Back in October 2016, I bought my first (and to date, only) narrowboat. I summarised the experience at the time on Medium, and following this we got stuck straight into refitting the boat. One thing I’ve not gone into in any post or discussion is how we got to the point of purchasing a boat. Yet lots of people ask!

Buying a boat is going to be a different experience and process for everyone, and I feel wholly unqualified to speak on how best to approach it, particularly as there’s clearly no right or wrong. Regardless, I’ve summed up a few things that I did both prior to and during the purchase process that helped me as a very loose guideline.

As it was my first boat, I researched everything. Some of this included, but was not limited to:

  • Learning about the different ‘styles’ of narrowboat (Cruising the Cut covers this in a video).
  • Considering interior layout.
  • Hulls – the most important part of a boat! What is blacking? Replating vs overplating? Quality of steel used to make a hull?
  • Engines – which types are common, uncommon, vintage (beautiful but often high maintenance required), any types not recommended?
  • Boat yards and builders, old and new. If trading currently, what are they building presently and how is it reviewed? Are they shells imported from other countries then fitted out by the builders here in the UK (something to keep note of) Are certain boat builders sought after? Why is that?
  • Age – an older boat may hold less value, but there are benefits to owning some in terms of quality of build vs a newer boat as well.
Look at dat TV aerial tho

Based on this research, I fully suggest setting yourself a list of requirements (even if only mentally, as I did). Then separating this out into both ‘must-haves’ and ‘nice-to-haves’, with the ‘nice-to-haves’ things you’d prefer but would not make or break your decision on putting in an offer.
In my case, my ‘must-haves’:

  •  a trad stern narrowboat 40-55ft in length
  • Within a ‘certain’ price bracket based on my research for what you could get. (I’m sorry I don’t want to mention exact numbers, but a bit of shopping around on Apolloduck will give you and idea on how length, age and location will affect the average asking price and you should be able to set out a price bracket for what you’re looking for based on this.)
  • It absolutely had to have a sound hull. Preferably no overplating but replating would be considered.
  • Engine in working order.
  • It had to have a steel top, not wood!
  • Private sale, rather than boat yard/brokerage.
  • Current owner must agree to offer being subject to survey.
  • No historical/replica/vintage engines. Beta Marine if possible.
  • Must not be a Springer. I know these can be good boats when well maintained but I thought given their reputation this might be a bit much first time round!


  • Heating system other than stove (of some sort)
  • Washing machine (who was I kidding!)
  • Modern interior rather than traditional, updated recently.
  • Bedroom/berth either to the mid or aft of the cabin. Four berths if possible.
  • High quality carpentry throughout.
  • Watercooled engine (just personal preference having read up on this.)

Based on this, I only reached out to view boats that from the listing alone clearly ticked the boxes on the ‘must-haves’. I know seeing lots of different boats with lots of different options might have opened up my ideas. But I was also very aware that my needs are likely to change as I get used to being on the waterways and there’s no way I can account for all eventualities with little experience. I’ve seen lots of people on long searches to buy their first boat, with many saying they’re struggling, and part of me always wants to say – find something that fits most of the bill, then go for it! You can always continue your search for the perfect boat on a longer term basis from the cut, and being out there will only help your understanding of what it is you need based on how you use the boat as you travel.

Coming out for the survey

Following researching heavily and setting out my lists, the first boat we saw ticked all my ‘must-haves’ even on viewing in person.  With a period of deliberation (edit: sitting on sofa and stressing while I weighed up my options), I put in a lower offer subject to survey. Amazingly, the owner accepted. Following further negotiation on price after the survey found a number of faults, I had a boat by October (2016)!
I feel that if I’d been more cautious and not purchased based on it being the first boat I’d seen, it would have played on my mind that it was a very good boat but the only reason not to purchase was discovering it first in my search. In my own ‘youthful exuberance’ I suppose I was pretty blase about the whole process, all things considered. On the flip-side, being this way served as it’s own coping mechanism for the stress too. If I had panicked or dragged the process out too long I would have overthought it!

Obviously I snapchatted it

Breaking down the process into lists and having a strong stance on your budget and your absolute needs certainly helps put in perspective where your limitations are while also cutting out a huge chunk of the market and focussing your search. Additionally, it makes sure you don’t end up viewing heartbreakingly beautiful boats that are completely out of reach!

Are you looking for a boat right now? Let us know what you’ve done in your search so far, we love to see other new boaters who pop up on instagram and twitter and it’s always inspiring to learn of people’s reasons for wanting to start a life on the canals!

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