The Complete Guide to Houseboats

Do you dream of living on the water? We will walk you through the process, including the various types of houseboats available and how to pay mooring fees.

The key takeaways

  • It can be an amazing way to live. It comes with many challenges, such as filling up the boat with water and emptying the toilets.
  • Houseboats are exempted from stamp duty and only pay the lowest council on x residential moorings
  • Before you decide to take the plunge, it is worth considering the cost of a license, mooring fees, and ongoing repairs.

You’re thinking about living on a houseboat. You’re in good company.

Artists, young professionals, and anyone looking for affordable housing are some of the many who choose to live on the water.

It is idyllic to live in a peaceful community by the water.

However, the truth is that boat living requires a lot of work and ongoing maintenance.

  1. What are the basics of living on a houseboat?

Boat living is a wonderful way to live. You must be able to ‘continuously cruise’ on your boat or you can have a mooring for residents.

You will need to move your boat approximately every 14 days if you are cruising continuously. Boating is more of a lifestyle choice than a place to live.

To get a sense of what it’s like and if it’s right for you, book a week on a houseboat both in winter and summer.

Are you ready to take to the water? Learn the basics about boat safety with The Royal Yachting Association’s Inland Waterways Helmsman Course

  1. What type of houseboat is best?

True houseboats are not boats. These are static homes built on pontoons above the water and without engines. These are very rare in the UK.

These are the most popular houseboats.


Narrowboats can be up to 72 feet long and are 6ft 10in in width. These steel vessels are the most common type of houseboat on Canal & River Trust waters.

Although they have limited living space, narrowboats are great for navigation on the UK’s rivers or canals.

Although second-hand narrowboats are available starting at PS30,000, it would take more than twice that to make them spec.

Dutch Barges

These ex-commercial vessels can measure up to 120ft long and 20ft wide.

Conversions to residential use are easy because they are all on the same level. Rocking is very minimal because they are flat-bottomed.

Dutch barges need to be moored along rivers. Prices start at around PS50,000

  1. Can you live full-time on a houseboat?

Yes. However, you will need to either have a residential docking or be on the move every few weeks.

Residential Mooring

A residential or ‘home’ mooring is necessary if you have to remain in one location due to your children’s school and work commitments.

You can leave your boat when you are not on the water with a ‘home’ mooring.

It is not uncommon for residential moorings to be very expensive, and it can be difficult to find vacant spaces in cities or the south-east.

Continued cruising

The cost of licensing your boat is between PS500 to PS1,000 per annum.

You must move your boat between moorings every 14 days, and travel at least 20 miles per year.

You may stay on the towpath anywhere for as long as 14 days, except if there is a visitor sign that has a time limit or a lock nearby.

It is best to moor on the towpath or at designated visitor moorings. Many riverbanks, as well as the canal side that is not on the towpath, are privately owned.

Leisure mooring

You can only live on your boat for a few days per week if you have a leisure mooring.

It is often cheaper than residential moorings.

Winter Mooring

Winter can make it difficult to move every few days. This is especially true when bad weather or canal maintenance causes closures.

The Canal & River Trust also offers winter moorings from November through March.

  1. What is the cost of living on a houseboat?

Many people believe that living on a boat is cheaper than buying a house.

However, the cost of living will vary depending on how large, what type, how often, and where it is moored.

There are also financial perks. Houseboats, for example, are exempted from stamp duty

Additionally, residential moorings will require you to pay Band A council taxes (the lowest bracket).

You might be surprised if you think your main reason for living on the water is to save cash.

These ongoing or annual costs should be taken into account

  • Boat survey: PS350-PS400 plus potential repairs

To avoid unpleasant surprises, it is important to inspect the condition of any second-hand boat. You should be prepared to negotiate for or pay for specialist repairs.

Canal Junction lists approximately 100 marine surveyors that cover the UK. They specialize in certain types of craft and are available to help you.

  • Boat safety certificate: PS150 plus potential repairs

Boats must be licensed and insured on most UK inland waterways.

Check with your navigation authority to see if this applies for your waterway.

Boat license: From PS510 to PS1,100 per year

The Canal & River Trust operates 96 canals in England and Wales. Each boat that uses waterways requires a license.

You have the option of three, six or 12-month terms. Prices vary depending on how long your boat is.

Only a certificate of boat safety and insurance can be used to purchase a license.

Boaters need a separate license for waterways.

The Environment Agency manages the River Thames, River Medway, and other rivers in East Anglia.

The Broads Authority manages the Norfolk and Suffolk Broads.

  • Insurance: A year of insurance plus PS200

This is the minimum amount you will need to cover basic third-party liability insurance for your license.

This excludes contents insurance. This insurance is more expensive than land-based properties, but it’s possible to get it if you can.

  • Mooring Fees: From PS2,000 to PS18,000 per year

These costs will vary depending on the type of mooring and where you are located. See section seven for more details.

  • Hull painting and blacking: PS850 plus

This will vary depending on how big your boat is. Protect your boat against corrosion every three to five years.

To take the boat out of water, it can cost PS350 and PS500 to finish the work. This can take up to a week. Also, consider the cost of alternative accommodation.

  • Toilet pump out: PS20 per month

Although it might sound frightening, houseboat toilets are just like regular loos. But you don’t have to manually do this.

The contents of the tank are removed from the tank and pumped out using pipework at a pump-out station.

  1. What are the pros and cons of living on a houseboat?


  • Freedom to explore Britain’s waterways in a split second
  • You can bond with nature and enjoy the fresh air.
  • Strong community spirit
  • Amazing waterside views
  • No stamp duty
  • There is no council tax on continuous cruisers
  • Living in the city center or exclusive postcodes is possible at a fraction local bricks-and-mortar prices


  • You have limited storage space so you will need to be extremely careful with your food and belongings.
  • Regular maintenance, including engine servicing and treating rust spots or blackening the hull
  • Summer months can be hot and humid. However, rain at night can keep your eyes open – especially if you have a boat with a steel root.
  • A vessel is often considered a depreciating asset.
  • For continuous cruisers, it may be logistically challenging to make work commitments.
  • You should be prepared to empty your toilet tank and refill your water tank
  • Arguments – If you are in a relationship with someone, you will be living on top.
  1. How to purchase a houseboat

Many people buy houseboats with cash, rather than a mortgage.

Most mortgage lenders won’t lend to floating homes.

This is because houseboats cannot be registered with Land Registry. You could also sail away with the boat into the sunset before the loan is paid back (we know that you won’t),

There are specialist’marine mortgages. They require a minimum of 25% deposit, and have higher interest rates and a shorter repayment period.

There are many options when it comes to boat purchasing. Shop around.

Top tip Make sure you find a mooring before purchasing a boat.

  1. How can I find a place to moor my houseboat?

Some are managed by the Environment Agency. Privately owned residential moorings are available at some marina boatyards.

A selection of boats is available for lease by the Canal & River Trust on an annual basis. Prices range from PS2,000 to PS18,000 per annum depending on the size of the boat, where it is located and what facilities are available.

The best moorings have water, fuel, and shore power.

Talk to boat-owners about any opportunities to walk the towpath in the area you want to moor.