dream boat

So, what exactly are we seeking? What makes up the perfect boat that will see our Quest complete?

There is so much to think about when buying a boat – just like there is when buying a house.

With a house, you might be concerned with the number of rooms, how many storeys high, whether it has a garden, where it’s located, how much it costs, whether it needs any renovation, and so on.

It’s the same with a boat, but with a twist; how long is the boat, how many berths (beds) does it have, how old is it, does it need a new hull, what type of toilet does it have, what’s the interior layout like…

Honestly, the list could go on forever!

Ryan and I have come up with a list of what we want – our ‘dreamboat’. We have a general idea of what our narrowboat should look like and what features it should have (or not have, if that’s the case!).

Most of our decisions stem from information that we’ve gathered from watching other narrowboaters on YouTube, online research, and ideas I’ve stolen from my dad’s extensive 5-page list about his perfect narrowboat. Erm, I mean “borrowed”…

Obviously, one of the first things to consider is what the boat is going to be used for. A family who purchases a boat to use primarily over the Summer holidays will have very different needs to a couple like us, who will be living aboard full-time, cruising the canal network.

Size Matters

The most important aspect to address is probably the dimensions.

How long should the boat be? How wide?

As well as the traditional ‘narrow’ narrowboat (6’10” wide), there’s also the option of a ‘widebeam’ narrowboat at 10’ to 12’ wide. These wider boats are great for permanent living as they easily fit standard furniture and have oodles of space compared to a narrowbeam, however they won’t fit into all the locks.

The same goes for length – a narrowboat can be almost as long or short as you want, however boats over a certain length won’t fit through every lock in the canal system and it’s hard enough piloting a 58’ boat let alone a 70’ one. It’s a bit of a balancing act really! The general consensus is that a 57’ will get you through every lock, but I’ve also heard others say that you can go up to 60’ with no problems – it’s supposedly all about placement in some of the locks.

For our boat, we’ve agreed that we want to be able to sail merrily along any canal without worrying about fitting through a lock, so a 57’ narrowboat would be ideal, but we don’t mind going a couple feet less or more than that, if we found a boat that was perfect in all other aspects.

Luckily we don’t have to worry too much about height! My dad is nearly 6’5” and finding a second-hand canal boat that will accommodate his height has proven a challenge for them. Boats with that kind of headroom are out there, but they’re more difficult to find, especially taking into consideration other aspects of the boat that need to meet his desires.

That Thing that Propels us

Moving on, another important part of the boat is what makes it move – the engine. Now some of you may think “well, an engine’s an engine, right?”  Yeah, I thought so too, but Dad has convinced me otherwise!

There are a couple of engine brands that have better reputations than others, and some engines are no longer supported or there is difficulty with getting spare parts.

Now, I know people are going to have their own opinions about certain engines, just check out the narrowboat forums and you’ll see. After discussing it with the all-knowing resource that is Dad, we now have an idea of which engines would perhaps make us think twice about buying a boat and which are perhaps a better option.

Age is Not For the Faint-Hearted

Now, canals have been around for centuries, and there are some boats out there that look like they’ve been around the cut more than a few times.

You can get some lovely old canal boats that were originally “working boats” which have been converted to live-aboards – great for nostalgic types. However, a lot of those have older engines that take up valuable space inside the cabin of the boat, rather than beneath the helmsman’s feet. I imagine they would also require a whole lot more maintenance…

historical boats

Old working boats at Braunston Historic Boat Rally 2017

Of course, you can go the other end of the scale and get your own boat built brand new to the exact specifications you want, but this comes with a hefty price tag when compared to a second-hand boat that’s 10-20 years old.

Although we would love to have our own custom-built boat, unfortunately that is beyond our budget! Our search generally sticks to boats that are within the 10-20 year mark, for several reasons: they’re easier to maintain than an older boat, hopefully in better condition than an older boat, are more likely to have the reverse layout we prefer and supposedly easier and cheaper to insure (although this is something we need to look into further – anyone know the cost of insuring a boat that is older than 20 years?).

The Number One Argument on the Cut – Yes, Really.

Okay, on to toilets. “Really? Toilets?”

I can hear you thinking: “Surely a toilet is just a toilet?” Again, wrong! There are a couple of options when it comes to doing your business on a narrowboat. No, there isn’t just a hole that lets it drop into the canal, that’s just gross and illegal. Besides, the boat would sink with a gaping hole in the bottom!

The two most common toilet types at the moment are the pump-out toilet and the cassette toilet.

The pump-out, as you might guess from the name, needs to be pumped out regularly from a waste tank located somewhere on the boat. It can be expensive to get your toilet pumped out, which can be a problem if the tank is not very big and you have to empty more frequently as the marina will charge per pump out, regardless of the tank volume. A lot of the pump out points I’ve come across lately cost around £17, although I am by no means an expert on the prices, not living on a boat at the moment. I guess it depends on what the owners of the pump out want to charge, and they do have to charge as the waste goes into a septic tank that they then have to have emptied.

A cassette toilet, on the other hand, is free to dispose of – if not entirely pleasant to do so! My understanding of this toilet is that there is a small, sealed tub beneath the toilet that collects all the waste and when it’s full you cart it off to the nearest Elsan point, where you will need to empty it and rinse it out yourself. There are free Canal & River Trust Elsan points along the canals plus it can be a more flexible option than the pump-outs as you can simply take the small tub rather than moving the entire boat!

There are other toilet options, such as the various composting toilets that are gaining popularity, but for us, either one of these first two options will do fine.

So there you have it.

This is by no means an extensive list of what we are keeping in mind while searching for our perfect boat, but they are the major things we look at before digging deeper into the boat and checking out the rest of its charms.