Ever considered spending your golden years on a narrowboat?

A surprising number of people are making the change once they retire. It’s not for everyone, but it can breathe a new wave of serenity into this spectacular period of one’s life. That’s before we’ve even mentioned how much money it can save you! 

This page serves as our essential guide to living on a narrowboat in retirement. We’ll cover the main advantages to this kind of lifestyle, what to consider if you’re interested, and a few resources that may be of use.

Living on a narrowboat in retirement – the advantages

So, what makes narrowboat living so appealing to the right kind of retiree? In this section, we’ll find out.

It’s an exciting new lifestyle

For many, retirement represents an opportunity to finally start savouring life for all it’s worth. They’ve saved for years to be able to experience everything life has to offer. A significant lifestyle change can be a brilliant way to do this while making your savings go further. Living on a canal boat combines the joys of travel with the peace of waterside living. You’ll also meet a whole host of interesting new people to boot! You should think closely about what’s right for you, but this alternative lifestyle can be a transformative experience.

It can reduce your outgoings

The type of mooring you choose and your location in the UK will determine how much you could save by moving to a narrowboat for retirement. Suffice it to say, however, that canal boat living is significantly more affordable than living in a three-bedroom house. 

As a very general rule, narrowboats cost somewhere between £50,000 and £60,000. Depending on mooring and general maintenance costs, you should budget for between £1000 and £6000 on top of this per year. 

Of course, this isn’t exactly free, but it’s orders of magnitude cheaper than most mortgages and property purchases. 

Goodbye Mr Taxman!

Another huge bonus to living on a narrowboat in retirement is the lifestyle’s impact on your taxes. Council tax, for example, is one obligation that many narrowboat dwellers may get to forego, depending on how they choose to travel and moor their boats. 

When you can eliminate certain financial obligations altogether, your outgoings are bound to go down considerably! 

The freedom to explore

Thanks to the industrial revolution, England is connected by a vast network of canals that spans a huge proportion of the country. If you’re interested in sinking your teeth into everything your country has to offer, what better way to do so than by exploring it on a canal boat in later life? 

There are countless excursions and holidays you could try that are all connected by canal. If you throw a train journey or two into the mix, you can truly explore the whole island with ease. 

A great way to make new friends

There’s a real sense of community in many mooring spots. Along the way, you’re bound to meet countless new people who have just as much zest for life as you do. In many cases, you’ll be encountering a whole new mode of living that went unnoticed when you were still going to work regularly. 

It can be very peaceful

The hustle and bustle of city life simply isn’t for everyone. For many, the tranquillity of canal living is more than a little tempting. The real magic here is that you can have the best of both worlds if you play your cards right. 

You could enjoy a peaceful few days in the countryside and then travel to a city for the weekend. With a narrowboat, the choice is yours! 

Is living on a canal boat a good idea? Things to keep in mind

So, we’ve established that for the right person, living on a narrowboat can be an incredible new lifestyle that can offer a renewed sense of adventure. The question remains, however, is it the right choice for you? 

In this section, we’ll explore some of the things to keep in mind before buying a boat.

You’ll need maintenance skills

Just like any vehicle, canal boats require regular maintenance to function properly. You’ll need to be equipped for a broad variety of potential challenges. Anything from generator failures to plumbing issues to a damaged rudder are possible. 

Collecting the skills and equipment you’ll need as soon as possible should be a top priority. As with most things in life, there’ll be a degree of “learning as you go” here. It’s just worth asking yourself whether you want to deal with a whole new learning curve during retirement or whether you’re in a position to pay for help and services when required.

How mobile are you?

It’s a frustrating fact of life, but mobility deteriorates for most of us as we get older. While living on a canal boat can be fantastic, it’s a slightly more “hands-on” life than some may be ready for. Getting on and off boats and maneuvering in small spaces are all potential obstacles.

If you’re already struggling to move about in your 50s, it might not be the best choice for you.

Complete a helmsmanship course

If you’ve never handled a canal boat before, we strongly recommend taking a good helmsmanship course. Options like the one we’ve linked cover things like basic handling, engine maintenance, and health & safety while travelling. 

You’ll be grateful you did it – trust us.

The essentials can be tricky

Figuring out things like electricity, waste management, and heating are all possible on a narrowboat, but they’re more hassle than just living in a typical home. You’ll have to think about where you’ll dispose of your waste, how you’ll generate enough electricity for your needs, and a whole host of other things. 

None of it is rocket science, but it’s important to get right. The Canal & River Trust website is a great resource for beginners.

Narrowboat mooring costs explained

For better or worse, you won’t be able to just buy a boat and travel wherever you want straight away. You’ll also need to licence your new home and decide on the type of mooring that’s right for you. 

Your goals and budget will determine the kind of mooring that’s right for you. We explore them in a bit more detail below. 

Long-term/Permanent moorings

If you want to keep your boat in one location for an extended period of time (often more than 14 days), you’ll need to pay for a permanent/long-term mooring. This essentially affords you a “parking space” for your boat that can be used long-term. 

Costs vary considerably depending on where in the UK you’re trying to stay.

Short stay moorings

Short stay moorings are exactly that – designed for a brief stop for those travelling from other waters. They’re considerably cheaper than their long-term counterparts but are also more limited in scope.

If you’re happy to always be on the move, going the “short-term route” can be a great way to save money in retirement. 

Mooring resources

This resource from the Canal & River Trust explains moorings in more detail. Their customer helpline is also a great option if you prefer to chat to a real person about your questions. 

Living on a narrowboat in retirement – Final thoughts

It’s not for everyone, but living on a narrowboat can be a relaxing, budget-slashing option for the right people. Our advice is to try a canal boat holiday for an extended weekend and see how you fare. Loved every second? It might be worth researching further. 

Found plenty to complain about? You might prefer a more traditional retirement after all.