Finding a Narrowboat Pt 1 – Second Hand

Second Hand

The narrowboat we’re buying is a second hand one. It’s an old one but this is in keeping with the ethos of why we want to liveaboard and off-grid. We like to think of it as a form of recycling, re-purposing. The budget also had a hand in the choice. OK It was mainly the budget.


Bringing this 1991 narrowboat up to the expectations of our liveaboard dream is a challenge, not least because of the fundamental lack of skills I possess in mechanics and carpentry. I put shelves up once. They fell down. For gardening they say you require green fingers. I have collector’s fingers. I can collect things; comics, Books, pottery, magazines, bits & pieces (I have many bits & pieces). Over the years I have become very adept at collecting things, and more importantly, not letting them go. The trouble is, when you are planning to move into a 57 foot long, 7 foot wide tube, collecting things is not a skill to brag about. I will learn new skills though, have no fear. The first thing I have to learn is letting …

I have already learned a whole host of new things in the very short time, regarding narrowboats since deciding to purchase one. But, where do I start? The most important thing I have learned is that if you are buying a second hand narrowboat (or indeed, any type of vessel intended to float in water) – commission a survey!

Get a Survey

The survey is worth its weight in gold, ours literally was the weight of a gold ingot. It was so long! We thought there would be some things pointed out; the paint works is a bit scratched, the engine needs a service, things of that nature. Oh no. No no no. The document created by the marine surveyor we commissioned was a tome, a weighty tome. It was a thing of beauty. The problem was we wanted a short list of fixable items, not the War and Peace of narrowboat failings. It turns out that we did want the War and Peace version because the very thorough and detailed survey carried out by Craig Allen of Craig Allen Marine became the blueprint for bringing our narrowboat up to the expectations of our liveaboard dream.

We opened the PDF to a nice nautical logo, business-looking font and some kind words about our Holy Grail. It then started to list, in logical order, section by section, the short comings of said Grail. If Arthur had read this, he wouldn’t have bothered about searching for the grail. Had we chosen poorly? It looked like we had. I didn’t know a boat could have so many things that could be fixed on it. At first glance, it seemed as though there was for to fix than boat – a floating aggregation of broken pieces. We were starting to hyperventilate and a black storm cloud was starting to come in off the ocean and we hadn’t even driven in her yet! But, wait. We went back through from start to finish, section by section, the night was still young (good job it was!). Upon logical review, the items started to change from impending disasters into fixable items by a competent boat-fixing person – what are you looking at me for? I collect things, remember?


For a number of nights we clung to the vague hope that the Marina brokering the sale would somehow (against all odds) be true to their word and ‘fix any BSS-related issues and get her ready to sail away’. To be fair, most of the issues were BSS-related so we took some comfort from this. I mean, I could polish the brass mushrooms on top of the boat so that would be one less thing, wouldn’t it? Those nights before we could get up to Northampton to ‘discuss’ the survey on the Sunday were some of the longest we have ever experienced. We just saw our deposit, cost for lifting the boat out of the water for the survey and the survey fee, floating like jetsam (or is that flotsam?) down the canal of lost dreams.

When Sunday Comes

Sunday finally came, we were up early (we must have been worried) and we made our way to Whilton in Northamptonshire, stopping off at the Solstice Services at Avebury in Wiltshire (we hadn’t actually got very far by this point but that early in the morning, you need sustenance of some sort early on). There was some trepidation here as last time we had made this same journey to view narrowboats in general, I had left my camera bag at said services, only realising once we were up in Northamptonshire that I didn’t have my trusty bag and new camera with me. Thankfully, that tail of woe ended happily in that the lovely people at Costa had looked after it for me until our return back that way. If we had set off back at that point, we may never have seen the narrowboat we were traveling up to hopefully purchase.

Another little point that was preying on our minds at this point was ‘Winter Stoppages’. “What are Winter Stoppages?” I hear you cry. Well, in winter, the Canal & River Trust carryout routine and required maintenance on the canal network. His means that sections of the canal are closed for periods of time. This means that when trying to get our narrowboat ‘home’, in addition to moving through cold and ice, we could potentially get stuck, in the middle of nowhere for swathes of time.

I may as well detail at this point, we haven’t actually driven a narrowboat before or been on a trip on one but we have stood on several and pretended. This seemed pertinent to the above discussion.

‘I’m on my Way’

The drive up to Northampton from Wiltshire (by car, I cannot yet comment on by narrowboat) is a beautiful one and it managed to assuage some of the anxiety that would have otherwise built. However, upon arriving at Whilton Marina (missing the turning once again. Another skill I need to develop’ better mapping skills. Perhaps that should be charting skills) we were both as nervous as if going into court. We needn’t have been. The people at Whilton Marina greeted us once through the door.

“where here regarding our narrowboat”.

“Oh, yes. Come on in. We have a copy of the survey here and have hi-lighted the relevant points. There’s a lot to do!”.

“Ye-s, we thought so as well”.

“Not to worry, it’s all covered in the price agreed as it is one of our boats. All the items are BSS issues so it will all get done”.

This was no courtroom; it was an ante chamber of some hitherto unknown heaven. The anxiety and worry of the previous days slipped, we both had beaming smiles and it was at this point we knew we were buying a narrowboat. But it didn’t stop there.

It Takes Time

“It will take some time to address the issues obviously what with Christmas and the Winter Stoppages. You will be unable to move the boat and it would be unfair of us to expect you to so the earliest it would be ready is end February, maybe end April if we needed to address the hull in detail”.

If she needed a new hull, they would provide one! Re-Blacking, engine fully addressed (a replacement one if deemed necessary)! etc. etc. The only thing they didn’t mention was the polishing of the brass mushrooms but hey! I can do that! This turned out to be one of the greatest days of our lives; issues will be addressed, timing is perfect and we got to go and spend time on ‘our’ narrowboat.

Continues in Finding a Narrowboat Pt 2 – All Aboard

rp – peace and narrowboats

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