I WANT TO LIVE ON A BOAT
Q: I am considering purchasing a canal boat as a permanent home. My preferred area is the Thames Valley from Slough to Reading/High Wycombe/Bracknell. My questions are: Are loans/mortgages available to purchase such a boat? How much should I expect to pay? Where do I find a reputable builder? Where could I moor a boat permanently? What are the mooring costs involved and finally what annual maintenance costs are involved?
A: It sounds like you are very much a newcomer to canal boating, in which case I suggest you start your research by getting a copy of the British Waterways starter pack (01923 201120 or download from www.waterscape.com) and How To Buy A Boat For Canal Or River from the Canal Boatbuilders Association (01784 473377). The Residential Boat Owners’ Association (www.rboa.org.uk) also produce a Living Afloat booklet.
To answer your specific points in brief. Yes, you can get marine mortgages from the likes of Barclays Marine Finance. A reputable boatbuilder should be a member of the British Marine Federation (BMF) or at least use a BMF-based contract with customers.
Expect to pay £50k plus for a new boat, with used boats from £20k or less depending on condition (you’ll need to get a proper survey done on any used boat). Mooring, maintenance and licensing will be at least £5k a year.
However the biggest single issue for you to consider is where you will moor. You can’t just moor anywhere: you will need a proper residential mooring and in the area you suggest these are scarce and not cheap. Visit marinas to gauge availability. Get a mooring sorted before you buy your boat or you risk having an expensive boat and nowhere to keep it!
THE RIGHT WAY TO DO IT
Q: We are considering buying a new narrowboat and have identified a company that produces boats in our price range. On our many visits to boat builders, some of them have really slated the company we are planning on using as being no good. I have spoken to some people who have bought a boat from the company and have nothing but praise for them although they have only had their boats less than 12 months. How do we get a true picture of a company before we buy?
A: You seem to be approaching buying a narrowboat very sensibly. Visiting plenty of boatbuilders and speaking to other owners are two of the most important things to do.
Boatbuilding is a cottage industry and a lot of stories get passed around, some true and others not. It’s hard for the buyer to decide which! My advice would be to listen to what customers have to say, especially about quality, faults and after-sales attention. You can also post questions on an independent forum such as the Google group uk.rec.waterways.
The Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) lays down standards for new boats.It is generally a good system but is self-certified by the builder. If you are having a new boat built it is a good idea to employ your own surveyor as an independent overseer of the construction. It may seem expensive but could be money well spent.
Alternatively have the boat surveyed by your own man before taking delivery and making the final payment. Any builder who objects to such a suggestion is probably best avoided.
Remember that you only get what you pay for: if one builder is offering a boat for £50,000 and all the others have the same spec boat for £60,000, then costs are being pared somewhere — and it’s probably where you won’t see them until too late.
Finally, take care over the finances of your purchase. The British Marine Federation (BMF) has a standardised contract which its members (and others) adhere to. This allows staged payments and passes the ownership of the boat in stages to the customer.
Visit your chosen boatbuilder regularly if you can and stay in touch by phone or email otherwise to track progress on your boat. Keep amendments and changes to a minimum as well for prompt delivery and a good working relationship.
Q: Having been a river boater now for nearly two years I regularly purchase your magazine for the articles and adverts. I find the articles very informative and interesting. Each month after reading your magazine I want to sell my river cruiser, then go straight out and buy a fully fitted narrow boat. But I am continually confused by the difference between ‘Trad’, ‘Semi-Trad’ and Cruiser types of narrow boat. Could you please explain the difference and if possible show the differences either using photographs or diagrams as they all seem to look very similar to me.
A: The ‘trad’ or ‘traditional’ stern is one that is modelled closely on that of the traditional working narrowboat. It is intended to take up minimum space on the boat, with the cabin extended as far back as possible and leaving just a short aft deck area for the helmsman – or at a pinch two people – to stand on so it is not the most sociable of designs. The tiller also sweeps right across the deck when manoeuvring so the helmsman has to stand forwards into the hatchway. Advantages are that it is a classic and inherently attractive design and also maximises the amount of usable space in the boat.
The cruiser stern was devised principally for the hire industry which needed a more sociable and inherently safer stern area for its craft. The cruiser has a much larger rear deck, the body sides ending earlier so that the engine is under the deck. Depending on the actual size, a cruiser rear can easily accommodate 4-6 people and side rails give added security.
Disadvantages are that there is less space inside the boat, the engine is more exposed to the elements (and possibly vandalism) and as it is directly underfoot it can be noisier. Purists often dislike the cruiser ‘look’ though this may be partly because of the rather utilitarian styling of many hire boats.
The semi-trad design is an attempt to be the best of both worlds. From the outside it looks like a trad boat, with a deep cabin and short rear deck. However the roof is also cut away over the engine so that the area can hold up to four people, usually offering a couple of bench seats with stowage lockers under. Various types of roof and door arrangements have been used to ensure security.
The semi-trad still doesn’t offer the free socialising space of the cruiser boat but for those who want space for occasional visitors rather than a full-on party boat, it may be a very good option.
GETTING FAULTS FIXED
Q: I took delivery of a 58ft narrow-boat. I had to take the boat back the following day due to a long list of problems and withheld the final payment (as agreed in the contract). After being threatened with lengthy and expensive court action I released the funds before being totally satisfied with the boat. I had to take the boat back several times thereafter, often for the same or similar faults. Many of these faults were listed as faults on the Boat Safety Scheme. Recently I had more problems and was advised to have the repairs done locally and send the bill on. The tradesman I hired pointed out several serious failings on the boat and asked his surveyor to look over the boat to make sure he was right. He was, the boat gas system is totally unacceptable as well as several other failure faults. Do you have any suggestions as how I might proceed especially as we have both lost faith in the company and the boat itself?
A: Our advice is always to have a contract (there is a BMF/RYA one available from British Marine Federation). Also, these days as boats become more sophisticated it may be wise to use a surveyor from the outset to check progress on the boat – just as one might engage an architect to look after your interests when having a bespoke house built.
All members of the CBA which is part of British Marine Federation are bound by the BMF Codes and in the event of a dispute the BMF has a complaints procedure.
If the builder is not a member of BMF then the customer should now approach his local Trading Standards Department for assistance.
Q: Can you use a buddy heater on a GRP cruiser lawfully? If not, what type of heaters are available for that type of cruiser. (A buddy heater is a small ‘suitcase’ heater with its own gas bottle.)
A: For a definitive answer I must refer you to the Boat Safety Scheme www.boatsafetyscheme.com. From my reading of them this heater may fail on a number of grounds but some of the regulations do appear to be framed with such heaters in mind.
If it is held to be allowable then you must provide storage for it that is similar to the storage for gas bottles – again check with the BSS regulations. You will also have to increase the fixed ventilation to take account of increased CO and CO2 production. (Tables etc on BSS site).
There are several other potential failure points related to the impossibility of examiners ensuring themselves that the heater will never be placed so it damages/ignites adjacent flammable materials. I would never use a non-flued portable gas heater on a boat: it will cause terrible condensation and it may fall or get knocked over. Also people may brush their clothes onto it and GRP burns very well!
If you must go for a non-flued gas heater I would advise something wall-mounted, possibly a catalytic heater, permanently plumbed into the boat’s gas system. There are problems with these but they combust the gas at a lower temperature so it is more difficult to burn things and people with them.
In truth I would probably go for one of the blown air balance flue gas heaters, but they are a lot more expensive and there will be a battery capacity issue to sort out.
Lastly a tip from the early days of leisure cruising – simply invert a large dry earthenware flowerpot over a rear hob burner. Make sure it has a good hole in the top. I do not feel very happy passing this on, but it would be safer than any portable heater. However, do not even think about using this overnight.
OVER AND OUT?
Q: I am looking to buy my first boat as a live-aboard. Due to my circumstances I am looking towards the cheaper end of the market (around £25/30K). I recently viewed a 63ft cruiser and the owner showed me many receipts for work that had been done on the boat. One was for “over plating”. Could you explain exactly what that is and should it ring any alarm bells?
A: Over plating – the hull being plated over with new steel – is done when, for some reason, the hull is becoming unacceptably thin so the first thing to find out is why it was done or who said it needed doing.
Most insurance companies require an “insurance survey” when a boat is between 15 and 20 years old. Perhaps this picked up some thin spots, but it is also possible the excess pitting was found during blacking or the hull may even have developed a leak.
As long as the overplating was done competently and the whole hull was checked and plated as required there should be no problem, but if it was a partial overplate other thin areas are probably developing.
I always say that a survey is a vital part of buying a boat, and in this case Mr Gidlow would be very ill advised to forgo this.
A decent surveyor will test the plate thickness all over the boat, test the thickness of the overplating and may be able to give a visual assessment of the likely quality of the welds. He will also make recommendations for further rectification. The report may well indicate if the price being asked is realistic when considered against the cost of rectifications.