What do I know about boats

The boat buying process

22 December 2023   7 min read

Oh a boat, how do you know it wont sink………..

The first thing I started with was this book, although it wasn’t much use later on once I had bought the boat it did come in handy early on to get familiar with the basics. I also found canal boat diaries and the earlier series of great canal journeys (with Tim and Pru) interesting watches.

Next up was to rent a boat, if you have never been on a narrowboat before is a bit daft to go and buy one without trying it out first. I rented one on the Kennet and Avon canal and traveled between Devices and Bath, I planned to get to Bristol but ran out of time. In hindsight I would look for a quieter canal as this particular stretch was extremely busy at that time of year partially due to all the hire boat companies.

From this research I came up with the following checklist that I used for my boat viewings. I took the same approach as I did for houses, so went and saw boats I was never planning to buy just so that I was fully prepared for when I found one that I did like.


It is worth mentioning that the world of online canal forums is a bit of a free for all, information seems to be all over the place and can be heavily contradictional between posts. I guess is kind of like looking for IT solutions, you find the people whose posts you develop a trust for and don’t ever believe the first article or response you read.

Broker vs private

For me as a first time buyer going down the broker route was my preferred option. If I had been through the whole boat buying process before I may have been more comfortable with private buyers,but as a first time buyer was a bit worried about being ripped off.

The benefit of using a trusted broker (not all can be trusted from what I heard) is that you have the comfort of knowing that your deposit is secure and all of the legalities and paperwork (bill of sale) is taken care of for you. On the downside, with a broker you don’t get any personal information about the boat such as why it is being sold, its history and most importantly hints on how it runs and its nuances.


Now I had my process I developed a list of sites to check each week. Although it is not a golden rule I found that most boats appeared on a Thursday or Friday.

Buying Costs

Once you have put a bid in for or bought a boat it is at this point that your bank balance is going to take serious hit. Unfortunately it is not likely to get better anytime soon as you are sucked down the rabbit hole of expense that comes with owning a boat. The price of the boat is usually negotiable but like with houses it is a compromise between the size of the offer and not getting gazumped by other buyers (cheaper end boats don’t seem to stay on the market long). To give an you idea of the costs involved below is a list of what I forked out when buying my boat.

  • Survey - £750 + £525 crane out: You don’t have to have a survey and if you do so it is at your own costs regardless of whether you buy the boat or not. I got £3000 off the my originally offer based on things that came up on the survey, however that being said the survey wasn’t perfect. On advise from a boatyard I ended up paying to have an extra rubbing band put on to protect the sacrificial chine wear edge (where base plate meets side plate) as it was extremely worn down. I feel that wasn’t sufficiently highlighted in the survey and is definitely something I would lookout for if buying another boat. It is difficult when buying a boat for first time as is likely the first time you have ever seen a boat out of the water. What I should have really done was gone to a few boatyards to get advise on major things to look for as well as looking around a few good boats (out of the water) to get a better understanding of how things should be.
  • Boat safety scheme (BSS) certificate - £75: It is likely your boat will already have this, as mine was due to run out soon it was done as a extra cost at the time of the survey.
  • Boat license - £1,022.57: There a different types of licenses with the price being dependant on the boat size and where you plan to travel. I went for a 12 month Canal & River license as I plan to cruise the entire network.
  • Insurance - £160: The price is dependant on experience, past claims, whether you are a continuous cruiser and the boat value. Most insurance companies wouldn’t touch me as I had no experience (they will make an exception if you have done a helmsman course) so in the end I went with craftinsure as they didn’t have this requirement.
  • Riverboat Canal Rescue (RCR) - £75 Bronze: RCR is similar to car cover offering recovery and parts replacement if you were to breakdown. I only went for the bronze cover as the benefits of silver and gold seemed more geared towards if you have a marina mooring rather than being a continuous cruiser. It is also worth checking if your broker or insurance company throws in any free cover, my brokerage included 2 months cover.
  • Engine service - £200: I thought wise to get this before I set out as I knew very little about engines.
  • Mooring - £100 per week: If you don’t plan to take the boat straight after the sale you will have to pay for the temporary mooring once the hand over ahs been completed.

If you plan to stay at a marina for any length of time you will normally be required to show a copy of your BSS, license and insurance.