Living on a House Boat

Aug 04, 2015

What is Living on a House Boat Really Like?

House boats are becoming increasingly popular as a low-cost and low-stress way of life. Living on a house boat can save you money and offers you a chance to get away from it all and relax in a refreshing, tranquil environment.
House boats are more popular in Europe than they are in the United States, but they can be found all over the world. In London, England, there are 10,000 people living on house boats on the 100+ miles of canals that span the city. In fact, the city is actually starting to suffer from overcrowding at some of the central moorings. Why is it that living on a house boat is so popular?

Freedom to Go Anywhere

One reason why house boats are so popular is that they offer so much freedom of choice. You can live on a permanent mooring, or cruise the waterways on a whim. All you need is a boat with an engine and some basic facilities. Some people live on retired lifeboats, or converted fishing boats. Others purchase specially designed house boats that are already kitted out to be lived in. Static boats are cheaper than boats with an engine, and they can be moored at specially designed points with standpipes that have water, mains electricity and even broadband internet services. If you want to use gas, then you can get bottles delivered.

The Cost of Living

The cheapest house boats cost just a few hundred pounds, but more luxurious ones can cost tens of thousands - or even more for boats that can support entire families. There are other expenses associated with living on a house boat, including safety certificates, insurance, and mooring fees. If you plan on moving around a lot it is important to note that some areas place restrictions on how long you can stay in any one spot. Longer term moorings operate on a system similar to a leasehold property, and prices vary depending on where you want to stay. However, even the most expensive moorings are significantly less expensive than a mortgage in the same area.
In many cases, when you purchase a vessel it will come with a mooring for a set number of years. This can be a fairly cost effective way to get started because it means that you cover most of the expenses of running a boat up-front. All that remains is ongoing maintenance costs.

Getting Started

Most high-street lenders are reluctant to offer loans for canal boats. So, if you are interested in living on a house boat you may have to find a specialist lender. Interest rates tend to be higher for house boats than they are for traditional mortgages because of the extra risks. A house is likely to maintain its value, no matter how neglected. A poorly maintained house boat could become worthless quite quickly.

Choosing a Boat and Slip or Mooring

While it is possible for a single person or a couple without children to live on a small boat, most people find that it is more comfortable to live on a boat that is at least 40 feet long. It is possible to find 40-foot house boats for as little as $10,000 in the United States, but these boats will need a lot of repair work to make them serviceable. If you are not interested in putting a lot of time and effort into taking care of your boat, make sure that you buy one that is no more than 25 years old. This will keep service fees low, and make it easier for you to find affordable insurance.
Look for a slip in an area that is open year-round, and consider which amenities you require. If you are not interested in having telephony and broadband (because you are happy with your mobile service), then you can opt for a no-frills slip. You may want to stay somewhere with electricity so that you can run air conditioning during the summer. Subscribe to gas deliveries for heating in the winter.
Most slips offer water as a basic service, but you may need to pay extra for sewage service. The good news is that sewage is not expensive. Expect to pay about $600 a year for weekly pump-outs. A weekly service should be more than enough for one or two people on a small boat.
One interesting thing to note is that if a boat has a galley and a head then any interest that you pay on your house boat loan is tax deductible - just as it would be with a mortgage. This is a great perk that can make house boat living far more affordable.

Long Term Maintenance

It is a good idea to put aside around ten percent of your boat's cost for maintenance on a yearly basis. This will help you to avoid nasty surprises and expensive repair bills. House boat owners must be pro-active with maintenance. Bricks and mortar houses are quite resilient, but a boat that is not maintained can become a huge money sink that is incredibly difficult to keep afloat. When your boat is also your bedroom, you cannot afford to let it break down.
Living on a house boat is a lot of fun, and if you choose a boat with an engine then you can go anywhere you want, whenever you want, and enjoy the chance to see a lot of new sights, meet new people, and explore the country on your own schedule. If you are lucky enough to work from home then you will be able to earn money while you travel, and enjoy a relatively luxurious lifestyle at the same time. One day you can work from the boat, the next you can go to a national park or a coffee shop in a new town. The house boat enthusiast community is a close-knit, friendly one so you will have the opportunity to make great new friends while you travel.
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