Guide to buying a houseboat

Living on a boat can be a wonderful experience. You can be in a far-out waterway surrounded by beautiful nature or in a small canal located in the heart of the city, a choice you can flip between daily if you wish to.

Houseboats are often cheaper to purchase compared to a house. They allow you to move locations at a moment’s notice and can be used as a permanent home with its own postal address.

But with a wide variety of houseboats to choose from, it can be confusing to know which one to buy. An even bigger problem is knowing where to find it, which is why this article will explore where you can find houseboats for sale.

Since the practicality of living on a boat can be challenging, we’ll also outline things you need to be aware of before and after your purchase to be best prepared for the start of your on-the-water life.

How to find houseboats for sale

Finding liveaboard boats is straightforward, and you have many avenues to go through. A popular choice is to search for listings through online platforms such as Zoopla, BoatsForSale, YouBoat, and OnTheMarket. These can be filtered by location, price, length, and more so you can find the exact boat you’re looking for.

Whilst much of houseboat commerce is done through the internet, you can still find hidden gems using more traditional methods, such as going through a marine broker or browsing through magazines and newspapers – they’re always worth a check!

What types of houseboats are there?

There are two main categories that houseboats fall into – cruising and non-cruising.

Cruising houseboats are made to move. They will allow you to use the houseboat for excursions and travel up and down the country.

Non-cruising houseboats are meant to be in one location at all times. They may have an engine or sail but aren’t used for travel. As such, they’re typically moored in a dock or marina and are only used as a home on the water.

Within these categories, there are four main types of houseboats to choose from.


As the name suggests, they are long and narrow, allowing them to easily navigate UK canals.

Whilst they may not be the most spacious houseboats on this list, they are mobile enough to travel throughout the country.

Traditional narrowboat moored against the towpath on the Stratford Upon Avon canal.

Dutch barge

Dutch barges are similar to narrowboats, except they are wider. This provides ample space for its occupants, which makes living out of them more convenient.

Alongside narrowboats, dutch barges make up the most common types of houseboats seen in the UK.

However, due to their bigger size, these vessels can’t travel through the narrow canals that are prevalent throughout the Midlands. Instead, they would have to be moved through rivers and big canals, which limits your travelling options.

Dutch barge at Windsor

Floating Home

Floating homes are made for people who want a permanent home on the water but don’t want to travel up and down the country.

Much more affordable than a regular home, this form of houseboat can be perfect for those on a lower budget.

Floating holiday homes near to Dilham, Norfolk


Yachts are usually the most expensive houseboat you can own. With starting prices as high as £300,000, these houseboats are the cost of a regular home which means that their owners are usually wealthy.

Yachts are rarely used as permanent residence. Instead, they are often moored in marinas close to a holiday home that the owners can take out to sea on excursions.

What type of mooring do I need?

There are different types of mooring to choose from. The one you need will depend on when and where you plan to ‘park’ your boat when you’re not on the move. There are four main mooring types to pick from.

Residential mooring

This type of mooring is for those who decide to make their houseboat their permanent home. This means your houseboat will be berthed at one location as if it were a house on land.

You’ll be able to use it as your postal address, register it on the electoral roll, and use it as the primary contact address for your official documents.

However, using a houseboat as a permanent home presents numerous challenges.

For instance, there are a limited number of residential mooring spots in the country. Finding a spot that ticks all the boxes can be difficult – particularly if you go down south. As such, there can be long waiting lists for prime locations.

It can also be expensive, with popular locations in London demanding as much as £20,000.

Leisure mooring

Those who don’t want to commit to living on a houseboat long-term can purchase leisure mooring.

Leisure mooring allows you to stay on your boat for a few days a week, making it ideal for those who take their boat out occasionally.

Since you won’t stay in your houseboat seven days a week, it’s much cheaper than residential mooring. However, you won’t be able to use it as a postal address.

Winter mooring

The Canal & River Trust offers this option for those who don’t have a permanent mooring solution.

Between the cold and wet months of November and February, you’ll be able to moor your boat at a particular location until the weather starts warming up. This makes it a convenient option for boaters who don’t want to be on the move during winter.

Continuous cruising

As the name implies, continuous cruising is where you are constantly expected to be on the move. This is perfect for boaters who don’t have a long-term mooring. However, you will have to buy a six or 12-month licence from the governing authority to cruise continuously.

As part of the licence, you will be allowed to stay on a towpath for up to 14 days but then have to relocate to another spot. You will also have to accumulate more than 20 miles per year.

How do I find a mooring for my houseboat?

If you’re looking to buy a houseboat, then finding mooring is a crucial step since this must be completed before you make the purchase. Alternatively, you can ask the previous owner to transfer the mooring it’s currently on. If this is not possible, you’ll have to purchase a mooring from the governing authority of that area.

Often, you can find residential moorings at boatyards at your local marina. Another option is to contact the Canal & River Trust, where you’ll be able to lease a mooring on a yearly basis. These are typically serviced with fuel, water, sewage facility, and shore power.

If you’re still having trouble, you can always enquire with houseboat owners in the area you’d like to moor in. They should be able to inform you of where they purchased theirs or, at the very least, point you in the right direction.

It’s important to note that the cost of moorings depends on the boat’s length and the area’s popularity. For instance, finding a mooring in the south of England where there is increased demand will be much pricier than up north.

On the same token, an area that provides additional services such as improved security will be in higher demand and, thus, will charge more. Therefore, you should shop for a price and area that best suits your needs.

How much does it cost to live on a houseboat?

Living on a houseboat can be the perfect solution to record-high house prices and rising inflation. Why spend your hard-earned money on a property mortgage with high-interest rates when you can live off a houseboat for a fraction of the cost?

Unfortunately, it’s not that simple. Purchasing a houseboat comes with its own expenses. You have to factor in considerable annual costs as well as ongoing costs for the maintenance of the boat, which can result in you forking out large amounts of money at the end of the year.

Boat survey

Before making a big purchase, you want to ensure you’re getting what you pay for, and a houseboat is no different. You’ll want to get a boat survey done to check the condition of the boat, such as its structural integrity, engines, pumps, etc.

It’s a good idea to get the boat surveyed once every year to ensure it is in good shape – think of this like an MOT for your car – which can cost anywhere between £300 and £400.

When factoring in the cost of fixing potential damages, you may find that this annual cost amounts to thousands of pounds yearly.

Boat licence

Before you can travel on the many waterways the country has to offer, you’ll have to buy a licence to ensure you are permitted to do so.

For instance, the Canal & River Trust oversees 96 canals and navigable rivers in England and Wales. To travel with your houseboat in these waters, you must be licenced with them.

The Environment Agency (EA) is the governing authority for the River Thames, River Medway, and the rivers of East Anglia. Therefore, you’ll first need to purchase a licence from the EA to traverse these rivers.

The Inland Waterways Association has pages for all UK canals, rivers, and navigable waterways. This makes it easy to find the correct governing authority to purchase the appropriate licence.

The price of these licences will vary depending on the length of time you need them, but they can cost anywhere between £500 and £1,200 per year.

Boat safety certificate

Before you can get a licence, you will need a Boat Safety Scheme (BSS) certificate. A BSS certificate works like an MOT in that it sets standards for all boats. This could be from their size and components to their installation.

If you can’t obtain a BSS certificate, you may have to apply for an exemption. In any case, a BSS certificate or exemption is incredibly important for houseboat owners – it is a requirement and must be obtained before you can apply for a boating licence.

Excluding fees and charges, a BSS registration for a full year will cost £240.

Boat insurance

As with your home and car, you must take out an insurance policy for your houseboat. This will cover the boat in the event of an accident or damage.

It should be noted the contents inside your houseboat will need to be covered with a specific contents insurance policy.

An insurance policy with basic coverage can cost around £200.

Mooring fees

We’ve mentioned that your boat will need mooring, and naturally, this is a cost that you will incur.

These costs vary significantly, starting from as little as £2,000 to going as high as £20,000 – it will depend on your mooring type and the location.

Hull blacking: £600+ per year

Hull blacking is when the bottom of the boat – specifically the area starting from just above the water line to the bottom – is blacked out. This is done every three to five years to extend the boat’s life by preventing it from experiencing rust, rubbing, and pitting.

This procedure requires your boat to be taken out of the water until the blacking has dried, which can be quite expensive. It will typically cost around £1,000, but the exact price will be contingent on how big and heavy the houseboat is.

Council Tax

Contrary to popular belief, most people who live on a houseboat still need to pay council tax.

Usually, if your boat is permanently moored, the government will put you in the lowest tax band. If you live by yourself, this cost will be reduced by 25%.

However, if you’re a continuous cruiser, you will be exempt from having to pay it altogether.

Can I get a mortgage to buy a houseboat?

Yes, with a marine mortgage. To obtain a marine mortgage, you will have to go through a specialist marine finance broker or company, as these types of mortgages aren’t available through conventional means.

It should be noted that marine mortgages have much higher interest rates and a shorter repayment term when compared with property mortgages, so it’s important to ensure you can afford the payments before taking out a loan.

What are the advantages of living on a houseboat?

Some of the benefits of living on a houseboat include:

  • Exploring – With the appropriate houseboat, you will have the ability to explore all of the UK’s waterways at your leisure
  • Flexibility – You can choose the location you’re staying in; one week you can be in the city and the next in the countryside.
  • Lifestyle – If you are someone who likes the outdoors and to seek new adventures, a houseboat can be the perfect lifestyle match for you
  • Community – Often overlooked is how close-knit the houseboat community is. You’ll meet people from all walks of life, but you will all have something to bond over – living on a houseboat

What are the disadvantages of living on a houseboat?

As with everything, there are also downsides to living on a houseboat, which can include the following:

  • Space – You won’t have the luxury of space and will therefore have to be careful with what you own and what you bring onto your houseboat
  • Maintenance – A lot of work goes into maintaining a boat. From blacking hulls and treating rust to emptying the toilets and ensuring you have enough diesel
  • Depreciation – Unlike a house, houseboats will not increase in value over time.
  • Commuting – If you need to commute to a workplace, living on a houseboat can present challenges, especially if you cannot find a place close by to moor your boat