Frequently Asked Questions

As major UK Brokers we are often asked about various aspects of Inland Boating, whether this be narrowbeam or widebeam, cruising or residential. As a result we have put together these notes in the hope that they may be of assistance to you.

Let’s start by explaining what the Broker does, and how a sale proceeds. (Please note that other brokers, particularly those who are not members of Professional Bodies, may vary from the general procedure outlined below.)

As Brokers we handle all aspects of the sale of a boat, and for so doing charge a percentage fee to the vendor. Although paid by the vendor, we act as mediator between buyer and seller, with the objective of reaching a successful conclusion by smoothing the way for all parties.

A sale can take quite some time to conclude. First of all a boat is viewed, and if you wish to proceed we ask for a 10% returnable deposit, subject to survey, which reserves the boat. Then a survey is arranged, which will cost in the region of £450 (for a 50ft boat). The Surveyor is an independent expert who examines the boat and reports to you on any defects found.

We very strongly recommend that a survey is undertaken – so much so that if you decline to have a survey, we will ask you to sign a document stating thus!

STYLE. There are two basic styles of boat – the Cruiser and the Traditional or ‘Trad’. The Cruiser features a long aft deck which is large enough for the ‘steerer’ and several companions, whereas the Trad has a small aft deck about 3′ long, which is big enough for the steerer alone.

There is a third type, called the Semi-Trad, which is a hybrid of a Cruiser and a Trad, in that it has a large aft deck, but with vertical panels at each side, so that in side elevation it takes on the look of a true Trad. There are other styles that you may meet such as Tugs, Joshers, Large and Small Woolwichs etc., but we are getting a little beyond the scope of these notes now!

CONSTRUCTION. Virtually all narrow boats are constructed from steel because of its inherent strength and durability. You will see hulls advertised as say 10 / 6 / 4. This indicates that they have a 10mm base plate (the bottom), 6mm hull sides and 4mm superstructure (cabin sides and top). Occasionally superstructures are constructed from wood or fibreglass, but these are not as popular as steel.

SIZE The narrowboat is just under 7ft wide and anything up to 72ft long. This is the absolute maximum length that can use most of the canal system. There are certain navigations with shorter locks, one in particular being the Leeds and Liverpool Canal in the North, which dictates a maximum length of 62ft. Widebeam cruisers are restricted mainly to the Southern navigations, with a theoretical maximum beam of 14ft, but 10 to 12ft will be found most practicable.

BOWS. Right at the front will be a special locker designed to hold gas bottles safely, behind which is the forward well which may have seats / lockers down either side. The ‘well’ may be enclosed with a cover called the ‘cratch’.

SALOON. The saloon can be totally open plan, or fitted with fixed seating, and is frequently designed to provide additional sleeping space. If fitted, the solid fuel stove will be located here.

GALLEY. The galley or kitchen is often fitted with conventional household units, and is either along the sides of the boat, with a central walkway, or ‘U’ shaped with an offset walkway. The cooker can be a full size 4 burner unit, or may be a separate hob and oven / grill unit. A fridge is normally fitted, operating from gas or 12V. Top specification boats may even have a microwave!

DINETTE The dinette if fitted generally comprises two fixed seats with a table in between. It is common for the table to fit between the seats, thus converting them into a double berth.

BATHROOM. The obvious component here is the loo, which will either be a pump out type, or chemical. A hand basin is normally fitted, as is a shower. Some boats may have a combined shower / hip bath. We have even sold a boat fitted with a jacuzzi, but these are quite unusual!

BEDROOM. Most popular is the fixed double berth, which may be lengthways along the boat, or sideways across it, the latter being known as a ‘cross double’. Alternatively single or twin bunk cabins may be found, which are ideal for children or guests. It is not unknown to find a ‘four post bed’ fitted, but in actuality these are invariably ‘two posters’!

ENGINE ROOM. In a ‘Trad’ boat this can be a separate area, or can be immediatley in front of the steering position. In a Cruiser style boat the engine is located under the aft deck, and is accessed by way of lift up deck boards.

  • AGE, SIZE and CONDITION. These are the obvious factors, but they are not totally dominant in setting the price that a boat can fetch..
  • HULL BUILDER. Is the hull from a top class well known builder, or has it been constructed by an unknown welder in a field?
  • INTERIOR. Has the boat been fitted by a professional using top quality materials, or is the completion to a mediocre DIY standard?
  • EXTERIOR. Is the paintork in good fettle, with quality sigwriting, or has it been done with a poor brush on a damp day?
  • EQUIPMENT. Is the boat basic, or has it been fully equipped with all the latest modern facilities?.

Unfortunately ther are no printed references to the prices of secondhand boats, as there is with cars, however diligent study of the various magazines will provide a good guide.

The main costs of running a boat are proportional to its size, so for the purposes of illustration the examples below relate to a 50ft vessel:

  • Mooring – varies with facilities and security, but say £2,500 – £3,000
  • BW cruising licence – £590
  • Insurance – based on a value of £25,000 – £250
  • Maintenance – engine servicing, painting etc., say £750

This should be compared with the price of hiring a boat for a holiday, and the price of shared ownership, as with either of these options the use of a boat is severely restricted. Depreciation has not been included for the reasons outlined in the Second Hand Prices section above – it may even be that a scruffy boat can be improved sufficiently for a gain to be made on the original investment!

BSC The Boat Safety Certificate is granted (or declined) following an inspection by a qualified person. It is similar to a vehicle MOT, and is designed to ensure that the boat does not endanger its own users or others. Note that it is not in any way a statement as to the overall structural condition of the boat, and does not preclude a full survey on purchase.

INSURANCE It is now compulsory for all craft to have a minimum of 3rd party insurance, although most people choose to have the additional protection of Fully Comprehensive. Insurance Companies will probably require a survey on vessels in excess of twenty years old.

LICENCE With the exception of the tidal River Thames a boat must have a licence relevant to the waterway on which it is kept. The main Authorities are British Waterways (BW), which covers over 2000 miles of inland waterways, and the Environment Agency (River Thames and others).  It is now possible to have a ‘Gold’ licence which covers both BW and EA waters. The cost of this for a 50ft narrowboat is £520 per annum.

Of paramount importance, and this cannot be over stressed, is that a berth must be found before a boat is purchased. Proper residential berths are few in number, are in great demand – particularly in the South East – and new facilities rarely come onto the market.

Careful consideration should be given to the choice between wide or narrowbeam, overall layout, and even whether the vessel needs to be mobile or static.

There are areas where ‘a blind eye’ is turned to the residential use of moored boats, but we would emphasise the lack of security this provides and cannot recommend it as a viable option.

GAS. Propane gas bottles (the red ones) are used almost exclusively and are widely available. Appliances that use gas are the cooker, instant water heater, fridge, central heating and direct or catalytic heaters.

WATER. The water tank is generally located under the foredeck and may be an integral part the boat, or a separate stainless steel tank. Water is fed from the tank by an electric pump that automatically switches on and off as taps are open or closed.

Hot water may be supplied from an instantaneous gas fired water heater, or from a calorifer (hot water tank), in which water is heated by the engine cooling water, or from a diesel or gas fired central heating unit.

HEATING. Heating is most frequently by means of solid fuel stove. These excellent units provide a dry heat, and can be inexpensively run 24 hours a day. They may incorporate a back boiler that enables water to be passed through a radiator system.

Some boats are fitted with gas or diesel central heating systems that pump hot water through radiators, in the same way that a house system does.

ELECTRICS – 12 & 240v

12V The 12V supply is provided by batteries and is used for engine starting and domestic supply (lights, pumps etc.)

It is normal to separate the engine starting battery from the domestic supply, so that the engine can still be started even if the domestic batteries have been.

240V The starting point for a 240V supply is a ring main and sockets around the boat, fitted with a protection device and circuit breakers.

The electricity supply can be from various sources. The most basic is simply a cable from supply ashore. If power is to be generated on board then a small portable generator will suffice, but consideration must be given to noise interference to other boaters. Permanently installed heavily silenced diesel powered generators are ideal, but they are not cheap. Another option is to use an inverter. These convert 12V DC from batteries to 240V AC and are available in many capacities.

TOILETS. There are two fundamental toilet systems – chemical and pumpout.

The chemical type is simple and has a compartment that can be detached and carried to a disposal point. Capacity can be increased by using multiple compartments.

Pump out loos resemble a household loo, and are plumbed into the boats’ water supply to provide a flushing facility. The effluent then passes into a large holding tank which has to be emptied periodically at a boatyard with a pump out facility at a cost of around

As professional brokers we strongly recommend buyers to have a survey carried out. A Surveyor is an expert and is totally independent, having no ties with the vendor or ourselves.

We do not recommend any particular surveyor. We do offer assistance with the choice by providing a shortlist of surveyors who are expert with narrowboats, as opposed to say wooden or glass fibre boats, and who are reasonably close geographically.

The cost of the survey has two aspects. Firstly the cost of getting the boat out of the water, so that the surveyor can access the underwater areas, and of course the charge of the surveyor himself. These fees are paid by the purchaser directly to the boatyard and surveyor respectively.

There are two types of survey that can be conducted. The least expensive is called a ‘hull only’ survey. In this case the surveyor will only examine the hull and the underwater gear. The second type is a ‘full survey’ where the surveyor will examine all aspects of the vessel, both internal and external. The surveyor will discuss the scope of the survey with his client when he is appointed.

The surveyor can find faults and failings, and sometimes his report will enable us to negotiate a price reduction with an owner, thus ‘earning his fee’, but this of course should not be relied upon.

Inland Waterway vessels require a Boat Safety Certificate once they are more than 4 years old. They are obtained by having the boat inspected by a qualified BSC Inspector, and the Certificate must be renewed every 4 years. It is not dissimilar to the MoT test for a car.

The inspection covers the safety aspects of the vessel, as the name implies. In particular it should not be confused with a survey – the BSC does not look at the structural integrity of the vessel, but merely those aspects of the vessel that could impinge upon the safety and welfare of the users of the canal system.

All of the vessels that we sell will have a current BSC unless there are very exceptional circumstances that would be clearly explained (such as a vessel stored on land at its owners premises).

Since 1998 all new vessels sold in the EU have to be CE marked, in the same way that other goods carry a CE mark. The procedure lays down very detailed specifications about the standards of build and construction that must be applied to all aspects of a vessel’s construction and fitting. Compliant boats will have a Craft Identification Number (CIN) which individually identifies them.

The only exception to this is in the case of a person buying a hull, and then fitting it themselves. If having completed the build they then use the boat themselves for a period of five years the vessel can be exempted from the requirement.

Vessels on the inland waterways of the UK require a license to be kept on those waters. There are several different licensing authorities. The vast majority of the canal system comes under the Jurisdiction of the Canal and River Trust, however the River Thames is administered by the Environment Agency, and the River Wey by the National Trust!

The Canal and River Trust operate a similar policy to the DVL for vehicles, in that on the sale of a vessel its license ceases, as it cannot be transferred. It is therefore necessary for a purchaser to purchase a new license. This can be done on the internet, or if purchasing through ourselves can be done in the office at the High Line Yachting.

Generally licences run for a year, however most authorities operate a short term system to cater for visiting vessels. The other consideration is that the Canal and River Trust and the Environment Agency of what is called a ‘Gold’ license which allows a vessel to cruise on both of their waters, at considerably less than the cost of two separate licenses.