In an expensive city like London, it’s easy to see the attraction of unconventional housing arrangements

It’s no secret that the capital can be a challenging place to live; the rental market is out of control – we’ve all seen the horror listings of studio flats with a toilet next to the fridge, yours for the low, low price of £1000 a month – and those who own their own homes now have to contend with spiralling mortgage rates. Even the more alternative ways of living, like in Harringay Warehouse District, are coming under threat from developers, so it’s not surprising that there are people who choose to ditch dry land for good.

According to the Canal & River Trust, the number of houseboats in London increased by 86% from 2012 to 2022, with the affordability being one of the main motivations for people taking to the water. We spoke to two people who live on boats to find out what it’s really like, and to get top tips for anyone contemplating setting sail.

Calypso Rose | Head of Everything at Indytute

Give us a bit of background on what you do and what part of London you’re based in. 

I’m the founder of an experience gift company called The Indytute – think Virgin Experiences with more of an arty vibe. From foraging in Mile End to Ethiopian cooking school in Shepherds Bush, it’s about giving an experience instead of more clutter that we really don’t need. I’m a big believer of experiences over stuff which is lucky as there isn’t much room for stuff on a boat. After a couple of years of cruising the Regent’s Canal we found a mooring on the ‘Haggerston Riviera’.

How long have you been living on a boat? 

It’ll be 10 years this October.. for two years we were cruising where you move to a new location every two weeks. This was magical but tricky once my son was born. Some super humans cruise with kids but that is not the life for me.

Why did you decide to move onto a boat from where you were living before?

I was living in Fulham and all my friends were east but I couldn’t find anywhere I wanted to live east for the money. I was hosting a neon workshop at The Proud Archivist (now Route) in Haggerston and this man came in covered in paint – I asked him what he was up to and he said ‘painting my canal boat’. It was the classic lightbulb moment. Our first holiday with my partner 15 years ago was on a canal boat in the Brecon Beacons…it was a sign. Word on the water is if you last living on boat past seven years then you are on it for life. Most last two.

What are the challenges and what are the benefits of boat living compared to being in a house / flat?

When you are cruising it can feel like a full time job, especially in the winter – there’s getting fuel, sorting deliveries, working out where to shower that day. Things do go wrong on boats, much like houses, but finding people to fix them is stressful if you don’t totally know what you are doing. Parties on boats are fun, until the loo the is full….boaters spend a lot of time talking and thinking about loos. I absolutely love living in a small space, like less clearing up. Everything has its place but the number one benefit is the community – the commune vibe makes life worth living. Everyday is an adventure when you live on a boat.

Any words of advice for people thinking about living on a boat?

I’ve got loads! Don’t buy one that’s too old, it’s cheap for a reason. The canal is crowded so unless you find a mooring think about the size of your boat. The first six weeks is probably the most stressful six weeks of your life but you’ll soon learn the ropes.

 Lawrence Calman-Grimsdale | Writer

Give us a bit of background on what you do and what part of London you’re based in.

I’m a food and lifestyle writer based in Surrey Quays, south London. I live on a four-bedroom converted coal barge with my girlfriend, three housemates (or boatmates) and two dogs. Our boat is moored in South Dock, which is a small marina by the river. 

How long have you been living on a boat?

We moved onto the boat about two and a half years ago. 

Why did you decide to move onto a boat from where you were living before?

It was kind of an accident, really. A friend of a friend mentioned that her brother was moving onto a boat in passing. I said it sounded amazing. We didn’t have a particular reason to live on a boat but definitely wanted to try it. About three weeks later, she messaged asking if we were actually interested. We came for a viewing and fell in love with it. About a month later, we moved in and haven’t looked back!

What are the challenges/benefits of living on a boat as opposed to a house/flat?

There are a couple of things that might put some people off. Boats can get very cold in winter and very hot in summer (a bit like living in your car). On top of this, things often need fixing. Anyone who likes DIY will love the boating life but it can be a lot of work. While boats vary in size, most of the time your bedroom will be smaller than on land. 

That being said, there are some wonderful benefits to enjoy too. The biggest one is definitely affordability: you can rent a room for around £400 and a whole boat for around £800 (depending on the size). Similarly, boats cost considerably less to buy – but the upkeep costs are higher. If you live on a boat, you don’t pay council tax, which is a nice perk. However, you do pay a mooring fee (unless you move your boat every two weeks, something I am far too lazy to do). It’s a great way to be close to nature and we often wake up to swans cruising past our window in the morning. 

Any advice for people thinking about living on a boat?

If you’re comfortable shifting your lifestyle to adapt, I highly recommend living on a boat. From barbecues on the deck to cosy movie nights as we sway in a storm, it’s certainly a fun way to live. There will be plenty of things to fix and challenges to deal with along the way, but I would argue that it’s worth it.