While life on a canal boat can often be idyllic for much of the year, it can be less so when the winter months arrive with their freezing temperatures, pitch darkness by five o’clock and ice, so much ice.


But life on board and some cruising during the winter does have its advantages. The crowds who gather during the summer will have dispersed and you can enjoy the luxury of having your favourite waterways to your self. The main question is if you’re going to live aboard during winter: how best to survive? We’ve put together ten ways you can beat the winter weather this year, especially if it’s your first winter afloat.

Heating- There are essentially three options when it comes to heating and these can be used separately or together.

Multi-fuel stoves are still the most popular option; they are easy to install and even easier to use. Using coal or wood, a multi-fuel stove works through dry heat and the fire will draw in much of the condensation from the boat. They come in a range of shapes, sizes and prices, but a couple of popular brands are Boatman or the Morso Squirrel.

Diesel-fired central heating – this works the same as a domestic boiler found in a house. Simple to use and compatible with a timer it will heat the radiators and provide hot water. Other than a yearly service, they are relatively maintenance-free. The brands for this mode of heating are all of a similar price, but a popular choice would be Eberspächer, Webasto or Mikuni.

Gas central heating – this option will also allow you to heat your radiators and will provide hot water, however, it is not compatible with a timer. Gas central heating runs from your bottle and, similar to diesel heating, requires a yearly service from a qualified technician.


Keep a good stock of fuel (coal, gas, wood) – it may seem obvious but running out can be disastrous, and that usually happens when the weather is at its worst.

Keep your water tank full – taps on the cut do freeze during winter and a frozen pipe will disrupt the supply so don’t leave filling up until last minute. If you’re not a fan of drinking water from the tank, then stock up on bottled water.

Mooring in a smart location – beginners in particular should avoid mooring in an unfamiliar area. If you’re smart you will tie up in a spot close to somewhere you can buy provisions – or at the very least, a good pub with a nice supply of food and beer.


Dress appropriately – being below deck when it’s warm is great, but up top it’s a completely different ball-game. If you’re going to face the elements you need to be kitted out properly. A good pair of shoes with decent grip is a necessity, as is waterproof clothing and a warm coat. If you plan on working the locks you’ll also want some hard wearing gloves to protect your hands.

Stock up on provisions – another obvious one but still crucial. You never know when bad weather might keep you from getting out. Any boater worth their salt will always keep a good supply of food and drink onboard.

Invest in a slow cooker – this may seem trivial, but slow cookers and canal boats go hand in hand – or at least they should. Slow cookers are versatile and use very little electricity making them perfect for use on boats where electrical output is limited.


The two ways mantra – we picked this up from Canal World forums it is the perfect contingency plan. For example: two ways to heat your water, two ways to move the boat, and most importantly, two bottles of rum…

Check for any planned stoppages – whether it’s from maintenance or a fallen tree, check your route before you set off. This link from the Canal & River Trust will help.

Man’s best friend – a dog is always good company and fun, whether you’re passing the time with a walk or relaxing in the cabin. Coincidentally, they also happen to make excellent hot water bottles.


Above all, enjoy the season – there’s plenty to celebrate during the winter.

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