you wanted to ask about living (and working) on a boat.

January 3, 2018

Whenever it comes out in conversation that your home floats rather than, like most well behaved homes, maintains a stationary existence, there are always a handful of questions that everyone is dying to ask. While some just come straight out and ask, others feel too polite to quiz you on your life choices straight away - that's why we're here to answer the questions you haven't had the chance (or have felt too impertinent) to ask.

 

Ketelbinkie, the home of Green Barge Audio, is an old soul, dating back to the early twentieth century. This means she has her quirks - she needed a lot of love when we first found her and decided to turn her into the perfect home and workspace. However, fast forward a year or two, and we think we have picked up the basics when it comes to living afloat. 

 

So, back to the topic at hand, lets answer some of FAQs most people are always keen to plague boaters with (not that we mind, it's just hard to always think of original answers...)

 

1. How do you stay warm?

As any boater who has ever been visited by a concerned relative will tell you, the first question is always - 'Are you warm enough?'. It seems to take months to convince everyone that you are not at risk of freezing to death any time soon. Now we can't deny the facts, when it's below zero and you live in what essentially boils down to a metal box in the water, it can get pretty nippy, but there is a simple way of combatting this.

 

Fire.

 

If it was good enough for homo erectus, why shouldn't it be good enough for us?

 

Now it may seem a little old fashioned, but it is the easiest and quickest way to heat up your floating home, and heat up it does! If anything you often find you are too warm with the fire lit, and end up walking round in shorts and a t-shirt in the middle of winter. Our multi-fuel stove pumps out a hefty 5kW, which take it from us, is a lot!

 

Before it's cold enough to justify building regular fires, you finally start listening to your mother's advice, and give into wearing lots of extra layers. 

 

Fire also produces a nice dry heat, which helps fight any potentially problematic condensation. 

 

2. Is it wet inside?

No... that would be a bad sign.

 

The water is most definitely meant to stay on the outside. If it's inside you should do something about that, and fast! In terms of damp, occasionally boats do suffer from condensation, in the same way that older houses do, but a warm fire and good ventilation fixes that in no time!

 

3. Do you have running water?

Yes. Of course, otherwise we'd probably have given up on this way of life by now. We actually have a full-size bath because we valued our small luxuries, although mostly we stick to showers, as they're not as water consumptive. All our water is stored in tanks, which we can fill up as we pass the water points found spaced out at relatively regular intervals up and down the canal system. Most boats have tanks capable of holding between one hundred and a thousand litres (that's around fifteen deep baths). Ketelbinkie was at the very lower end of that scale, so we have a little tender that floats along behind us and holds our extra water supplies. We are also able to pump canal water into an extra tank which is equipped with a reverse osmosis system, capable of removing 99.9% of bacteria. This makes it fine to use for most purposes, but just to be extra safe, we tend not to drink it. The toilet is often the topic many get het up about. Just like tanks for water, there are tanks for sewage. These will either need to be pumped out, or, like ours, it will be small enough to carry and empty into one of the sewage points dotted along the canal. Along the Grand Union there is also a man who bobs along with a sewage boat ready to deal with all your toilet related needs, and, as if by magic - everything disappears! God bless the poo man (as he's affectionately known). 

 

4. How do you stay online?

Mi-fi and personal hotspots. We have 20GB on our Huawei mi-fi box which tends to last us through the month, and 12GB on personal hotspot just incase we run out. The only limiting factor with restricted internet is that streaming/downloading films regularly is a no go. Three is currently advertising a 'go binge' deal, which allows you to watch unlimited Netflix without using your data. We, unfortunately, didn't sign up at the right time to be eligible for the offer... On the upside, it's very hard to waste time binging on trashy TV. You win some, you lose some. Life without television definitely has it's benefits. You get far more work done and learn to actually talk to other human beings. If it's a grey, rainy day and you would rather poke yourself in the eye with a sharp stick than have to talk to anyone, then you always need to remember to keep a reserve of downloaded movies from trips into the land of unlimited wifi, or go back to old school DVDs. 

 

5. Is it cheaper than renting?

Yes and no. Really it depends. Ketelbinkie was bought outright and was at the lower end of the varying scale when it comes to house boats, largely because she wasn't yet kitted out for living. Asking how much a boat costs is a little like asking how much it costs to buy a house, there isn't really a satisfactory answer. You can pick up little cruisers for under £1000 if you're lucky, while luxury houseboats can take you up into the millions, and of course there's everything in between. In general though a one bedroom flat will cost you at least ten times more than a one bedroom boat. 

 

One thing you have to bare in mind is that boats require a little more love and maintenance than houses, and that your average plumber/electrician/gas man will refuse to work aboard ship (there are people who will, but you won't find them through traditional means). When it comes to easy fixes, you're best off picking up some basic practical skills if you don't want to be waiting two weeks for electricity. You also have to take your boat out of the water every few years to check the hull, clean it, repaint it and replace your anodes, which will set you back anything up to a few thousand pounds. 

 

6. Where does your electricity come from?

Solar, solar, solar. Exclusively. This is a little unusual, a lot of boats run their engines to charge their batteries, but this is a much less environmentally friendly option, not to mention - it's noisy. We have 1050W worth of solar panels covering our roof, which supplies us with all the electricity we need (if we're inspiring you to start your own sustainability project, head over to Bimble Solar - for all your solar needs). 

During summer we have more than we can use, and during winter we just have to be sensible (don't leave all the lights on, everything charging and the water pump running, all at the same time). We also have LED lights throughout the boat, and don't have super power hungry appliances like washing machines and dryers (although some bigger boats do). 

 

7. How do you receive post?

If you are moored up in a marina, or you're based on a residential mooring, you will often be able receive post to that location (or at least near by). However most of us are on leisure moorings or just cruising along, in which case you need to get post sent to a workplace, friends or family. This is not all that problematic in this digital age. 

 

8. Do you move around or stay in one place?

We move around (although in winter we sometimes decide to rent a short term mooring in the colder months). This is called 'continuous cruising' - the Canals and River Trust (CRT) expect you to move to a different 'neighbourhood' every two weeks (although what exactly this means is a little contentious). You also have to complete an annual 'meaningful journey', which kind of sounds like a mission to find yourself and achieve true Zen, but it is defined as 'being in genuine pursuit of a continuous cruise'. We take this to mean travelling a significant distance and not just hopping between two convenient tube stations. 

 

The actual legislation is as follows:

 

The Board may refuse a relevant consent in respect of any vessel unless the applicant for the relevant consent satisfies the Board that the vessel to which the application relates will be used bona fide for navigation throughout the period for which the consent is valid without remaining continuously in any one place for more than 14 days or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances.

 

Given that this is about as clear as muddy water, we tend to just try not to take any liberties and make sure we travel a significant distance in a year. 

 

9. How easy is it to find work?

It depends. For the most part living on a boat makes little to no difference to finding work. Occasionally you may find that someone has some odd misgivings about you, normally they're the kind of people who only ever wear navy blue and judge those who don't go for bi-weekly hair cuts. Ultimately, if someone takes issue with your lifestyle, would you want to work for them anyway? Saying this, it is very rarely ever a problem! More problematic is the lack of address. You often need to have a registered address, not just to work, but to hold a UK bank account, have a GP (although if you're persistent they can't actually turn you away), own a car etc - so we come back to the phone a friend option. 

 

If you're continuously cruising, you have to think about the logistics of working in a set location. If it's near to a canal or river, that obviously helps. Remember that you will probably be travelling around twenty to thirty miles, so your commute needs to be feasible from every point along that journey (having a car is usually a must, depending on your location). Boating lends itself very well to freelance work, remote contracts or running your own business, as you can have all the peace and quiet you desire with the added bonus of changing location and always overlooking beautiful scenery, which helps keep you focused and stops your ideas drying up. 

When it comes to schools, even if you don't have an address, your children can still attend. All children have the right to an education, so there is legislation in place to make sure children living on boats have access to school places. 

 

10. Do you pay council tax?

Yes - in a convoluted way. We pay a licence fee to the CRT, who in turn have to make a contribution to the council. This is because a) boats have an annoying tendency to move around, and therefore it would be a logistical nightmare to try and figure out who you had to pay your council tax to, and b) we receive limited council services (no bin collection for us!), so it would be hard to figure out just how much boaters should be required to pay. It's far easier to have a centralised system that deals with all of it and keeps things simple. 

 

11. Can you vote?

Yes. Although it took a little while to figure that out (it's not well publicised), but there is legislation in place to allow those with no fixed address to vote in the constituency they are living in at the time - for more information visit Your Vote Matters

 

12. Lastly, why did you decide to live on a boat?

It probably comes down to three key factors: freedom, independence and fun.

 

Living on a boat gives you the freedom to live anywhere, without all the hassle of packing and unpacking. If an opportunity arises at the other end of the country, or even elsewhere in Europe (as long as you're willing to brave the channel), you can take it (and explain you will be travelling at a speedy 4 miles an hour, so you'll be there when you'll be there). If you don't like the spot you're in, you can untie your ropes, push off and find somewhere where the grass is greener. Same goes for if you don't like your neighbours...

 

Independence. Renting can be messy. You might find some landlords take one look at millennial tenants and try and take them for all their worth, or there are those who just never bother to fix anything, or some who always seem to be popping over last minute, meaning it never truly feels like home. Even when blessed with the dream landlord, you still can't decide to paint a mural of Miley Cyrus on a whim, or try your hand at interior design and knock a wall through.

 With your own space you can do whatever the hell you like. And yes the same (to an extent) can be said for having your own house, although for bigger projects you would still need to ask for planning permission. Add to that the fact that if you're not already on the property ladder, you have very little chance of making it there without a significant dip in housing prices, and suddenly owning your own home seems pretty far fetched. Your boat is yours, meaning you can try out any wacky projects you like. Be warned though, in boat world straight lines don't exist, so ditch your spirit level and get used to judging things by eye and working with a lot of curved edges.

 

Fun. It has its ups and downs, things can go wrong, but no one can deny - it's great fun. Life is never boring. There is a great community feel on the canals - you usually get to know your nearest neighbours, and it's completely acceptable to pop round for drinks (something that very rarely happens as quickly with next door neighbours when you live on land). It may at times be more responsibility, but ultimately it's a great way to live. 

 

Happy boating! From the Green Barge Audio team. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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