Living on a Narrowboat: My Top 11 Downsides!

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There are many people who love the idea of living on a narrowboat. It’s a great way to be independent and to live close to nature. However, many people are unaware of the disadvantages of living on a narrowboat before they jump in. I often see the same narrowboats coming up for sale year after year as people with rose-tinted glasses buy them and find out this lifestyle is not for them 🙂 In this blog post, I will highlight some negatives of living on a narrowboat, with the hope that you can have a realistic view of this way of life before you go all in 🙂

Boat Maintenance

Are you a boat engineer? Probably not! Most people that step foot on a narrowboat have literally no idea how to maintain the engine, the water pipes, the flue for your multi-fuel stove….the list goes on.

Be prepared for all kinds of random boat problems to rear their ugly head when you least expect it. The boating community can be very helpful here, but regular maintenance by professionals should lessen the need for boating emergencies whilst cruising 🙂

You can also educate yourself by buying some of the books below. If you click the image, you can view them over at Amazon yourself.

Limited Resources

Whether it be electric, coal or water, all of these things are rather scarce on a narrowboat.


Thinking about the electric side of things first, if you are coming from a house you are probably used to unlimited electricity to run whatever energy hungry electrical appliances you would like. If you are living on a canal boat in a marina, you can still have this. But if you are cruising the canal network, you will be much more restricted.

On a narrowboat, you are restricted to how much electricity you can use by your batteries and how much charge is within them. Of course, you can help this along by the size of your battery bank and by adding solar panels to boost the charge your batteries have.

When the power in your battery bank gets low, you will have to run your engine or generator to get a decent amount of charge back. But it is bad etiquette to do this late at night (after 8pm), so if it’s late you will be kind of stuck!

So if you want to live and cruise on a narrowboat, be prepared to look at your charge controller often and have a more calculated approach to electric use 🙂


When living on a narrowboat (even in a marina) you only have as much water as you can hold in your water tanks. Unless you have a massive tank, you will find luxuries such as long showers and baths hard to come by.

Your limited amount of water will also affect how long you can stay moored up in one place. You may have found a sort after mooring in an idyllic location, but if you are low on water, you will have to nip off to the nearest water point and hope no-one takes your space 🙂


On a narrowboat, you will need some fuel for your multi fuel stove. Whether this is coal or wood logs, you can only carry around a certain amount on board. If you get low, it is not always easy to find more fuel, especially if you are in the middle of no-where.

I love watching Robbie Cummings narrowboat videos. If you don’t believe me that fuel can be hard to find at times, watch his videos below showing an epic journey to find coal 🙂 In the first video he got stuck with small bags of overpriced coal from petrol stations! What a nightmare!!

Dealing with ‘Waste’

I hope you are not sensitive to dealing with your own waste, because living on a canal boat you will have to do a lot of this.

Whether it is finding bins for your rubbish or an Elsan point to flush the contents of your cassette toilet down, this can be a bit of a trek at times to say the least. Not to mention that it’s kind of gross to empty your own waste down an Elsan point in the first place.

And don’t think it’s any easier with a pump out toilet. Yes, you can go longer without needing to pump out your toilet’s waste tank, but you will have to pay money every time you want a pump out. Also, the canal network’s pump out stations are often pretty annoying when they don’t accept that brand new pump out card you just got from the Canal and River Trust 🙂

And I hope you are not big into recycling, as most rubbish points along the canal network do not have recycling points. You will have to store anything you want to recycle in your boat and go to a recycling point (making in a supermarket carpark) from time to time.

Living With Nature

I hope you don’t mind being woken up at 6am by ducks pecking at the side of your boat! Or the fact that you will have spiders living alongside you (I have tips for that in my housekeeping article).

Be aware that you are living close to nature when you are on a narrowboat or canal boat 🙂

Dust Everywhere

Most people that live on a narrowboat have multi fuel stoves, which are great at making that boat nice and toasty in Winter. However, these also create a lot of dust! So prepared to spend a lot of your life dusting your boat.

If you hate dusting, you might want to get a gas or diesel fuelled stove instead 🙂

Banks and Post Boxes

As a homeowner, you probably take for granted the fact that you have a solid address you can use to open or maintain a bank account or accept those exciting purchases from Amazon 🙂 Of course, if you live in a marina you will still have a physical address you can use, but if you are cruising the canal network, you will have to ask a member of your family or a good friend to accept bank statements and parcels for you.

Then, you will have to somehow regularly travel back to that location to pick up these things. Not ideal if you need that boat part urgently 🙂 Yes, Amazon has started having pickup points dotted around for you to send parcels to, but these are still not exactly easy to access from the canals.

Loneliness on the Water

Yes, the boating community is a great one and you will surely meet many like-minded people on the water. But just be prepared that it won’t be as easy to see your extended family or those best friends from home if you are cruising a narrowboat. It’s a lot harder to just leave your boat and go see your family or friends on a whim.

Also, unless you have one of the larger narrowboats out there, it can be harder to host friends and family on your boat.

Of course, if you are travelling with a partner loneliness will be reduced, but if you are a solo cruiser, I hope you like your own company 🙂

Limited Mobility

Unfortunately, your canal boat is stuck to the canals (funny that!), meaning if where you want to go is far away from there it may be tricky.

Some people do own cars, but the problem there is you then need to keep moving your car as you move your boat (not exactly the most relaxing experience). Then you have the problem that your car might have to be parked in the middle of nowhere and be open to vandals or even a thief.

The best solution for most is to buy bikes and store them on your boat, meaning you can more easily ride to the shops 🙂 But then you have the issue of storing a bulky bike in the limited space you have.

A folding bike like the one below would be what I would recommend. This particular one is an electric version too, so if you have far to travel the electric motor will assist you 🙂 Click the image to view it over at Amazon.

Limited Storage

If you are used to even a small house or flat on land, you will have a lot more stuff than what you can keep on a narrowboat. Be prepared to downsize your possessions a lot. Yes, there a lot of clever ways to improve the storage on your narrowboat, but you will still be limited when compared to even the smallest land based home.

Moving Stuff!

When you are in a Marina, you probably have it easier for taking things onto your boat. At the very least, you should have a smooth road or path. Think about the continuous cruisers who are often moored up by the canal towpath. Taking those deliveries, coal or shopping from the roadside to your boat is going to be rather annoying.

I would recommend buying a foldable cart like the one below (again click the image to look at it over at Amazon). It will make your hauling life much easier. I like the one below as it has off-road style wheels, perfect for bumpy tow paths.

Limited Headroom

When coming from a normal land based house, you are probably used to more than ample headroom. Just be aware that narrowboats can have low headroom space, especially annoying if you are tall. Be sure to check carefully the headroom space of any boat you buy!

Thanks for Reading!

Don’t get me wrong, there are a lot of positives to narrowboat life. I just want to make sure that you are fully clued up on the negatives before you step foot on that first boat 🙂

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