The most commonly asked question to those who live aboard a canal boat is, “Is it cold in winter?”

However, a narrowboat, widebeam or barge can be surprisingly cosy in winter, and those new to the lifestyle can enjoy a warm winter aboard by knowing these two simple facts.

1) It’s Easy to Heat a Small Space

The main heating is usually a solid fuel stove or a diesel stove, although there are various radiator heating systems available too. Don’t let the installed heating make or break your decision on a boat, as it could be changed. I lived on a boat with a solid fuel stove for many years, which was extremely warm. But we did have a diesel stove installed instead when our first baby was born to ensure a constant heat all night. However, the price of diesel has increased since back then so this may now not be your preferred option.

Many boaters I know will swear that an Eco-Fan will really improve the circulation of heat around the boat. An Eco-Fan is a heat-powered fan that sits on top of the solid fuel stove in the cabin. It increases the circulation of warm air around the boat and requires no batteries or extra power cords, but generates its own electricity: Therefore it’s silent and free to run!

2) The Prepared Boater Stocks Up On Fuel

Remember if you’re living aboard and the canal is frozen solid the coal boat may not be able to travel and deliver to your area when you run out of fuel. In this case if you are running low on coal and wood or diesel you’ll need access to a car – and possibly a wheel barrow to carry fuel down the towpath. If you have a solid fuel stove remember to regularly sweep the flue. Check that your stove rope is sealing the stove door properly. The Morso Squirrel stove is popular with liveaboard boaters.

Because the canals and waterways are generally very slow flowing they freeze easily at this time of year. It’s therefore also wise to top up the water supply and empty the toilet when you can. If you have a cassette toilet you may be able to empty the cassette on foot or by car at your nearest Elsan disposal point, but if you have a pump out toilet then you may have a problem (i.e a full toilet) when the boat is iced in. You could therefore consider investing in a spare cassette toilet or ‘Porta Potty’ for those times of need.

So, if cold weather is forecast and ice is predicted empty your toilet, fill up your water tank, stock up on extra coal, seasoned wood, kindling, fire lighters and diesel.

You may also like to read our tips on winter boating here.


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