How to buy a secondhand narrow boat
While small cruisers offer limited space to families keen to enjoy European inland waterways, the joy of narrow boats and Dutch barges is that they offer extra space and versatility. They also have great features, real character and allow you to delve into a wealth of historical interest while enjoying beautiful scenery.
When considering investing in a narrow boat, it’s important to spend plenty of time deciding what you will be using the boat for, how many people will be regularly aboard, and where you will be taking it. Remember that certain canals, rivers and locks will not be able to accommodate very large barges.
What degree of comfort will you need? If your cruising plans just involve day trips, maybe all you will need is somewhere to sit down. But for extended cruises, or residential use, you will probably want some more home comforts – toilet, shower, galley facilities. If you’re planning to live in the narrow boat there are many other issues to consider around the quality of fittings you would hope for.
You’ll also need to secure a suitable permanent mooring as you are legally required to have a place to keep you boat safely while you’re not out and about around the waterways. Remember that there may be waiting lists for moorings and unfortunately if you’re buying a secondhand boat, existing mooring rights rarely come as part of the sale, with the exception of certain residential sites.
Narrow boats come in different styles and sizes so it’s recommended to get a feel for your options by hiring boats before taking the plunge with a purchase.
How much do you want to spend?
Once you have settled on the type of narrow boat that suits your needs, take time to consider the cost - fixed and variable - before committing to buying.
The price of the boat will reflect its condition and specification. It makes sense to buy the best-maintained boat you can afford, unless you are taking it on as a renovation project and have the expertise to see this through. You should also check that spares are still available for the engine and other key components. Whatever you choose, maintenance costs will need to be factored in.
Look at advertised boats to get an idea of average prices and be aware that price will vary according to the age and size of the boat, the hull-builder's reputation and overall quality of interior and exterior fittings.
On www.boatshop24.com an indication of prices is as follows:
- £18,000 for a 32ft, 2 berth Springer narrow boat
- £48,000 for a 52ft Brayzelle traditional narrow boat
- £80,000 for an all steel traditional stern narrow boat
Fixed costs to consider include:
• Compulsory Insurance
• License fees
• Mooring fees
• Maintenance such as bottom blacking, winterization and Boat Safety Certificate
Variable costs to consider include:
• Maintenance – normally based on hours usage
• Fuel & Gas
• Toilet pump out or emptying
• Water in some areas
• Possibly solid fuel for a stove
The importance of a professional survey
Don’t rely on a vendor's survey when you are close to making a purchase of a canal boat. It’s recommended that you commission your own survey from a professional surveyor, and ask a qualified engineer to carry out an engine survey. As well as reassurance about what you are actually buying, the information they provide may help you to negotiate a lower purchase price. Problems may be revealed that make you decide against the purchase.
Your insurance and finance company may insist on a full structural survey of an older boat. The Boat Safety Scheme examination alone is not usually adequate for these purposes.
According to the British Marine Federation, a full survey will usually cost around £400 to £600, depending on the charge to lift the boat out of the water. You can find details of surveyors and examiners authorised to issue Boat Safety Certificates at the Boat Safety Scheme website
Boat Safety Scheme
When purchasing a new or used narrow boat you should ask to see a Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) pass Certificate. The Boat Safety Scheme is jointly managed by Canal & River Trust and the Environment Agency. The aim of the scheme is to minimise the risks of fires or explosions on boats cruising the UK's inland waterways network, by specifying a set of requirements that most boats must meet before they can be granted a navigation license.
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