Living Afloat

Living afloat can be very attractive to a flat or house ashore. Many boats are bought with just this in mind. Other owners might combine a season of cruising with permanent residence, perhaps in one spot for the winter. Generally speaking, moorings can be found, although sometimes waiting lists operate in the more desirable locations.

Of course in the South East, and particularly in the London area where there is a high demand, moorings are not so readily available, and in London there is often a long waiting list for British Waterways and residential moorings.

A narrowboat as a permanent home.

As a permanent home – fitted out to a high standard – with proper linings and insulation, with a full power supply of running the sort of amenities you would expect on land, a narrowboat or its wide beam equivalent, can be a luxurious home. Provision can be made for the winter months by installing central heating often combined with a solid fuel stove with together keeps the boat dry and warm. There are several attractive versions on the market, and a stove provides a homely feel to the boat, and a touch of traditional style.

Finding that mooring.

Before deciding to live afloat on the canals and rivers, a mooring must be found. Since British Waterways manage about 80% of the canal system we suggest you make a start with useful downloads where you will also find contact details for commercial marina operators on the website.

British Waterways - Continuous cruising

For licensing purposes British Waterways recognises owner who intend to cruise continuously… “without remaining in one place for more than fourteen day or such longer period as is reasonable in the circumstances”. These conditions are defined in British Waterways Boat Licence and Permit conditions, which you will need to study. For this wandering life style you will need a standard Pleasure Boat Licence.

For the British Waterways Mooring Guidance for Continuous Cruisers click here.

Some owners may negotiate a permanent residential mooring in, for example, a commercial marina for the winter months and cruise extensively during the summer. Most commercial operators are flexible in negotiating fees for a mooring of this kind. Residential boaters are often welcome at a marina when space is available, because they add to the general sense of security of the marina during off season.

British Waterways - Permanent residence

If you view a narrowboat as an alternative to a house or flat, permanently moored on a site with planning permission for residential use, and not used for cruising, the British Waterways waters you will require a ‘Houseboat Licence’. Fees for Houseboat Licences are given a separate sheet available from British Waterways Customer Services, Tel.: 01923 201120, or they may be downloaded from the British Waterways website at

The fees are the same as those for a Cruising Licence. Special conditions apply to Houseboat Licences and copies of these are available from your local British Waterways offices. You will require a residential mooring, a Boat Safety Certificate and third-party insurance when you apply.

Obtain your mooring first

Some permanent British Waterways moorings are available but most will be found in marinas or commercial boatyards. The important thing is to find a mooring first! Your local British Waterways office will be helpful. Narrowboat builders are an excellent source of advice on permanent moorings (or moorings of any kind), since they know their local areas well and some may be able to offer places in their own yards. In certain circumstances you may not need a British Waterways Licence. For example; if your boat is moored in a private marina off British Waterways water. However, if you leave the marina to cruise on British Waterway water, even for a short period, then you will need a licence. In other circumstances a marina might offer moorings, some on private water and others on British Waterways water. You will need to check carefully with the marina operator and apply for a licence since your boat may still be on British Waterway water, even though the mooring is privately operated. The rule of thumb is that you will need a waterways licence if you moor or cruise on British Waterway water.

Residential Moorings

Residential British Waterways moorings in London or the Southeast are difficult to obtain, always with a long waiting list. British Waterways has residential moorings around the capital and is building more but a long waiting list is a fact of life.

Check that the mooring is available

The best short-term option is to buy a boat already on a residential mooring, remembering that it must have a Houseboat Licence. Before you buy, check with the vendor that the mooring is available and may be transferred legally to you. This is often the case with British Waterways residential moorings but does not apply to British Waterways non-residential permanent moorings. Motto, check first!

Two useful guides to London waterways

The London Regional office of British Waterways will send you two useful guides free of charge. “Boaters Guide to Moorings in the London Region”, telephone 020 7286 6101.

Permanent moorings are easier to obtain away from the Southeast and their availability will vary with their closeness to population centres, railway stations, shopping amenities and so on.

Council tax and domestic services

Remember that you will be responsible for paying council tax in one form or another and for the entire local and domestic services at your mooring plus your Houseboat Licence.

British Waterways Customer Services.
Tel.: 01923 201120

British Waterways London Region.
Tel.: 020 7286 6101

Boatline. The British Marina Industry Federation Enquiry service
Tel.: 01784 472222

Useful Publications
The Residential Boat Owners Association publishes a booklet “Living Afloat” which contains sensible advice written by “live-aboards”, copies are available from: - R.B.O.A, John Ross, Barge Jason, Saltern’s Boatyard, SO31 8DH and cost £7.50 each, plus £1 postage& Packing – cheques made out to R.B.O.A
More information

The Inland Boat Owners Book by Graham Booth costs £14.95.
The Building of a Narrowboat (Design, construction and fitting out) by Emrhys Barrell costs £9.95.
Getting Afloat by Emrhys Barrell costs £9.95