A Day in the Life of a Boater

Interview: Sophie Gargett
Illustrations: Zarina Teli
Tuesday 19 March 2024
reading time: min, words

Living on a canal boat is a dream of many, but what is life on the water really like? We asked a local liveaboard to give us a run down of a day in their life. From the serenity of sailing to sorting the sewage, this is the reality of boat life.

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7am I am woken up by the sound of barking. The sound’s canine culprit lives on a boat that’s moored nearby (with a human, obviously) and is a lovely, mop-like thing - but she’s territorial, and enjoys kicking up a fuss whenever anybody goes past. Unfortunately for us, we’re moored on a public footpath, so people pass by often. The silver lining is that we haven’t had to set an alarm since we’ve been here! As a freelancer, my work lacks routine - so it’s nice to have something reliable to start my day, even if it does come in the form of an ear-splitting woof.

7.30am I’ve lived on a boat with my partner for three years now, and I love it - but it is true that this lifestyle presents unique challenges. In winter, for example, it can get very, very cold, and we have to work hard to keep the temperature inside comfortable. It’s freezing this morning as I force myself out of bed - the thermometer in the boat reads 8°C - and I rush to get the fire started.

9am It’s boat move day! The fire has done its work and the boat has warmed up to a much more manageable 18°C. I’m showered and ready to start prepping the boat for the journey. People often ask us how the water situation works, since we obviously can’t be plumbed into the main water supply system; for us, this is actually one of the relatively easy aspects of boat life. Provided we’re moored close to a water point (which isn’t always the case!), we just have to attach a hose to the tap and let it run for an hour or so while our tank fills up; this minor chore allows us to have running water until the tank is empty, which takes about a week.

10.30am We’ve finished preparations for the journey and are ready to set sail. The checklist of things to do before we get moving is relatively long; we have to take down the pram hood and take the chimney off, clean out the engine (which involves my partner sticking his entire arm into murky water up to his shoulder and pulling out anything that’s got caught there; we pray nothing really gross is down there), unhook the electricity, and get ready to untie the ropes. That’s always the trickiest bit, as the current in the river is strong and takes the boat quickly if we’re not careful - so one of us has to be poised and ready to start moving as soon as the ropes are untied in order to stay in control of the vessel.

12pm We are positively flying along the Trent in the direction of Nottingham at our breakneck top speed of… 4mph! Watching the river path as we chug along, I see us get overtaken by joggers, women pushing prams, elderly people with walking sticks… only joking, but you get my point. It’s definitely life at a more relaxed pace!

We take trips fairly regularly. We do this because it’s fun, but there is usually a practical purpose to our outings too: we tend to stop off at a marina where we can fill up with diesel, buy supplies like gas canisters, and… empty the toilet. This is the part that most often puts people off what is otherwise a pretty idyllic way of life! There are various boat-worthy solutions to the poop problem onboard; we have what’s called a pump-out, which functions like a normal toilet, except that when the tank gets full we have to take the boat to a place with the right facilities. This is less grim than it sounds because it doesn’t involve coming into contact with actual human waste (if everything goes right, that is…).


I’ve noticed more wildlife than ever before - Woodpeckers! Kingfishers! Otters! Badgers! - and being forced to take life at a slower pace has quelled my anxiety.

2pm We’re finished at the marina and looking for a spot to moor up on the canal for the night. People often ask why my partner and I decided to live on a boat; there are lots of reasons, and one of the main ones is financial. We are both freelancers in creative industries, which means our income is unpredictable. Living on a boat was one way we found to help reduce our costs, because, generally speaking, it’s more cost efficient than living in a flat. As a boater, you have a choice over how you manage your mooring costs: you can live as a continuous cruiser, which means that you don’t pay mooring fees but you have to move your boat to a new spot every two weeks. The other option is to rent a mooring, but fees are still usually a fraction of what it would cost to rent a flat. It’s also amazing to be able to move our home to where our work is, which could be anywhere in the country, and it allows us to experience some consistency while still choosing to work in somewhat uncertain careers.

6pm We’ve found a nice spot in which to moor up for the night and are feeling tired but happy after a day of navigating through narrow canals. We’ve stopped off in lots of places over the years; the more remote locations tend to be prettier and quieter, but mooring up in town centres allows more opportunity for exploration and access to amenities, like electricity hook-ups and takeaways!

9pm We made a curry for dinner and the aromas must be drifting along the canal, because we can hear the people walking past commenting on how good it smells! Now, the fire is on and we’re relaxing, watching telly and looking forward to an early night ahead of moving the boat back to the river tomorrow.

Living on a boat has undoubtedly been the single best thing I have ever done for my mental health. Of course, there are certain things that we have to do on a boat that you wouldn’t have to deal with in a flat, but for me the advantages of the lifestyle far outweigh the drag of extra chores. I’ve noticed more wildlife than ever before - Woodpeckers! Kingfishers! Otters! Badgers! - and being forced to take life at a slower pace has quelled my anxiety. I don’t go to the gym any more, but hauling my bodyweight on and off the roof, tugging on ropes and wrenching locks open keeps me active, and my sleep has improved too, provided it’s not a breezy night when the wind howls through the vents and the boat rocks violently. It’s certainly not a life that would work for everyone, and we do have to deal with the occasional formidable flood, living on a boat suits me down to the… water.

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