Living aboard: Choosing a home on the region’s waters
With houseboat living becoming increasingly popular, Liverpool’s waterways offer plenty of potential. Your Move explores the attractiveness of houseboat living and how residents can make the leap from living on land to water.
Words by Matthew Smith
Nationally, the number of houseboats along Britain’s waterways has surged in recent years with more than 33,000 people opting to live on the water permanently, according to the Canal and River Trust.
This trend has been largely concentrated in the South East, although growth has subtly been observed in the waters around Liverpool.
Whilst rising property prices in London may have coincided with a 50% increase in the number of capital city dwellers living aboard houseboats during the last five years as buyers search for cheaper alternatives, here in Liverpool other factors may also be helping to drive demand.
Convenience, accessibility and a sense of community on the city region’s waters add to the benefits of freedom that houseboat living can bring, as homely vessels can operate on canals and rivers.
These days the layouts, fixtures and fittings are not too dissimilar to houses on land, and boats on the market vary from those with engines to permanently moored options without. Boat buyers can also choose from converted empty hulls and Dutch barges which offer spacious living conditions, to narrow boats and yachts which can provide for a more opulent lifestyle.
Such is the increasing demand for houseboat living here in the city region that Liverpool Marina, for one, is currently developing 50 additional berths.
The extension will increase the marina’s existing stock of 350 serviced and un-serviced berths to cater for a greater number of water-based residents looking to use the waterfront site.
Why live on a houseboat?
Many view houseboats as an increasingly attractive alternative to bricks and mortar.
After living on land for many years Elizabeth Appleton now occupies Sleepy Jean, a wide-beam canal boat, and has resided on the water for the past 11 years.
Houseboats can offer many of the same facilities and features that on-land houses provide. Utilising limited space, Elizabeth and her husband transformed their boat, adding homely features including a corner bath, a wood burning fire and a spacious living area.
“Some houseboats, such as a 60×12 wide-beam canal boat, offer greater square footage and more lateral space than a one-bed flat in Liverpool,” says Andy Farrell of Bluepoint Marine Services which provides services at the Liverpool Marina complex.
Boat owners may also be able to continue to live in the most exclusive postcodes in the area while escaping the accelerating house prices as, aside from some luxury houseboats, homes on water can often cost a fraction of the price of an on-land residence.
“Individuals may cash in on their mortgage and purchase a houseboat,” adds Andy.
While paying for a houseboat outright offers an element of debt-free living, home buyers who don’t have the ability to cash in on a mortgage may be able to secure specialist marine finance.
Different to the more traditional housing mortgage, this route of funding a boat purchase offers loans of up to 75% of the value of the vessel but requires higher interest rates and shorter payback periods.
Licensing the lifestyle
Those who decide to purchase a houseboat need to ensure they have the correct licence to moor their home on the water.
Moorings vary between ‘residential’, ‘linear’ and ‘online’, and each comes with its own services and restrictions.
Residential moorings are designed for those who look to the water for a permanent primary, static residence; whereas linear moorings allow boat owners to moor along canals and rivers.
Offline moorings, however, also allow boat owners to moor at marinas which have gained the relevant residential planning permission from the local authority.
Linear mooring is cheaper but facilities, amenities and security are minimal.
Offline moorings provide amenities like watering points, security, Wi-Fi and laundry facilities, though fees at these sites are typically higher and reflect the wider provision of services. Availability of these mooring facilities is also generally scarcer as a result.
Continuous cruising licences are also available, giving boat owners the opportunity to explore the UK’s waterways and stop for the permitted duration of 14 days.
Elizabeth spends her time continuously cruising the Leeds and Liverpool canal and credits the ‘community spirit’ along the route, which she says has made her time on the water more enjoyable.
“It’s one of the best communities, and it’s better than living in a house,” says Elizabeth who says the neighbourly assistance she receives makes her day-to-day tasks easier.
While houseboats can offer more freedom for residents, this lifestyle isn’t without its costs. Boat owners are required to pay fixed, sunk and variable charges.
Fixed costs include compulsory insurance, mooring fees, the sunk cost of the boat as well as the licence fees which are under the remit of the navigation authority, the Canal and River Trust.
Sunk costs, which include the initial purchase price of a houseboat, range from a few thousand pounds for a dilapidated boat, to more than £1 million for a vast residence.
Other fees depend on the usage of the boat and include fuel and gas consumption, wood and coal use and any additional maintenance on top of what is usually required.
“A gas bottle costs £23 and lasts for three months. I also get my wood and coal locally,” says Elizabeth.
“As for fuel, Sleepy Jean runs on red diesel which, considering I don’t run the engine that often, costs me around £10 per week but would otherwise increase if I ran her more intensively.”
Boat owners are also required to have a valid Boat Safety Scheme examination certificate.
“This requirement is to check the gas, engine and fire extinguishers, as well as other safety equipment on the vessel, and is required once every four years,” she explains.
“Some houseboats offer greater square footage and more lateral space than a one-bed flat in Liverpool.”
Insurance is also an important outgoing. Fully comprehensive insurance provides cover for owners who permanently reside on the boat and keep their belongings on board.
Third party insurance is also available, and is usually a prerequisite for obtaining a licence.
In addition owners must consider licence fees, which depend on the size of the boat and whether a short-term or long-term licence is sought.
Those who live on a houseboat which is moored permanently at a facility will need to meet further requirements including council tax contributions, though other licenced boats may be exempt from certain payments.
Elizabeth has a continuous cruising licence and acknowledges that the difficulty in obtaining a permanent mooring space stems from demand for houseboats outpacing the supply of them.
“I don’t have a permanent mooring licence, but I’m trying to find one,” says Elizabeth.
“The continuous cruising licence costs £800 to £1,000 per year, which is significantly cheaper than berthing at a marina which could cost over £3,000.”
Elizabeth advises owners to gather as much information as possible before buying a boat to ensure a mooring is secured before purchase.
“The same due diligence that is done before buying a house should still be conducted before buying a boat,” she says.
It is clear from Elizabeth’s experience that living on a boat is time consuming, though this could be seen as a small price to pay for the unique way of life on offer.
Houseboat owners are also encouraged to allocate around 10% of the value of their boat per year in contingency funds to cover any unexpected costs that may arise, such as maintenance and repair work according to waterside property specialist River Homes.