Fitting out a narrowboat is no small feat. It’s usually a long process and requires knowledge in multiple areas, such as woodwork, plumbing and electrics unless you splurge on a readily lined vessel and customise the layout.
It’s a popular option for those who have already lived aboard and developed an idea for a custom-made boat layout that better suits their needs. It’s also a great way for DIYers to save some cash.
Below you’ll find everything you need to consider before crafting the interior of your floating home, from sailaway narrowboat options to average fit-out costs.
Checklist for fitting out a narrowboat
#1 – A sailaway narrowboat
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Firstly, you’ll want to purchase a sailaway narrowboat, essentially a narrowboat shell.
There are a few options depending on your budget and whether you’ll be fitting out the narrowboat DIY style.
If you opt for a basic sailaway package, you’ll do most of the work yourself or employ contractors. The reason for this is that most low-budget models only include:
- front doors
- side doors
- mushroom vents
Want to spend more upfront to reduce labour time and costs? In this case, we’d suggest looking at lined sailaways, which typically have:
- fully lined cabin
- stove and chimney (optional extra)
- skin fittings (optional extra – they’re difficult to drill without the correct tools and can compromise the watertight steel of your boat)
- Recreational Craft Directive (RCD)
While the lower price of a basic sailaway narrowboat is tempting to some, we’d only recommend this route to those who can do the added work themselves or those who have the funds to pay a team of contractors to create a truly custom interior.
Purchasing the wrong package could cost you much more in the long run, so carefully consider your options.
Related: How to insulate your narrowboat
#2 – Necessary knowledge and skills
You’ll need to possess the necessary knowledge and skills to fit out your narrowboat.
Depending on the sailaway package you go for, this can include:
- gas fitting
Our biggest tip to those who aren’t skilled in these areas would be to leave it to the professionals. Or purchase a lined sailaway package to minimise the effort of fitting out a narrowboat DIY style.
Attempting to fit out your narrowboat as an amateur is not only dangerous, but it could massively affect the price of the vessel when you come to resell it.
If you’re not a jack of all trades, you could employ help from professionals in the areas you aren’t familiar with and make substantial savings by working on others yourself.
Your result is a great quality boat at a fraction of the price of one that comes fully fitted out.
#3 – Patience
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Fitting out a sailaway narrowboat is no task for the impatient or faint-hearted. It’s a labour of love, especially if you’re starting with a blank canvas.
While narrowboats are typically smaller than most houses, they can still take almost as long to renovate.
If you’re wondering, how long does it take to fit out a narrowboat?¸ the answer depends on multiple factors. According to Whilton Marina, you should set aside at least 120 working days of 8hrs+ for a 57ft boat.
Hopefully, this demonstrates how much work goes into this process and helps you consider whether it’s right!
Related: Sailaway Narrowboat Buying Guide
Tips for fitting out a narrowboat
#1 – Do your research
The only way to discover your dream fit-out is through research.
Plus, it’s also the best way to grow your knowledge on the topic and avoid common pitfalls. Walk into this process blindly, and you could face several setbacks or delays that are otherwise easily avoided.
It’s a good idea to read as many blogs and forums as you can to delve into the experiences of other DIYers. YouTube is also a great resource, especially since you can see these experiences in action.
Here are some useful links to get started:
- Whilton Marina
- Canal World Forum – ‘Boat Building & Maintenance
- Barges.org Forum
- Foxes Afloat
- The Narrowboat To The Deep North
- Narrowboat Zero Gravity
#2 – Get inspiration
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Following our last point, creating a bank of inspiration that you can return to throughout the process is helpful.
This allows you to create your initial plans for the project, but it keeps you inspired and reminds you of what you’re working towards.
We’d suggest creating a Pinterest board or a printout mood board crafted from various narrowboat fit outs you’ve seen online. This can fire your imagination on difficult days and keep you focused on your end goal.
Visiting narrowboats that others have fitted out is another invaluable source of inspiration, as there’s nothing like seeing the real deal for yourself.
Other boaters are usually happy to offer advice and recommendations on where to employ help. They are the best port of call for ideas on creative uses of space, especially since many of them have been living aboard for years.
Related: Best narrowboat YouTube channels
#3 – Plan everything out
Designing the layout of your narrowboat is a crucial step, so it’s a good idea to plan it thoroughly before work commences.
We’re talking from the very bones of your narrowboat, such as the ballasts (interior walls) and where you want your electrical outlets, to the furniture and style you desire.
You’ll need to decide where you want your:
- electrical outlets
- water tank
- oven and hob
These decisions often spark other questions. For example, once you decide on where your bathroom will be:
- What type of toilet will you get?
- Where will the shower and bathroom panels go?
- Which wall will the extractor fan be fitted to?
Therefore, it’s important to sit down and consider everything before taking action.
If you have no experience creating plans, we recommend ordering some narrowboat drawing sets to get an accurate drawing to scale.
Do you want to see a narrowboat fit-out in progress with tons of advice and storage space ideas? Check out this video from Foxes Afloat. It demonstrates why planning is so important!
#4 – Use quality materials
Ever heard the phrase ‘penny-wise and pound-foolish’? This should be your mantra when selecting the materials for fitting out your narrowboat.
It would help if you opted for the best materials you can afford, as spending more initially will cost you less in the long run.
Invest in poor quality materials, such as chipboard rather than solid wood or tough plywood, and you could end up with a worn or mouldy interior.
Instead, it would be best to look for durable options that will withstand the wear and tear of living aboard. Solid wood is expensive, but many narrowboaters use ply alongside a solid wood trim to lower their budget.
Check out this page on narrowboatbuilding.com for more information on wall and floor lining options.
#5 – Get professional help and advice
Seeking advice from professionals in areas you’re not proficient in is never a bad idea.
We can’t stress the importance of asking for help when you need it, as having the confidence to do so will get you the best results and ensure you dodge any botched jobs that are costly and inconvenient.
Finding a local BSS examiner to survey your vessel is another all-important step when fitting out a narrowboat.
All work completed must be carried out under the BSS (Boat Safety Scheme), and those who overlook this could run up huge costs needed to reverse and repair unsatisfactory work.
#6 – Expect setbacks
Linking back to our point on patience, one of the biggest tips we can offer to those fitting out a narrowboat is to expect things to not go to plan.
There will always be a panel that doesn’t fit or a nasty job waiting to be uncovered. But that’s all part of the process, and allowing extra time for any setbacks is key to overcoming them.
For a quick example of a setback presenting itself, check out the video from Foxes Afloat below.
As you can see, they wanted to position their bed opposite to the way they are conventionally placed in a narrowboat.
This caused a slight issue, as the headboard obstructed the pathway from the bow doors, but they adapted the adjacent cupboard space to allow more room.
This is just one example of a setback that can easily crop up when fitting out your narrowboat, but you can combat this by always looking ahead.
Cost of fitting out a narrowboat
Since there are so many variable factors involved in fitting out a narrowboat, such as the size of the vessel and the aesthetic you wish to go for, there is no short answer.
The easiest way to determine a budget for your fit-out is to:
- gauge the size of boat you need
- add up the estimated cost of your chosen materials, furniture, and appliances
- get a quote for any additional labour time you require
However, if you need a solid figure, we can point you in the direction of true experts in this field, Whilton Marina.
According to their website, the average fit-out costs are as follows:
- 35 foot – £15,000
- 57 foot – £26,000
- 70 foot – £35,000
Specialist narrowboat insurance from Insure4Boats
Whether you purchase a sailaway narrowboat or opt for a renovated model, you need to protect your investment by having the right insurance.
At Insure4Boats, our specialist narrowboat insurance protects your boat against theft, accidental damage, malicious damage, and salvage charges.
We also provide £3m Public Liability cover with each policy, so you’re protected against accidents on the waterways or if you cause damage to another boat.
Click the button below to discover how we can help and get an instant online quote today.