The Cost of Owning a Narrowboat.

A paint job is just one of the costs you may need to budget for.

“A boat is a hole in the water into which you throw money.”

We all know that boating can be expensive, but where does it all go?  Tony Jones crunches the numbers.

Aspiring boaters often ask about the financial aspects of boating.   Despite my stock response being “An arm and a leg and your first born child!” it is a difficult question to answer given the enormous variety of boats and boaters and the various different types of waterways.  I asked a handful of boaters to keep track of their boating related spending for a whole year, listing everything from the mandatory licence fee, right down to the last fire-lighter, windlass and emergency repair bill.   Here is a summary.

The Big Three


Most canals and rivers in the UK are managed by either British Waterways or the Environment Agency and can be navigated upon purchasing a Gold Licence.  A handful of navigable waterways are managed by other organisations and so not covered by the Gold licence, a list of which can be found below.  A Standard Licence covers all of the canals and rivers specifically managed by BW, covering a choice of either England and Wales or Scottish waterways.  This licence is sufficient for vast majority of boaters, and any occasional forays outside its range can be covered by short term licences from the appropriate authority.  (See below for example costs.)  Boaters who are happy to restrict their cruises to just BW owned rivers can buy a Rivers Only Licence and these cost less than the others listed above.

The length of your boat is used to calculate the cost of the licence (the beam width is not a factor here) with discounts applying for prompt payment and a surcharge of £150 if payment is received late. For more information visit, but here are a few examples.

  • Nb The Watchman is 50 feet long and has a 12 month England and Wales Standard Licence.  This would cost £669.60, but was discounted for prompt payment to £602.64
  • Nb Aldebaran is 60 feet long and has a 12 month Gold Licence costing £1043.00 paid in full in advance.

Box Out: Visitors Licence fees (50 foot narrowboat)

  • 1 Day on the Thames – £26.00 (Note – Length & Beam are considered.)
  • 3 Days on the Basingstoke Canal – £27.15
  • 1 Week on the River Wey – £56.00 (Lock tolls included.)
  • Cruise the length of the Manchester Ship Canal – £128.00 (Conditions apply.  Call for details.)

Box Out – Other licensing agencies (Non BW/EA)

The Basingstoke CanalRiver WeyRiver AvonThe Norfolk & Suffolk Broads

Bridgewater Canal (Manchester)

Manchester Ship Canal

Basingstoke Canal Authority – Tel: 01252 370073The National Trust – Tel: 01483 561389Avon Navigation Trust – Tel: 01386 552517The Broads Authority – Tel: 01603 610734

Bridgwater Canal Company Ltd – 0161 629 8266 (For visits over 7 days)

Harbour Master’s  Department – Tel: 0151 327 1461

Boat Safety Certificate

Boats are tested for safety by qualified inspectors every four years and compliant craft are issued a boat safety certificate.  The test points are identical for all boats irrespective of size or type and so these variables will not affect the cost to any great degree.

David Tucker is the Membership Secretary for the Association of Boat Safety Examiners.  He said “The safety examination is a very black and white affair and so quite easy to budget for. Although the cost of the test is not fixed, most inspectors will charge around £150 which will cover the examination and the issue of the certificate.  Most fail points can be remedied with minimal financial cost and a couple of man hours, although non-compliant gas cookers are sometimes more easily replaced than repaired.  Some examiners may make an additional charge if a second visit is required following a fail, particularly if they have any distance to travel.”


Like all insurances the price is dependent on risk and the amount of cover required.   Rod Daniel of Craftinsure shed a little light on the dark art of boat insurance:  “The value and age of the boat are key premium factors rather than the length or beam width.  Others factors to consider include where the boat is based and any additional cover you might require for boat contents.  If you live aboard you can expect to pay more.  Although live-aboard boats are less likely to be left unattended for long periods, increased use and the value of items on board do tend to add to the risk. “

Avoiding tidal waterways and opting for a higher excess can reduce your insurance costs but price is not the only consideration.  The current financial climate may encourage boaters to cut costs, but it is important to ensure your insurance provides adequate cover.  Some insurers will ask for a survey if your boat is over 20 years old.  This can add £400 to your insurance expenditure once crane/dry dock costs are included, although this survey will usually be valid for insurance for five years.

Some insurance quotes examples (Courtesy of

Boat 60’ x 12’           Wide-beam 57’ semi trad   Narrowboat 30’ cruiser stern Narrowboat 25’ GRP       River Cruiser
Value £130.000 £50,000 £15,000 10,000
Build 2008 1996 1971 1979
Approximate Quote £458.00 pa £175.00 pa £115.00 pa £110.00 pa
(All quotes assume no previous claims, zero no claims bonus and £150.00 excess.)


Moorings costs are dependent on geography, facilities and the size of your boat.  Moorings with facilities such as mains electricity, local pump-out/Elsan or laundry will cost more than a basic on-line mooring, as will moorings in picturesque or convenient locations.  Most marinas will also charge different fees if moored alone or abreast another boat and some also differentiate between frequent and infrequent usage.

Case Studies

  1. Airedale Boat Club near Bingley sits on the Leeds Liverpool canal.  A 50 foot narrowboat on a breasted narrow-beam mooring costs £14.00 per foot per annum. (£700.00 per year.)  ABC has electricity supply and water is available from a BW tap on the towpath opposite.  Pump-out and Elsan disposal are a short walk away.  The club is run as a not for profit organisation and boat owners meet regularly to do maintenance chores around the site to keep mooring fees low.  Membership costs £7.50 per year.
  2. Online moorings with limited facilities are a prolific and relatively cheap mooring option.  An offside mooring to accommodate a 40’ boat at Cowley South near Uxbridge on the Grand Union went at tender for £1271 per annum earlier this year.  Apart from the provision of mooring rings and gated access, this mooring site has no additional facilities although water and pump-out/Elsan are both within 15 minutes cruising time.
  3. Apsley Marina can be found on the Grand Union Canal near Hemel Hempstead and was opened in 2003.  Facilities include metered electricity, water points, showers, pump-out and Elsan and a laundry facility too.  Nestling amongst a modern apartment block complex, a residential mooring here will cost £5412.00 per annum.
  4. Part of the Ting Dene group, Pyrford is a fine example of a modern commercial marina with extensive facilities and an on-site engineer.  The River Wey is owned and maintained by the National Trust and boats moored here enjoy a stunningly beautiful setting, however the Trust does not allow residential moorings anywhere on the river.  Facilities include metered electricity, water point, pump-out and Elsan, toilets and shower block, dry docking and diesel.  At £66.94 per foot pet annum a 72 foot boat on a standard mooring would cost £4819.68, with an option to pay by monthly direct debit at additional cost.
  5. Engineers Wharf can be found on the Paddington Arm of the Grand Union Canal in London on a 26 mile lock free section of the London canal network and is a good example of a top of the range premium mooring.  Matthew Bannister, BW’s West London moorings co-coordinator said “Whilst location is an important factor I believe the range of facilities at Engineers Wharf is an equally attractive feature.  The land required to build such extensive and attractive facilities is in short supply in the capital and so there is a high demand for moorings such as those at Engineers Wharf.”

Facilities at Engineers Wharf include:

• Secure serviced pontoon moorings.• Offline basin location offering 20 narrowboatBerths.• Private berth holders’ toilets and showers. • Five conveniently spaced pump-out facilities.• Up to 32amp electrical supply.• Dedicated undercover storage area.• Excellent access to London’s waterways.

A residential mooring here was recently won by tender at a price of £9250.00 per annum.  It is important to remember that residential moorings are subject to Council Tax charges.

For more information on the cost of boating, see The Liveaboard Guide, by Tony Jones


~ by Tony's Desk on November 29, 2009.

11 Responses to “The Cost of Owning a Narrowboat.”

  1. Many thanks for this informative article. I have owned a Narrowboat [NB Jessica] for ten years, she is moored on the Union Canal at Ratho, near Edinburgh. It is good to have a guide price for costs. I realize that the sign writing that was done on Jessica was a bargain!

  2. Many thanks for hugely informative article. I’m considering moving from a mobile home to a residential boat and found this page incredibly useful. Thanks again!

  3. The article is very interesting. I am just adding a little info on fuel costs. We have a 11 yr old 54 ft narrowboat with a 2 litre Barrus Shires diesel. We probably do a three day trip every three weeks, and a couple of 2 week holiday trips (i.e. we do not live aboard.) Typical useage is to use the diesl powered water heater to warm up on a Friday night on arrival – water only in the summer – then rely on waste engine heat from then on. So, to fuel useage. Yearly average is approx 1.3 litres per engine hour. However, on a recentr trip around the Leicester ring – no use of the diesel heater – we used 85 engine hours and 85 litres of fuel.

  4. Really well written and informative, thank you.

  5. Hello, it’s very nice to find this information on line and to find someone prepared to take the time to relay it to the general public. We are in the process of buying a nb ourselves, we have taken a year out to do our research and have come up with much the same information but missed the one about the insurance company wanting a survey if the boat was over 20 years. We will have a survey done anyway but it is one we missed!
    Thank you.

  6. This has been far more informative than any of the BW pages I’ve visited, thanks very much 🙂

  7. I am considering becoming a narrow boat owner and this has been useful reading – Thanks very much.

  8. Very, very useful. I will be looking for a live aboard very soon and this information has been so helpful, thank you for taking the time to put this info on the net

  9. Everyones comments above convey what I think. Being a novice boater I had the view that you buy a boat, move all your stuff on, pay someone to sort problems cheaply. then I found out about BSCs. And moorings et all. Then read this and really brought me down to earth. In the nicest way, very concise. Will do my sums again

  10. Thanks for all of your kind comments. Just a quick note to say that if you found this feature useful, you might like to read my book that was recently published and released.
    It’s called “The Liveaboard Guide” and you can find it on Amazon here:

  11. Thank you for your very helpful article which was so good I bought the book. Have been doing up a lovely old wooden launch as a livaboard and now looking to onto a canal boat as I like the idea of moving about. Look forward to reading up on the subject! Happy boating.

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