Live aboard.

This is the first of 3 planned posts about liveaboard boats and i am writing them with a specific audience in mind : one that doesn’t know boats as well as my everyday readership.   The subject popped up in a thread on a preparedness forum that i take part in but where i can’t easily post the kind of response that i would like to so i will write and edit the post here and then make it available to them.      If i seem to be ‘teaching granny to suck eggs’ it’s because i am going to be more careful about explaining terms and concepts that aren’t necasarily familair to the preperadness/self reliance community.

So….where to begin ?

Well lets begin by saying that it is perfectly possible to live aboard a boat and that many people already do exactly that.  Some of those are in a long term cruising lifestyle moving from port to port or even country to country and beyond.  At the other end of the scale are many people who are pretty much static in one place or a small area and where the boat is more like a house that floats.   This is one of the latter category that i saw during our Brittanny cruise and it’s about as far from my idea of boats as can be….essentially it’s a floating raft structure with a house on top.


In this, first, post i’m not going to start talking about specific boats except for the quick inclusion at the end of my own fantasy liveaboard boat but rather i am going to lay out some of the options and problems of location….where and how to keep a boat.  The one above for example is securely moored on the foreshore just outside the small port of Paimpol in northern Brittanny and isn’t really a boat but a floating structure anyway.  This is a salt-water estuary environment , essentially it’s on the sea but quite well inland and generally well protected from most directions and this is one of the things that needs thinking about.  This one probably only floats on a very high tide, has no means of propulsion that i can see and has immediate access onto the shore, it isn’t that much different to living in a ‘normal’ situation.  I include this one right at the start simply because it isn’t a boat in the conventional sense but does start to illustrate the first few problems and they are where to keep a boat and the problems of access and services.

There are a few places that i know of similar to the Paimpol foreshore one around the UK and they are generally tucked away in slightly out of the way ie not so easy to access places.  They often exist in a slightly difficult situation with local byelaws and planning regulations especially in recent years when those things have become a lot tighter. There is one area just inside Poole harbour (Bramble bush bay) and one in the Solent within Bembridge harbour that have similar boat-houses.  There is quite an alternative boat-house scene on the foreshore at Shoreham and many oddball boats/houses that could be a bit of either tucked away in the Essex marshes.     A really useful tool to take a look at these areas is Google maps in satellite view, once you know what you are looking at you can see any area where boats are moored and that’s a good place to start studying your own area for example.  Another example and a very different kind of setting are a few places in the Essex marshes where there are many small creeks with houseboats hidden away.


Lets look at the more conventional end of boats and places to keep them though.

For the kind of boats that i have or would consider as liveaboard homes we first have to consider the places and situations where they can be kept and accessed.  This breaks down to 2 main environments, those being the sea (and their tidal rivers) and the inland rivers and waterways including canals.     Places to keep and live aboard a boat on the sea break down into marinas and fixed moorings and then anchorages which are usually intended for craft on passage rather than for the long term.    Marinas are the easiest in that the boat is usually kept on a pontoon with a walk-on/walk-off situation and there are usually services….water, electricity and showers.  Because of the ease of access and services and also that marinas are often big business they are nearly always expensive to shockingly expensive in this country.  Just to give you an idea i was offerred a temporary marina berth for my last little 23 foot boat at the rate of £500 per month…..yeah and no thanks.  That was an extreme example of the large corporate marinas that don’t particularly want you living there anyway.    What they want are ‘smart’ boats and your money…..    It isn’t always like that and as a balancing example i found a berth in a mud/drying boatyard just down the road at half the price and one that i know of in this area is less again.   In short the larger ‘posh’ marinas in the popular areas are the more expensive.  Deep water ie afloat berths at all states of tide tend to be much more expensive that mud/tidal berths that dry out at low tide.  I kept one of my boats in a low end drying marina berth for a couple of years and it was an entertaining place…..more ‘eastenders’ than Howards way !

Not all marinas and boatyards can or will accommodate full time liveaboards , those that do often charge a bit more for the berth and some have a limited number of berths that can be occupied by full time liveaboards.

This by the way is the excellent little boatyard where i over-wintered my own little boat, as you can see its a drying berth and well protected.


The marina/boatyard situation is often ideal if what you need to do is get on and off the boat easily and say commute to work.  The services are often good with fresh water on tap, an electricity supply, toilets/showers and waste disposal.  Outside of a marina setting the boat owner has to work all of those things out for him/herself.  What you will notice above is the second situation which is that of fixed moorings and where it is often possible to rent a mooring and have access to the yard facilities if it’s a boatyard mooring.  Just as a note about my situation above…..all the water gets turned off in the winter because the pipes freeze and burst !    The yard manager didn’t want me to have a mooring in the river there in the autumn and winter because of the amount of tree and other debris that comes coursing down the river in heavy rain.

Moorings then….

So, a mooring is basically a fixed anchor/anchors or similar that a boat can be tied up to and obviously moorings are then often classified by the weight or length limit that can be on them.  Just down the road in Plymouth we have ship moorings, good for 30.0000 tons or more and up here in the river we have some that might be just about good enough to tie a dinghy up to as long as there isn’t too much wind !   Moorings are often run directly by the harbour authority often under the control of the harbourmaster or moorings manager.  In some places many moorings are owned or managed by boatyards, that’s the general situation here except that there are some ‘parish’ moorngs where the ground tackle is owned by the boatowner and a small ground rent is paid to the local council.  I could have a parish mooring locally but don’t yet have the capability to lay one so i rent a boatyard mooring a fair price.   Renting a boatyard mooring also gives me access to a launching point/slipway where i can land from the boat and keep my tender (dinghy)…it also gives me access to a fresh water supply, shower and a laundry room.

Calstock boatyard….current ‘home’



I should add that a limitation of where i am now is that the river is very shallow at low water so the boat doesn’t float for the entire tide and that the banks are then thick soft mud so access and egress are very difficult.  Getting ashore and getting back aboard are dependent on tide times and that could be a major problem for someone working a conventional job.

Moorings can be deep-water or shallow/drying.  Deep water moorings are usually more expensive and geared towards the larger, heavier and deep draft boats.  They often are in much more exposed positions….the deep water mooring i had was notoriously exposed and the moorings manager really wasn’t happy with me being in that position in the winter….in fact he took many of the exposed/deep water moorings apart in the winter.

A mooring can also be a section of riverbank or canal or very close to the bank as i experienced in the Frome at Wareham.  My mooring was one of a line of moorings on one side of the river and only a few feet from the bank.  In certain situattions of wind and tide my boat would sit on the mud and because of its shape sit upright. There, i did have very near access to the bank for at least half the tidal cycle, further down the river there were also boats lying alongside conventional pontoons.  This kind of setting would be a very strong first choice for me as the river is sheltered, the boat is actually sheltered by the high grass bank, the mooring was relatively inexpensive and the shore access either easy enough or only a short row to the boatyard.   Once again i had access to a fresh water supply, showers, toilet and safe parking.  The Frome is still a tidal river at that point and has the same benefits/problems as any sea/estuary area.  Like many similar places the owner has to contend with and both tides and weather and , i would add, need a high degree of competency with small craft…..and by that i mean be competent with the boat’s tender.

A major point here that goes along with boat access, services and security is your choice of life situation and for example how and where you gain employment.  I am generally making the assumption that it’s necasary for most people to have some paid work and that often means getting to a job and usually to a set time schedule.  Several times i have worked out places and situations to keep a boat and get to my job.  In my specific example i work in healthcare and work shifts so i have had to be in places where i can get ashore without too much difficulty to make the commute.  For me it has meant planning for the extra time to get from boat to shore, secure the tender and then make the commute.  I do know of people who work fairly conventional jobs and live either full time in mainas or nearby moorings.  Of course there are a whole load of different situations when it comes to this.



While i think mainly in terms of seagoing , sailing or motor vessels and tidal situations there is a whole other situation with living aboard boats and that is with the inland waterways and what are known as ‘narrow’ boats.  In the inland waterways for example there also both marinas and what are called ‘home’ moorings where boats can stay permanently.   There is also an entirely different culture of ‘alternative’ living with communities of boaters now running into problems with the managing charity/trust.  This is a side of boating that i know very little about as it’s a very different setting and set of problems to the ones i know and deal with.

The situation changes again with inland moorings which are more often only alongside a section of riverbank, many canals are like this for example and canals bring a whole new load of potential problems.   At the end of today’s first post i am going to link to a couple of videos about living aboard a boat on the inland waterways.

This is the opposite side.

In the next post i am going to talk about different boat types and start to talk about different ways of living aboard boats long term….from long term cruising on very small craft and on from there.

This, by the way is my current fantasy ‘house-boat’ (not my photograph by the way)




  1. Enjoyed that Steve, thanks — looking forward to part two. Any mention of houseboats on the Essex marshes always reminds me of this film:

    Too much regulation on the canals for me, as the free spirits on the K&A in the second Youtube video you link to are finding out to their cost. I’d rather live on a plastic not-so fantastic small yacht down a tidal river, free to cruise to another part of our beautiful coastline, or even another country, should I so choose. And also free to ignore the strictures of the BSC scheme and not have to pay the Canal and River Trust’s ever increasing toll for the privilege of living on a steel coffin in a lock-bound ghetto dominated by well-off retirees, struggling to moor my boat in the busy summers and looking for places to park my car that aren’t too far away while dodging dog shit and ill-mannered cyclists on the muddy tow path. Canal life does have its good points though but from my experience on the Grand Union, access to the countryside and some good pubs are about all I can think of. As I once read somewhere: “It’s a bit like being homeless, but much more expensive.” Your mileage may vary of course!


    1. I hope you can see that this was the first post for a different audience and that’s one that doesn’t know much about boats so what i set out to do is show each side of living aboard boats. I did a bit of data-mining myself , can’t find any estimate for people living aboard yachts but plenty of estimates for people living on the inland waterways. One estimate was 22,000 living on the inland waterways and as many as 10,000 in London alone. Like you it doesn’t appeal to me but i have thought about exploring inland to a greater extent especially on the larger systems not based on the narrow canals and locks. I have been thinking about a couple of river/canal winter projects….one to transit the uk system from east to west and one to drive down through France via their system…..i think that one could be an interesting winter trip.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s