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Buying a boat

Advice on buying a boat

Buying a boat is obviously not something you do every day!

You may want to consider:

  • boat size
  • type of boat
  • heating & electricity
  • running costs
  • buying a secondhand boat
  • using a surveyor

Legally, before you can use your boat, you will need:

  • a mooring (unless you are continuously cruising)
  • a cruising licence
  • a Boat Safety Certificate
  • insurance

Boat size

Canal and river navigations vary in size, so you’ll want to buy a craft suitable for all the waterways you want to use it on. 

Many locks on the narrow network can take boats up to 70 – 72 ft in length but some locks are shorter and there are some tight corners so we recommend a length of 58 – 60 ft (17.62m – 18.22m) for cruising the whole network. Boats wider than 7 ft (ie wide beam boats) won’t fit through narrow locks.

Types of boats

Cruisers come in a variety of lengths and widths and are mainly of fibreglass construction. Narrowboats come in a range of lengths and styles but are usually 7′ wide and up to 70′ long. Narrowboat cruisers allow more read deck space and narrowboat semi-trads maintain the look of a traditional narrowboat with more read deck space.

Wide beam narrowboat-style boats look like narrow boats but are built up to 13′ wide – although practically a beam of 10′ to12′ is a good maximum – and offer more internal space. Some working boats that carry goods under canvas with a rear cabin have been adapted for pleasure use. Converted barges, both English and Dutch, can vary from 40′ to 120′ plus with beams from 10′ to over 16′.

Static houseboats are not powered and not suitable for a lot of moving around, although they can of course be towed. They normally comprise a rectangular steel floating pontoon with a caravan or mobile home type structure built on top.

Heating & electricity

If you own or hire a boat just for your annual fortnight’s cruising holiday, the boat’s electrical and heating systems can be fairly straightforward. However, a ‘liveaboard’ boat’s heating, electrical and charging systems must be efficient – and preferably integrated – for comfortable cruising all year round.

Boat running costs

As an estimate for a 50-foot boat, it costs around £3,800 a year to run:

  • Licence £750
  • Marina mooring £1800 (Can be considerably more in the south east; residential moorings may cost up to 30% more.)
  • Insurance (on £20,000) £250 
  • Hull blacking (bi-annually) £300
  • General maintenance £500 (Older boats may require considerable one-off expenditure eg. on engines or hull repairs)
  • Fuel (100 hrs) £200

TOTAL £3,800

Buying a secondhand boat

Some of the key things to look out for when you’re buying a second hand boat are:

  • a sound hull
  • a well maintained engine
  • a sound internal infrastructure without rot (suspect air freshener – what’s it hiding?)
  • a fairly clean engine bilge shows good maintenance (but if too clean, was it steam-cleaned just for the sale?)

Using a surveyor

We recommend using a professional surveyor with a marine engineering background to determine the quality and condition of a boat you’re considering buying. 

The boat safety scheme survey will not give you a valuation or hull integrity assessment that you may need for insurance and that you will need if you are seeking a mortgage for your boat.

The survey fee will depend on its scope whether it includes the boat safety certificate and involves taking the boat out of the water, but a rough guide would be around £300 plus VAT.

Finding a mooring

Finding somewhere to berth your boat can be extremely difficult so, unless you intend to continuously cruise the inland waterways network, you need to find an appropriate mooring before buying a boat.

Offline moorings

Offline moorings, such as marinas and basins, are generally run by businesses. More expensive than online moorings, they do include facilities such as water, toilets, sanitary disposal, showers, a diesel pump, electricity, coal, gas and WiFi. Some may also have boatyards, chandlery shops, basic security, transport links and car parking.

Apart from the cost, possible downsides include the fact that some marinas may have a waiting list for their berths. A few marinas may offer a ‘caretaker’ (residential) berth, but these are obviously rare.

Online moorings

Online moorings along the main line of a canal are usually run by the navigation authority, or in some cases, local farmers who set up moorings along their land. They tend to cost less than offline moorings because there aren’t as many – or any – facilities. Apart from the cost, advantages of online moorings include being closer to nature, heritage and often beautiful scenery.

Some moorings are available along the towpath side but these lack privacy and any degree of security. Those on the non-towpath (off-side) are preferable and will have some security depending on the access, fencing and gating arrangements.

You could buy or lease a length of land alongside the waterways but remember that this does not necessarily mean that you have rights to moor a boat there. There may be planning restrictions and on canals you will still have to pay the navigation authority for mooring. These can be referred to as ‘end of garden moorings’ or ‘farmers’ field moorings’.

On rivers the situation is different as riparian owners generally have the right to moor alongside their land. Remember that rivers go up and down so you will need suitable mooring arrangements to allow for this and you may not be able to get to your boat in flood conditions.  In either case you should consult with the navigation authority first before committing to a mooring.

Residential moorings

If you intend to live on your boat, you’ll need a suitable mooring (unless you intend to continuously cruise the waterways). Most residential moorings do not have planning approval for residential use and although this may not be a problem, you should be aware and take advice.

Some residential mooring operators require boats to be away from the mooring for a certain time each year or for you to have an address elsewhere. You may need to pay Council Tax and, if appropriate, Housing Benefits could contribute towards mooring fees.

The majority of residential berths are based on short term mooring agreements, which can be terminated at short notice.

Boating Paperwork

Getting a cruising licence

Your boat needs to have a licence to use the canals and rivers. Licenses and prices can be obtained from the relevant navigation authority. Some reservoirs also have special licence arrangements. You can also buy a Gold Licence, which allows you to use all Canal & River Trust and Environment Agency waterways.

Boat Safety Certificate

Your boat will need a Boat Safety Certificate in order to obtain a licence. The scheme operates like an MOT for your boat and a certificate lasts for four years.

Find out more about the Boat Safety Scheme

Boat insurance

To obtain a cruising license you will need to provide proof that your boat has third party insurance for at least £1,000,000. This will safeguard the owner or person in charge of the boat from claims made against you for injury or damage. You should also insure the boat itself against loss or damage and provide cover for the safety of the crew and the contents, as this is probably not provided as an extension of your home contents policy.

Purchase boat insurance through IWA and help us to continue to protect and restore the waterways.

Recreational Craft Directive

This is documentation that should have been issued with new boats put on the market after June 1998.

The Recreational Craft Directive obligates the producer/builder to keep a file of all relevant data, to officially state the conformity of the product in a Declaration of Conformity, to inform the users about safe use/ maintenance, and to mark the product with a CE Marking.

Sustainable boating

We want boating on canals and rivers to be more sustainable and – even though the current overall contribution to UK carbon emissions is very small – we want to help reduce emissions on the waterways.

Waterway underfunding

Hundreds of miles of waterways – along with their unique heritage and habitats – are currently starved of funding and rely on constant lobbying by us to safeguard their future.

Waterway restoration

Restoring the UK’s blue infrastructure – our inherited network of navigable canals and rivers – is good for people and places.

Waterway businesses

The government needs to intervene at the earliest possible opportunity to save this vital sector of the British economy and what could be a core element of the British stay-at-home leisure and holiday sectors in the coming years.

Waterways affected by HS2

We’re campaigning to protect canals and rivers from the damaging effects of HS2, especially where the tranquillity of the waterways is under threat.

Waterways heritage

Our waterways heritage is what makes Britain’s canals and rivers special and it must be actively protected – through the local planning system and sufficient funding – for the future.