Ultimate Guide To Buying A Houseboat


Do you dream of life on the water or to be away from the normal neighbourhood housing environment? Do you want to escape to a glittering marina, an idyllic canal, or just to spend your days meandering along the picturesque waterways of the UK? If you are seriously considering making these dreams a reality and shifting from terra firma to a watery lair, then the place for you is this guide to buying a houseboat.

From the fundamentals of buying or renting a houseboat to the hows and whys of getting started and most importantly – keeping afloat, you can find all the advice and data you need here. In addition, we give a list of useful links to the official bodies responsible for licensing, taxing and controlling houseboats in the United Kingdom.

We have divided this guide into many separate parts to make it easier to understand all the different aspects of buying a houseboat.

Did you know that there are approximately 23k people who live on houseboats in the UK alone, this is according to the Royal Boat Builders’ Association. Fancy being one of them? Take a look at our guide below:

What Kind of Boat Should I buy?

types of houseboats

There are several different houseboat types that are ideal for living on board. We list the most common styles and the environment for which they are built in order to help you determine which is the best houseboat for you.



Long and narrow, with rectangular or, more traditionally, round port-hole openings, to manoeuvre through the UK canal lock systems and typically constructed of steel. They may have a cruising motor or none for permanent mooring.

Dutch Barge

dutch barge

Similar to a narrowboat, but with a broader beam that provides useful additional living space, making it suitable as a floating home. They must be moored on rivers instead of canals because of their extra width.

River Cruisers

river cruiser

Fiberglass-built, ready to go and available in pre-defined versions. Much like driving a new car out of the showroom, as soon as you have all the paperwork settled, you can live on board.



Permanently moored accommodation, placed on specially constructed platforms or floating barges. In London, where moorings can be expensive, you can find several of these styles of houseboats. Consider getting yourself on one of their waiting lists as soon as you possibly can if this is what you would prefer.

Motor Fishing Vehicles (MFV)

MFVs are common across the nation and can be purchased as such after decommissioning for knock-down prices. Their size makes them ideal homes, but remember that extra maintenance often comes with all that additional space! MFVs are not able to cruise the inland waterways but can be suitable for coastal or riverside moorings.

Buying A Boat To Live On

living on a houseboat

There are several specialist operators who can make a boat to your exact requirements, or by going second-hand, you may want to get more for your cash. You can buy yourself a houseboat that is already inhabitable or buy a shell, according to your preference, then get down and dirty with the DIY. Here is a rundown of the key houseboat purchasing options.

Note that boats do not come with title deeds, unlike houses, so you need to confirm that it is owned by the person you are buying from; otherwise you might lose your investment and the houseboat itself.

Buying A New Houseboat

living on a houseboat

Would you like to purchase a new houseboat? There are many ways to do this, depending on the type of boat you wish to purchase.

  • Look for classifieds in the trade magazines.
  • To see the new fibreglass river cruisers and yachts, visit the boat shows.
  • At boatyards, meet boat brokers.
  • To your specifications, commission a brand new Narrowboat or Dutch Barge.

It is normal to pay in instalments when commissioning a new houseboat, so be prepared to make multiple visits to the boatbuilders to review progress and pay after the completion of pre-arranged tasks. The British Marine Federation will assist you with a contract of this kind by insisting on a hard copy of all work to be carried out and a receipt each time money changes hands.

In order to meet safety requirements, a new boat must be designed in compliance with the Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) of the European Union. The RCD is built in compliance with the Boat Safety Scheme (BSS), and a waterway license is automatically passed on to the boat.

Buying A Second-Hand Houseboat

SECOND HAND houseboat

By going second-hand, you can get a lot more for your money, and you can find boat dealers selling a variety of models at several marinas. All the paperwork relating to the use of vessels, maintenance history and surveys should be given by a good broker. Before you commit to buying a second-hand houseboat, be sure that the following points have been taken into account:

  • Be sure to run your own “‘independent”‘ survey.
  • Be prepared to spend more money on repairs afterwards.
  • Insist on seeing a new certificate from BSS
  • The price is reflected in the quality and age of the boat and the prestige of the vendors.

Renting A Houseboat

RENT A houseboat

Renting a houseboat can be an ideal alternative to renting a house or apartment. You must ensure that it comes with residential mooring if you are renting a houseboat to live in. Not all residential moorings allow the letting of houseboats, so first make sure to check all the paperwork.

Consider the following points before renting a houseboat:

  • Generally, you can have a lease under common law.
  • Most definitely, you would need to pay council tax on residential moorings.
  • The cost of your houseboat hire, residential mooring and the cost of your boat licence may be claimed through housing benefits.

Other Boat Ownership Options

Not yet ready to take the plunge into a full-time maritime living, or not able? For those wishing to experience life aboard on a less than permanent basis, there are many choices available:

Shared Ownership

As the term indicates, this means sharing not only possession but also the time spent with other individuals on the houseboat. Using a dedicated company that takes care of all the basics and allocates time slots to up to twelve people is advisable.


Narrowboat timeshare means that you purchase holiday time for houseboats that is not exclusive to a specific vessel. You can pick your holiday spot accordingly or even redeem your credits on a foreign vacation for certain businesses operating in many locations.

Sponsorship Hire-Boat

Sponsorship hire is when you can sponsor a hire-boat after a number of years, obtaining restricted annual use of it and full ownership.

It can be an expensive deal to get a mortgage on a houseboat. The fact that you can literally sail abroad, absconding with yourself and their investment as an elevated risk, is seen by most lenders. It ensures that mortgage rates can be significantly higher than average. Given this, when looking at the following alternative areas of boat finance, it is worthwhile:

Credit Card

A lot of credit cards providers offer an APR that is slightly lower than a bank loan, have a card offering a 0 percent balance transfer fee, and first read the small print at all times!

Loans From Banks

You will most probably get a loan with a reasonable rate secured against it if you own your house.

Loans From Marine

Check out the ads in the waterway press of specialist boat finance firms and our section below on valuable ‘houseboat links’.

Houseboat Licenses, Tax and Insurance

When choosing to live on a houseboat, there are also other financial factors to take into account. For all vessels (except those working exclusively on coastal channels, seaways and estuaries), the following guidelines apply to make sure that you are operating within the rules!

Licence for Houseboat

You must obtain a British Waterways License if you wish to use UK canals or rivers. One can be obtained here.

Paying The Houseboat Tax

You may be liable for council tax if you live on a residential mooring, but you will only be liable for VAT in certain cases if your houseboat has an engine. Please verify accordingly, as the situation differs between constituencies.


Third-party insurance to a minimum amount of £ 2,000,000 is mandatory, according to the Canal and River Trust. In the waterway news, you can find specialist insurers ads.

Certificate of Boat Safety (BSS)

All boats must be BSS compliant and tested every four years. Visit the BSS Website for complete information.

Choosing mooring is as critical a decision as choosing the boat itself. Residential mooring is a part of life for the majority of vessels. “Only the genuinely nomadic among us choose “continuous sailing” and move every 14 days.”

It is notoriously difficult to locate residential moorings, so you will need to consider putting yourself on a waiting list as soon as possibly can. Another choice is to become a member of a boat club – on the website http://www.awcc.org.uk/ you’ll be able to find more information about this.

The cost of mooring depends on the location, type, range of available facilities and the size of your boat. In general, moorings are paid per meter and can range from a few hundred to several thousand pounds a year.

Types of Houseboat Moorings

Mooring on Canalside

Houseboat moorings are also with a maximum length of stay owned by the governing canal authority to ensure reasonable use. Moorings can also be found attached to private property, in which case the owner is directly contacted.

Mooring on River Side

It depends on the movement (or inaction) of the tides to moor your houseboat on a river, so you need to be mindful of how this will impact access to your boat and the times at which you should move on. Three key types fall into riverside moorings:” Mud Berth “,” Half tide ” and ” All States Of Tide “.

Marina Mooring

In a marina, residential mooring can be tricky as long stays are normally discouraged. For recreational mooring, however, with CCTVs, surveillance and a number of other facilities, they possibly offer the highest standard of houseboat security.

Mooring in a Boatyard

Mooring a houseboat in a boatyard may be a cheap option, but this is normally done in order to carry out houseboat repairs, with many providing residential moorings.

Swinging Moorings

These are typically the cheapest type of moorings for houseboats available. In a harbour or estuary, the houseboat is tied to a buoy and can ” swing ” in the direction of the tide as it passes in or out. Access has to be achieved by smaller crafts, such as a dinghy, so this form of arrangement has clear downsides.

We hope you find this guide useful, take a look at our other property posts or leave a post on our forum for help and advice with houseboats.