Whether you’re looking to make a major lifestyle change or simply want to spend time exploring the UK’s waterways, a houseboat can be an exciting way to live.

However, life on the water isn’t something anyone should rush into and even though a houseboat doesn’t cost as much as most homes, it’s undoubtedly a big purchase. There are also maintenance costs and mooring fees to consider, so it’s essential to do plenty of homework if you’re considering buying one.

Read on to learn about the ins and outs of purchasing a houseboat and some of the costs associated with them.

What kind of houseboat should I buy?

There are a few different kinds of houseboat available, and the type you buy should depend on how and where you are planning to use it.

Narrowboats as their name suggests, are the long, narrow boats you will usually see on a canal. They tend to be quite cosy, but are well-suited to getting around rivers and canals. Narrowboats tend to come with a motor for getting around, though you can also buy one without a motor and stay moored in the same place. They can be bought secondhand for as little as £30,000, though it may cost more if it needs fixing up.

Dutch barges are larger and wider than narrowboats. The increased living space can make them more comfortable than narrowboats but their size means that they can only be moored on rivers – not canals. Prices for these vessels tend to start at around £50,000.

The term houseboat can also refer to a structure built on a fixed or floating platform on a river.

Can I get a mortgage on a houseboat?

If you don’t have savings available to buy a boat outright, you may be able to take out a mortgage to help fund your purchase, though not a normal one with a traditional provider.

Instead, you’ll need to apply for what’s called a marine mortgage or marine finance, which tend to only be available through specialist lenders or brokers. These loans generally have shorter repayment terms, higher deposit requirements (usually at least 30%), and higher interest rates than a typical mortgage.

It is not uncommon for a loan on a boat to be arranged directly with the seller, though this will likely not be the case if you buy second-hand.

As with other kinds of mortgages, a lender will look at your income, credit score and the home you intend to buy before deciding whether to make you an offer.

Do I need insurance on a houseboat?

You will need to have insurance in order to get your boat certified to cruise on waterways in the UK, and the majority of waterways will require you to have insurance before you can moor there. Considering that a houseboat is a sizable purchase, it’s almost certainly in your best interests to protect it with some kind of policy anyway, particularly if it is going to be your primary residence.

A good boat insurance policy will protect your boat from theft, physical damage and third-party claims. You may also be able to get contents insurance as part of your policy, but you should certainly seek this independently if it is not included, especially if you are going to keep your possessions onboard.

Some providers offering insurance for houseboats include Insure4Boats, Mercia Marine, Towergate, Livaboard and Taylor Watkins. As with any kind of policy, be sure to do research and compare quotes to ensure you get the best offer available to you.

What certification does my houseboat need?

Like an MOT for a car, a boat needs to have an inspection and receive a boat safety certificate from the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) before you can cruise with it – this starts at £144. Read more about how to get certified on the scheme’s website. Alternatively, a brand new boat should already be certified with a Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) which proves that it meets the same safety standards.

You will also need a licence to cruise and moor your houseboat on the UK’s waterways, which we touch on in the next section.

Where can I moor my houseboat?

You have two main options for mooring when it comes to houseboat living: residential mooring and continuous cruising.

Residential mooring

Residential mooring (also known as home mooring) lets you keep your houseboat moored in one place on a long-term basis. This could be ideal if you want to live on the water but need to remain situated in one place, or just don’t want to travel too much. Bear in mind that you do need to pay council tax if you are moored in the same place, though you will typically be in the lowest tax band.

Residential moorings are mainly offered by private companies and boat clubs, often along a canal or river along the side opposite the towpath. The cost of a residential mooring depends on where it is – a spot in London will likely cost you well over £10,000 a year, whereas in another southern area it might fall between £1,000 and £5,000. Moorings get slightly cheaper in the north, where some will only cost a few hundred pounds a year. You can search for residential moorings on the Canal and River Trust’s website, though this only covers the waterways owned by the Trust.

Continuous cruising

Continuous cruising is when you travel around and moor your boat by river and canal towpaths. Different waterways are managed by different authorities, and they all have different licences and fees for cruising there.

To cruise in a particular waterway, you may need a licence with its respective authority – fees for obtaining a licence range can range from a few hundred pounds to over a thousand, depending on the size of your boat, where you want to take it (rivers and canals or rivers only) and the length of the licence. You can apply for a licence with the relevant authority using the links below:

Rules for how long you can stay at a given mooring vary between different authorities. For waterways managed by the Canal and River Trust, for example, you need to move your boat from one mooring to the next every 14 days and cover at least 20 miles a year. Bear in mind as well that non-towpath sides of a canal are generally private property, meaning you cannot moor there.

One major advantage of continuous cruising is that you do not have to pay council tax, and many short-term moorings across the country are free, meaning you pay almost nothing to cruise once you have your licence. If you have to pay to moor somewhere for a certain amount of time, this information should be clearly signposted.

What are the other costs of living on a houseboat?

Some other costs of buying and living on a houseboat not already mentioned in this article include:

Depreciating value

Not a cost in the sense of being something you actively pay, but it’s worth keeping the low resale value of a houseboat in mind. Houses and flats tend to increase in value over time (although this is never guaranteed), meaning the hefty upfront cost hopefully ends up being a worthwhile investment in your future. Boats, such as narrowboats or barges, however, tend to go down in value, which is why they can be so cheap to buy second-hand. Don’t just consider the attractive upfront cost of a houseboat – make sure you are thinking long-term as well, especially if you’re borrowing to pay for one.


While not a necessary part of the buying process like it is for a house, it’s usually wise to get a survey on a houseboat you are purchasing to  identify anything that needs fixing, especially if you are buying second-hand. This can cost a few hundred pounds, but could save you from a really bad purchase or enable you to negotiate with the seller that any necessary repairs are made before you buy.

Repairs and maintenance

If you buy second-hand with plans to fix up your vessel, make sure you know in advance how much work this is going to be and how much it will cost. Even once you are out on the waterways, boats require a great deal of maintenance and impromptu repairs, so be prepared for the costs this can invoke.

For instance, it is advised with almost any boat that you have the hull scraped and repainted every three to five years to prevent corrosion – this will mean paying to get the boat out of the water, completing the work or paying to have it done, and finding alternative accommodation in the meantime.


Make sure you have budgeted for basic utilities too. While residential moorings typically include direct sources for water, electricity and waste management, a cruiser will need a water tank for drinking and hygiene, a sewage tank for waste and a generator for power.

Other potential costs to factor in include fuel, firewood, gas canisters, as well as the cost of emptying your toilet tank at a pump out station.


Whatever kind of houseboat you are considering buying, you should think carefully about whether it’s the right lifestyle for you. Living on the water can be rewarding, but it is often also really hard work, and you need DIY skills and good physical fitness to make it work in the long term. If you have not done so before, you should think about booking a couple week’s holiday on a boat – in both summer and winter – to see how you get on.

You should also think about your long term financial goals and what you plan to do afterwards – as mentioned, it is difficult to make a profit from selling a houseboat, so don’t rush into a purchase.