Canal Cruising Skills - Survivors Guide To Living On A Narrow Boat In The Winter
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Tue Dec 6, 2016 at 9:54am

First Things First

We get asked this question over and over again
“Is it cold living on a narrow boat in the winter?” and the simple answer is no.

In this article we will explain how being prepared for the bad weather and by following our good housekeeping advice during the colder month’s you can actually livaboard very comfortably even when there is ice, snow and arctic winds to deal with.

Being prepared for the colder weather will make coping with the harsh weather conditions easier and without issues.

Cruising Or Not As The Case Maybe

If the canal freezes this will cause problems for cruising, but there is no need for the frozen water to affect your living situation if you are prepared.

If you do find yourself in a situation where the canal/marina has frozen then we advise you NOT to break the ice if it is thick (anything over half an inch is classed as thick). Breaking the ice by trying to cruise through it will put a great strain on your engine and it will also damage the hull scrapping away the blacking. Other narrow boat owners will also not appreciate the broken ice slabs bumping into their boats as you try to cruise by. So be patient and stay put till the water starts to thaw.

If the canal freezes and has two or more inches of ice then you need to accept no amount of trying to break the ice is going to work and you are going to be there till Mother Nature decides to let you go!

When you are cruising in the colder months stay warm! Getting hypothermia isn’t a great idea just because you want to get to your destination in record time. Take it in turns with the other members of the crew to cruise the boat at the helm and keep a steady supply of hot drinks coming to keep you warm.

Check for stoppages as this may affect your cruising plans. Also be aware of any obstructions in the canal such as fallen trees or frozen trolleys!

For your own safety do NOT attempt to walk over the frozen canal, however tempting it might seem it is not worth the risk.

Leave that too our feathered friends.


Keeping Things Ticking Over In Your Boat

So following some basic good housekeeping will enable you to keep warm and live very comfortably during the cold snap.

Follow these simple steps whether you are cruising or mooring to ensure the boat will run efficiently over the winter;

• Fill up your diesel tank to ensure you have enough fuel
• Have around 30% of anti-freeze in your water and heating system
• Ensure you have enough solid fuel for your stove
• Make sure your pipes are well insulated to prevent burst pipes
• Check the batteries are in good working order
• Make sure the boat is well ventilated to reduce the chance of condensation arising.
• When mooring protect the hull by hanging planks of wood alongside the boat to prevent ice slabs bumping into your hull.
• If you are unable to cruise and get stuck for a period of time then you will need to have a backup service if you use a pump out loo. Carry a cassette toilet to use as a back-up should you be unable to empty the pump out toilet.


Outside Advice

Icy surfaces are potentially lethal so extra care needs to be taken when outside. Be extra cautious when walking on the towpath, using the locks and getting on and off your boat.

If you are using the water pipes on the towpath or at a marina make sure you completely turn off the tap and also take care not to spill any water which will create an icy puddle.

Dress for the weather wrapping up will help you keep warm and also make preforming jobs like operating the locks, tying up the boat, collecting water etc. much more bearable.

If you intend to leave your boat over the winter then read our blog about winterising your narrow boat


Toilet Expert | Fri Jan 6, 2017 at 11:58am
When you say carry a cassette toilet, that's no help if either you're frozen in miles from an Elsan point or, as has happened every year in the ten years I've lived aboard, the Elsan disposal points also freeze solid and people pour their waste all over the floor in there. Alternative options for disposing of toilet waste in these circumstances are burning solid waste on the fire or burying it if you can dig through frozen ground. Portable cassette toilets as a back up for pumpouts are of very limited use if the freezing weather lasts more than three days. So best keep an eye on the weather forecast every week between November and February so you can anticipate getting frozen in and have your pumpout tank emptied ahead of any big freeze.
Venetian Marina | Thu Jan 12, 2017 at 10:30am
Hi,Thank you for your comments. I agree, when the air temp drops so low that it causes sever freezing some Elsan disposal points become a problem. As all things boating In the UK the weather is a major factor. Happy cruising
Charlie Morgan | Wed Jul 26, 2017 at 12:04am
Toilet expert!... Good black bin liners are excellent for 'solid waste' in frozen times. Sawdust added to the bag is good too. I would like to hire a narrow boat for myself & dog. For 6mnths starting next Jan 2018. Any suggestions please?!!
Venetian Marina | Wed Jul 26, 2017 at 9:12am
Hi Charlie, thank you for your comments. Re 6 months hire, I have passed your details onto our boat hire company who operate from the chandlery.
Sally Puddick | Tue Sep 5, 2017 at 1:46pm
Is our water tank/pipes and gas pipes likely to freeze in the winter? What can we do to prevent this?
Venet5ian Marina | Tue Sep 5, 2017 at 2:19pm
Yes if you do not live aboard. If you do not, then it is best practice to "winterise" your boat. This is to drain all fluids from the boat. disconnect the water pumps and check the strength of anti-freeze in the engine coolant and central heating.Hope this helps

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