What you need to know before you buy a canal boat

In 2014, an estimated 11,000 people were living on canal boats in the UK. As house prices and rents continue to rise – like we noted in our most recent monthly market review – choosing an alternative housing arrangement is appealing to more and more people. But before you pull up the anchor of your own house boat, here are a few things you might like to know about life on the canal.

How much does a canal boat cost?

An average house in the UK costs around £200,000. You could secure a house boat for a tenth of this, as prices start at only £20,000, or the same as a deposit for a mortgage. However, home loans aren’t available for buying a boat, so you’d have to pay upfront or risk a personal loan (as well as paying out £400 for a specialist survey).

Ongoing costs

A residential mooring means you’ll remain in one place and pay council tax, which could cost £900 a year, on top of a mooring spot that costs anywhere between £2,000 and £18,000 per year. Continuous cruisers are exempt from this as long as they move every two weeks, though finding mooring spots in cities can be a bit tricky. Then you also need to get a boat licence from the Canal & River Trust – costing between £510 and £1,100 – that will legally allow you to live in the boat.

Boat benefits

If you’re looking for a way to break out of the renting cycle, canal boats are much cheaper than trying to buy a flat or house. Living with no permanent mooring lets you cruise around and make your home in different places, which could suit freelancers or self-employed professionals who enjoy a frequent change of scenery. Many boats or marinas provide Wi-Fi and electricity for their boaters, too. In general, boat life is can be simple and easy: a more back-to-basics approach that could help you appreciate what you have.

The drawbacks

It's not alway plain sailing on a house boat. You need to be able to take the rough with the smooth as dealing with maintenance issues, emptying chemical loos or searching for moorings can eat up your free time. Many people love the quirky attributes – like the limited height and living space and the boat's constant rocking – when they're on holiday, but committing to this lifestyle 24/7 is a completely different choice. If you love life on the water, then buying a canal boat could be an excellent property choice for you. If not, it might be best to stick to dry land and some regular bricks and mortar.

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