Are you the proud owner of a narrowboat? Floating down the canals is a great way to sightsee, and it offers you accommodations that are far less expensive than living on land. Canal boats have a unique design, and they have plenty of room onboard.
Living on a canal boat offers you a different way to experience the world. Life on the water is romantic and exciting and a big change from the hustle and bustle of the city.
If you’re new to living life on a canal boat, we put together this list of top canal boat tips to enhance your experience out on the water.
- Tips On the Boat – Saving Energy and Energy Management
- Tips On the Boat – Cooking on Canal Boats
- Tips for Maintaining Canal Boats
- Tips On the Boat – Fuel, and Storage
- Tips On the Boat – Moving and Docking the Canal Boat
- Canal Boat Tips – Docking and Mooring the Vessel
- Final Thoughts – Safety Habits for Canal Boats
Tips On the Boat – Saving Energy and Energy Management
Living on a boat is significantly cheaper than living in an apartment in a big city like New York or LA. You could save thousands of dollars on your housing costs over the year by choosing to live in a canal boat.
The first place to start adjusting to canal boat life is to go through the boat and ensure its energy-efficient.
Switch to LEDs
We recommend removing all the old incandescent bulbs from your canal boat, replacing them with LEDs. You have options for cool and warm LEDs.
The cool models produce a bright white light, and they’re a good choice for lighting the area around the deck and sides of the boat.
Inside the vessel, we recommend you use warm LEDs. The light is softer, with more red and yellow in the spectrum, providing a relaxing feel. Installing the cool white bulbs inside may give the boat a bit of a sterile feeling, similar to a hospital.
LEDs use a fraction of the electricity of incandescent bulbs, and they give you a longer service life.
While switching to LEDs is a great way to save energy, you can save even more by installing a solar power system on your boat.
These systems come with solar panels that capture the sunlight, converting it into energy that the system stores in deep cell batteries on board the vessel.
The solar and battery setup gives you all the energy you need to run your kitchen, lighting, and entertainment needs.
Most systems include USB ports allowing you to charge your devices, and the sun’s energy is free, meaning you’ll save big on your annual electricity bill.
Do You Need the Fridge?
The fridge is a huge consumer of electricity. If you’re running solar energy set up with deep cycle batteries, running it isn’t a problem. However, if you’re using land-based electricity to power the fridge, turn it off in the winter.
We recommend purchasing an uninsulated cooler for the winter. Pack it with your food and beverages, and leave it out on the deck overnight to stay cold. When the spring comes around, turn the fridge back on.
Keep the Fridge Full
Some people in warmer climates don’t have the option of turning off the fridge to conserve energy. If that’s the case for you, we recommend that you reduce the energy required to cool the refrigerator by keeping it as full as possible.
The fridge cools the air circulating inside the appliance—the less air volume inside the refrigerator, the more efficient the unit’s cooling power.
Disconnect Electronics When Not In Use
Many boat owners make the mistake of leaving their electronics plugged in on standby, such as the TV. These devices draw small amounts of power in standby mode, and that’s going to add up over the year.
Unplug your TV and other electronics like microwaves that draw a standby charge. Most people also don’t realize that leaving the charger for their cell phone in the socket means it keeps drawing power. Pull the charger out of the outlet when not in use.
Clean the Solar Panels
Solar panel technology continues to make advancements in efficacy and performance. Solar panel systems are a great way to get free electricity onto the narrowboat.
However, you’ll need to ensure that you keep the solar panels once or twice a week. Residue can build up on the panels, reducing the efficiency of converting sunlight into battery energy. Dirty panels can produce up to 20% less electricity than clean units.
Watch the Battery Level
Keep an eye on the battery level. Both lead-acid and lithium-ion batteries don’t like it when you overcharge it or if you drain it beyond 30% capacity.
If you’re living in colder areas, we recommend going for lead-acid over lithium-ion, as lithium batteries don’t perform well in colder conditions.
If you have lithium-ion batteries in your power bank, you’ll have to keep them warm. Install them inside the boat to reduce exposure to the outside elements.
We recommend avoiding placing them in the old battery bank in the engine room as the area will only warm up when you’re driving the boat.
Tips On the Boat – Cooking on Canal Boats
Cook and Boil Water on Solid-Fuel Stoves
Most narrowboats come with solid-fuel stoves. These stoves also act as the heating system for the boat during the winter.
We recommend you invest in cast-iron cookware and a kettle with a cast iron base for the best results cooking on board your canal boat.
When the winter rolls around, you can heat your boat and cook on the stove, killing two birds with one stone.
Prepare Bigger Portions
Try to cook larger portions that give you another meal for the following day when you’re cooking. Sure, you might have to eat the same meal two days in a row, but you’re going to save on energy costs and food waste.
Tips for Maintaining Canal Boats
Living on a narrowboat is affordable and a fraction of the heat it costs to live in an apartment in a big city.
However, boats require seasonal maintenance, and you’ll have to account for these costs in your annual housing budget. Keep your canal boat in tip-top shape using these tips.
Remove Debris from the Roof
Brush the leaves off the roof and out of the gutters during the fall. The leaves will clog the gutters and damage the drainage gullies, causing corrosion.
Touch Up the Paint
Keep a can of paint that matches the boat’s color on hand. Use it to touch up scrapes and scratches on the boat. Owners must patch up paintwork as soon as possible to prevent rust from forming in the affected area.
Protect the Vents
Vents are entry points into the boat for insects and other pests. Keep them out of the boat by placing an old stocking over the vent and securing it with a rubber band to prevent the critters from entering the cabin.
Tips On the Boat – Fuel, and Storage
Fuel is important, especially if you’re driving the boat on a canal cruise. Storage space is always an issue on boats, and you’re always going to need more of it.
Follow these tips for conserving fuel and increasing storage capacity on your canal boat.
Keep a Spare Gas Canister
There’s nothing more frustrating than running out of gas when you’re cooking.
Buy Water Containers
Get a few food-grade quality water storage containers. Most boats have around a 150 to 170-gallon holding capacity in the tanks.
However, the chances are you’re not going to be drinking this water. If you want clean water for drinking, buy some additional containers and fill them with water from the water shop, not the dock or marina.
Carry Spare Parts
Keep spares onboard for emergencies. We recommend carrying a spare alternator belt, LED light bulbs, antifreeze, engine oil, and water pump parts. Make sure you have a full toolkit onboard the vessel.
Top Off the Fuel Tank
Keep a jerry can on hand to top off the fuel tank. If you can’t keep the tank full, then you’ll have to purchase some diesel treatment additives to prevent the diesel bug from ruining your fuel. Fuel separates over time, causing it to go bad. Using the additive prevents the breakdown of the diesel.
Tips On the Boat – Moving and Docking the Canal Boat
Narrowboats are long and thin, and they offer a completely different driving experience to traditional recreational boats like cabin cruisers and yachts.
Moving along the canal requires you to pay attention and keep the boat away from other vessels and hazards that may damage the hull and sides. Follow these tips for moving and docking your canal boat.
Use a Lookout
Ask your friend to stay at the front of the boat to keep a lookout for any oncoming hazards. We recommend using a VHF radio to remain in contact with each other, or you could learn hand signals to communicate with each other without verbal instructions.
Keep Your Center Line On Hand
The centerline provides you with the easiest method of pulling the canal boat towards the bank. The captain must keep the line available, handing it to the crew on the dock as you moor up. This strategy also makes it easier to navigate docks.
Markers Make Steering Easy
When using the tiller to steer the canal boat, remember that you point the tiller in the opposite direction the vessel is heading. So, left is right, and right is left when using the tiller to steer.
We recommend you tape arrows to the lockers in front of the console, with the right arrow pointing left and the left arrow pointing right.
Reversing May Clear Your Propeller
If you think a line or debris wrapped around the propeller, shift the engine into reverse to unwind it and free the props.
If you accidentally ground the boat, shift it into reverse, and it should back out into the water without any issues.
Canal Boat Tips – Docking and Mooring the Vessel
Docking and mooring canal boats aren’t that challenging once you understand the procedure. Here are our top tips for docking and mooring the vessel.
Carry Several Mooring Poles
The ground can become somewhat soggy during the wintertime. So, if you’re planning on using mooring poles to secure the vessel to the docking area, remember to use enough mooring pins to prevent other boats from pulling them out, leaving you adrift.
We recommend hammering the mooring pins into the ground in an “X” style layout for optimal strength and resilience.
Make the Pole Visible
Spray the poles with reflective paint or tie a visible deterrent to the mooring poles to prevent people from walking into them at night.
Keep Rope Handy
Keep extra dock lines on hand to create springs when you moor the vessel. The springs act as a dampener on the boat’s movement as other narrowboats pass by, reducing the stress on your mooring pins.
Use Two Mooring Planks
The planks help with getting from the boat to the dock. Use one plank for the vessel’s center and the other for the stern to make it easy to moor up.
The banks can start growing all types of vegetation in the summer. Keep some sharp gardening shears on hand to cut away foliage preventing you from mooring the vessel.
We recommend you keep a set of gardening gloves to protect your hands when removing brambles and other thorny plants.
Final Thoughts – Safety Habits for Canal Boats
Like any other boat, you’re going to need to ensure you have all your safety gear onboard the vessel. We recommend the following safety essentials.
Keep the fire extinguisher in working order and have it serviced annually.
A fire on a narrowboat can turn into a huge problem really fast. A smoke detector alerts you to any fire before it gets out of hand.
Carbon Monoxide Detector
Check the batteries once a week to ensure the unit is operational.
Keep it handy in the gally for putting out small cooking fires.
Keep the following tips in mind and develop good safety habits when traveling or moored.
- Coil the dock lines out of the way when not in use.
- Conduct a pre-inspection before leaving the dock.
- Search for leaks.
- Check the boat’s fuel level, oil, and coolant.
- Check the weather using an app before leaving the dock,
- Secure your pets and fit their lifejackets.
- Make sure you and all passengers are wearing USCG-approved life jackets.
- Don’t let children run on the deck or roof.
- Avoid wearing sandals or flip-flops when operating locks.