Narrowboats, floating houses


The Narrowboat, a tiny floating house

small houseboat, narrowboatIn Britain, over the centuries, canals were built to join rivers and lakes and make it possible to cheaply move goods from one place to another. Although some canals were larger, the standard width evolved to just about 7ft. So, in order to travel these narrow waterways, “Narrowboats” evolved to fit the canals. These became the modern British Narrowboats, or “canal boats.” Basically, a simple steel houseboat is a floating tiny house. The canal boats are proving to be a great way to live the good life. There are hundreds, if not thousands of these floating tiny houses all over the British Isles.

You can read about some of the floating tiny houseboat adventures folks are having on the canals of Britain. Sue and her husband Vic are good examples. They live on their beautiful narrowboat “No Problem.” Check out their blog.

In the 20th century, narrowboats were more frequently made of steel than wood and moved much of the goods in England. Some were still in service in the 1970’s. With the advent of modern rails and trucking canal boats for moving merchandise were made obsolete. But, in recent decades they have regained popularity as leisure craft. Many of the original narrowboats have been refitted as floating homes or houseboats. Most are equipped with motors that make slow travel through the British countryside a great way to enjoy a holiday or a vacation.

The newer narrowboats are usually built no more than 6’- 10” which permits them to travel just about all the canals in the system. Made out of sheet steel, these flat-bottom canal boats can easily maneuver along the shallow canals. Though originally designed to carry cargo, the scarcity of affordable living quarters for the crewmen’s families caused many to be adapted to live-aboard families. This was also a trait of American canal boats, with live-aboard families on small houseboats being quite common in the 1800’s on the canal boats of the Erie and Ohio canal systems. small houseboats

Narrowboat Issues

Although the upsides of living on a Narrowboat are easy to see, ie: freedom from the rat race, low costs, constant travel, the downsides are not as obvious. Usually, on land, when you flush your toilet that’s the end of it. (no pun intended) But on a Narrowboat or a canal boat, or any houseboat for that matter, you are not getting rid of anything . . you are just putting it in a “crap bank” and saving it up until the bank is full. Then you have to go somewhere and deal with pumping it out yourself ( usually at a cost) or paying someone else to pump it out. (at a bigger cost) You will also have to take on water to fill the tanks and make sure you have gas or coal or diesel fuel. There are a lot of maintenance issues on a narrowboat and you would be wise to consider all of them before you commit to living on a narrowboat.

You probably will not have a washing machine or a dishwasher, as they tend to use a large quantity of your precious water. Then they will fill up your grey-water tanks pretty quickly. so, you will end up hauling your laundry off to a laundry-mat. There will be no hot-tub or even long showers for that matter. Consider how cold a steel box floating in the water in the middle of winter can feel. there are other things to consider as well like electric and communications and no cable. It’s not for everyone, but it is for many. To learn more about the costs of Narrowboat expenses check out this blog

Canal Boats

Today there are estimated to be over 30,000 canal boats or Narrowboats in Britain. Many serve as permanent dwellings while others are used as vacation get-a-ways or rentals.They can be rented by the week or the month. Modern types of diesel usually provide the small power required to leisurely cruise through the countrysides and villages of England, Scotland, and Wales. Complete with all the modern conveniences like flushing toilets, showers, and satellite TV, they provide just about everything you need for a great vacation experience or a more permanent lifestyle. For a better picture of life aboard, check out these short videos:

For more info visit Canal Boat Club (

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