Boat houses and floating homes
With nearly 5,000 miles of navigable inland waterways and a coastline well serviced by marinas, there has always been a significant population of liveaboard boaters in the UK. But in recent years, with increasing pressures on housing, the popularity of living afloat, particularly in sought-after city centre locations like London, has soared. It is estimated that more than 20,000 people now live afloat in the UK, including more than 1,000 on the tidal River Thames alone. And as luxury living on the water has become increasingly viable, the sheer variety of liveaboard boats on the UK’s waterways has also increased. You can now find people living full-time on everything from custom-built motoryachts and family cruisers to converted commercial platforms like tugs, trawlers and barges. And if you head to a highly prized River Thames marina like St Katharine Docks in central London, you will witness a suitably varied cross-section of the UK’s modern liveaboard culture, with every size and shape of boat, from wooden sailing yachts and steel inland cruisers to premium fibreglass sports boats and purpose-built houseboats and floating homes.
The Dutch barge
If you want extra style, space and versatility, a Dutch barge can be a sage investment as a floating home. Originally built to carry cargo in the shallow waterways of the Netherlands, these flat-bottomed steel boats come with a shallow draft, an elegantly curved profile, an elevated bow and a covered aft wheelhouse. With a wide variety of lifestyle-optimised craft now supplementing the thousands of commercial originals, you can find every size and shape, with lengths from 45 to 130 feet and beams of up to 20 feet. In tune with their load-carrying roots, their designs tend to involve large holds, with single-level decks and generous headroom, all of which lends itself very neatly to houseboat conversion and open-plan living. If you plan to embrace a sense of nautical charm, while enjoying authentic comfort and the occasional inland cruise, the Dutch barge remains, for many people, the iconic floating home.
The liveaboard motor yacht
When your boating life involves busy waterways full of locks, bridges, shallow drafts, narrow channels and heavyweight steel leisure craft, some people gravitate toward commercial style boats for the reassurance of sturdy construction and the ability to ‘take a knock’. But traditional fibreglass family cruisers and large recreational motor yachts – particularly fly-equipped motor yachts – continue to offer tremendous appeal in London marinas and liveaboard hotspots like the River Thames. When connected to shore power and serviced by a fully equipped marina like St Katharine Docks, they offer many people the best of both worlds. In addition to the luxury of spacious, well-appointed city centre living, their sporting potential and seagoing ability enables you to add the UK coastline to your cruising itinerary.
The purpose-built houseboat
While some call a houseboat a ‘boat house’ or a ‘floating home’ a true houseboat is not really a boat at all. With no means of propulsion, no helm and no real hull, it is simply a house constructed on a raft and connected to a pontoon. While they have been prolific in North America for decades, their prevalence in Europe is also now becoming far more pronounced and with good reason…
After all, a houseboat is not required to provide motive power or autonomous manoeuvrability and it doesn’t have to fit through narrow locks or beneath low bridges, so it is free to deliver much more in the way of practical living space. Without the constraints of a conventional monohull, it can be as wide as it is long, providing not just a much larger and more useable footprint but also extra freedom in terms of weight and height.
Must-have liveaboard basics
Whatever kind of liveaboard craft you favour, it needs to feel like a proper home rather than a transient camping solution. That means you need at least one large, permanent (rather than convertible) double bed and you need a private bathroom with a modern pump-out loo and a sizeable holding tank to help mimic the refinement of a regular house. You also need a dedicated galley with plenty of storage and work surfaces, plus a propane (or diesel) cooker to reduce your dependency on a shore hook up if you intend to cruise. Similarly, whatever your budget, ambient warmth and plenty of hot water are vital – so whether you favour a woodburner with a back boiler, a calorifier, diesel heaters, electric radiators, a propane boiler or a combination of all of the above, make sure your solution tallies with your intended usage. And in all cases, avoid spending your entire budget on the boat itself because it will only take a couple of months before 24-hour-a-day familiarity generates a list of features you want to tweak.
Location, location, location
On the inland waterways, many people licence their boats as Continuous Cruisers and are then free to live on board to their heart’s content. But if you have a full-time job in a fixed location or you simply want the luxury of staying put, you need a long-term mooring or a residential mooring. Long-term moorings (also known as permanent or home moorings) range from fully serviced berths at private marinas. A residential mooring is provided by a marina or landowner with the approval of the local authority for continuous occupation of the boat. Competition for the best and most sought-after city centre moorings is of course now hotter than ever, so if you’re buying a floating home with a view to making it your full-time residence and you have a specific location in mind, it’s often best to buy a boat with the mooring you need.