Buying a narrowboat requires careful planning and consideration – as YouTubers and travel bloggers Charlie Pauly and Lauren Cliffe can attest to.
The couple, who have their own YouTube channel called Charlie and Lauren, are both from Peterborough, but only met while travelling in Australia. Since then, they’ve never looked back. They’ve toured the world together, gaining over 200,000 followers on Instagram in the process. And to top it off, last year they bought a narrowboat.
It’s been an eye-opening experience for Charlie and Lauren, who have documented their experiences as narrowboaters on YouTube and social media. We sat down with them to find out what everyone should consider when buying a narrowboat.
How big a decision was it for you both to make the jump into living on a narrowboat?
Charlie: It was quite an easy decision because both our parents live on a narrowboat, and I was born on one! I grew up with that life, and over the last few years I’ve visited my parents on their narrowboat, so I’ve always had that attachment.
Plus, it was always in the back of our minds that we weren’t going to get a mortgage on a house and go down the traditional route. It was never set in stone that we would buy a narrowboat, but we knew we wanted to enjoy an alternative way of living when we settled down.
We’d been travelling for around three years and needed somewhere to base ourselves in the UK. We were sick of sofa surfing and crashing with our parents, so that’s when we decided to buy our narrowboat.
You’ve said in a recent video that you didn’t realise you’d spend as much time on your narrowboat as you have. Is this something people should consider before buying?
Lauren: We certainly didn’t expect to spend as much time on the boat as we have, but because of the coronavirus, we’ve been on it for longer than expected – and it’s been very enjoyable on the whole.
If you’re thinking of buying a narrowboat but aren’t sure how you’ll adjust to narrowboat life, there’s only one way to find out and that’s to jump into it. That said, you do have to mentally prepare yourself for how much time you’re going to spend indoors in a small space. We’ve found it to be very rewarding, and it’s definitely a lifestyle we buy into.
Size is another major factor in choosing a narrowboat. What are your tips for first-time buyers in terms of assessing what kind of size is right for them?
Charlie: Our narrowboat is 36ft and you can’t get much smaller than 36ft, so we certainly favour a minimalistic way of living! It depends on each individual’s needs. We’re very simple; we’ve got our bed, we’ve got our sofa.
Lauren: We have the kitchen and living area, and at the back we have the fixed bed, which can turn into a table when guests come round – which is virtually never! Provided you’ve got everything you need, that’s the most important thing. We don’t have a shower on our narrowboat – we’ll either use our parents’ shower or a shower at a nearby gym whenever we can.
The key thing is to make sure the boat ticks all the boxes before you buy it. We were well aware when we bought our narrowboat that there wasn’t enough space for a shower, but that’s not something you want to find out after you’ve purchased one!
And maybe our boat wouldn’t be right for someone else. For example, Charlie’s parents’ boat contains central heating, and they can heat the water tank before they have a shower, just like you would in a house. This is important to some people, and you can still have the luxuries you would in a house – it’s down to personal preference. But it’s well worth considering all of the features you want in your narrowboat before you look around because this will influence the size of boat you go for.
We’re lucky to have big windows and a big mirror on the wall, making our narrowboat appear more spacious. White also makes a living space seem bigger!
How did you go about checking your narrowboat’s general condition and what advice have you got for first-time buyers on this?
Charlie: We were very lucky because my Dad is an experienced narrowboater. In that respect, our advice would be to enlist the help of as many knowledgeable people as possible. We wouldn’t be in the position we are if it wasn’t for people guiding us along the way.
My Dad always advised us to check the hull and make sure there’s no rust under the water. Don’t worry about the interior or be sold on something that looks pretty; make sure it works first and foremost. Make sure it floats, doesn’t have holes, and isn’t going to sink – it’s self-explanatory! Anything on the inside can be painted or redecorated, but it’s different when it’s the outside.
Lauren: Buying a narrowboat is like buying a used car. Look at its history and how many owners it’s had, which will give you a good indication of its overall condition.
Charlie: Also, it’s essential to get a survey done before you buy. It’s no different to buying a house; you’ve got to know what you’re buying and if there are any potential issues. Otherwise, you could end up in a major predicament further down the line.
Were the running costs a big factor once you’d bought your narrowboat, and have any costs surprised you over the last year and a bit?
Charlie: Yes, in a positive sense! Our running costs are super low compared to our friends who have bought houses. Having lower costs was one of the main reasons we bought a narrowboat in the first place.
We spend around £20 a month on gas, and our electricity bills are really low because the boat operates on 12V. We only have two electric radiators and a log burner to warm during winter. The only other costs of running a narrowboat are for maintenance and upkeep, so for example, painting it, blacking it – but yeah, on the whole, the running costs are one of the best aspects of owning a narrowboat.
Lauren: If you’re buying an older narrowboat, it will need more love and care. But again, it’s like if you were buying a house, so you know what you’re getting yourself in for.
We can’t interview you without asking about insurance! Why is having specialist insurance so important for people who are buying a narrowboat?
Charlie: It’s exactly the same as owning a vehicle like a car. Every time you take your boat out on the river or canal, there’s always the chance you’ll bump into something or another boat, or someone else will bump into you.
Even if you’re docking up, especially if you’re using it as a base to live in, you don’t want anything to go wrong. You never know what damages you could incur – you could turn up to the marina one day to find that your boat has sunk. That’s why you’ve got to get specialist insurance.
Lauren: Our narrowboat is not only our first home together, but it’s also our baby at the end of the day, and we wouldn’t dream of not insuring it.
Do you have any other advice for anyone who’s thinking of buying a narrowboat?
Charlie: Go for it! We get messages from people asking us if it’s the right thing to do, and our advice is always the same. Give it a go, and if you don’t like it you can always sell it and buy a house or whatever you want to do.
You have to be prepared for that alternative, minimalistic lifestyle. There’s also the practical and less glamorous side to living on a narrowboat, like filling up your own water and empty your toilet – but on the whole, it’s a really rewarding way of life.
Lauren: If you’re even thinking of buying a narrowboat, it’s obviously something you’re interested in – there must be something in you that fancies it. We’ve found living on a narrowboat to be super cosy and cost-effective and a bit off-grid, which is what we like.
Being on a narrowboat also makes you appreciate some of the amenities people who live in houses take for granted. If I have a shower at my Mum’s house, it feels amazing!
We’re really happy we made this decision. There aren’t many better feelings than sitting on the roof of the narrowboat in summer and being cosy in winter. So, as Charlie said, if you’re thinking of buying a narrowboat, do it. You won’t regret it.
If, like Charlie and Lauren, you’re a narrowboat owner, specialist insurance is essential. Click the link above to find out what our narrowboat insurance covers or get a quote in minutes here.