Living in the slow lane
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Tue Sep 18, 2018 at 10:44am

Living in the slow lane

Living in the slow lane or, more specifically, Living on a narrowboat. All sorts of romantic notions are conjured up by those words. But, before you rush out and buy one, or give up a land base to live on one, I’ve tried to outline below some of the quirks of a life afloat ALL YEAR ROUND, and in particular, some things to consider before you decide on living on a narrowboat.

Being British, first thing we think about is the toilet.

This small room on a boat is the most talked about of any, and every boater has a horror story they would be only too pleased to recount! Essentially there are a few differing options to contain and dispose of effluence. The Portaloo called a Porta Potti,  tends to be the most basic. Often, this self-contained unit is not plumbed in, so is very easy to empty in all weathers (more of this later) at a number of Elsan Points or Sanitary Stations around the canal network.


The ‘half way house’ is the cassette loo. This is plumbed in and often has a conventional looking ceramic bowl, but has a cartridge or cassette that slides out of a housing to be emptied, much in the manner of the Portaloo. Many boaters find carrying two cassettes on board the best option, so as one is being emptied, the other can be in use.

Pump out toilets, the waste is sent from the toilet to a ‘holding tank’. This can last up to three weeks between emptying, but will require being pumped out. The pump out is normally to be found at a boatyard, but in some parts of the country, forward thinking Waterways Regions have installed automated self-use 'pump outs'.  You buy a credit card type token from a local chandlery, fuel boat or Waterways Office, and use the pump out as you would at a Marina.

But what if the canal is frozen – and you can’t move the boat? You can  buy a ‘self pumpout’ kit.. The self pumpout can be used to pump into containers which are then disposed of in the same way as a Portaloo – at an Elsan Point. A quick trip in the car – or by boat when the canal thaws – can put a smile back on the face of most crews, when the loo has been full!

Heating and Hot Water

We’ve always tried to keep our options open with heating on the boat. As a result, we have a solid fuel stove (a Morso Squirrel) to burn logs – often free fuel is to be found alongside the canal throughout the year – or coal. In addition, we have diesel central heating providing heat through radiators, and as a by-product, we get a storage tank of hot water for showering, washing etc.

But what happens if the Central Heating fails? Well, the hot water storage tank has a dual coil, so by running the engine, you are able to get hot water that way too. 



Fresh Water

Most boats have a fairly large holding tank for domestic water, usually in the bows of the boat. Some boaters prefer to drink bottled water or boil any they wish to consume. The fill up point should be clearly marked on the boat, and can be filled from one of the many water points to be found dotted around the canal system. Most quality Canal Guides, such as Nicholsons or Pearsons, clearly identify these points, and it is wise to plan ahead. Fill as you cruise, unless you are very sure how long your tank lasts between fill-ups.

In winter – keep an eye on the weather forecast. If sub-zero, icy conditions are predicted in a few days’ time, fill up well before. Cold snaps rarely last more than a week or so, and most boats should be able to last at least that long.

So you can see, almost any problem of living afloat all year round can be overcome with a little forward planning.


Happy cruising from all at Venetian Marina.



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