Published on February 12, 2014 | by Sean McKee


Capital life afloat

View inside a canal boat on Regent's canal, London.

Young people choose canal boats as a cheaper alternative to London living. [Andy Fyles]

Sean McKee investigates how moving to a houseboat can be a cheap alternative for students struggling to afford London accommodation.

London’s housing crisis has reached a crucial point. Last week, a loft space in Paddington was advertised for just £40 per week. This has highlighted that Londoners – particularly students – should be thinking outside of the box when looking for somewhere affordable to live in the city.

A pokey loft conversion may not be ideal for anyone ‘over 5ft 4in’ as the ad suggested, but there may be a method in this madness of alternative rentals; perhaps we should return to more romantic notions of living in the capital.

If limited space is what one must get used to when looking for accommodation, then an alternative option available is a canal boat.

Floating homes range from a central London houseboat with tidal Thames moorings, to pretty canal-side garden docks. Given the current state of the capital’s property market, maybe renting a room on the water is not a bad option.

A growing number of people now think that way, as more of us look for a simpler, cheaper lifestyle closer to nature. The Residential Boat Owners’ Association estimates that since 2010 there may be as many as 15,000 houseboats in the UK, with between 30,000 and 50,000 people living on board.

Waterfront life

Boat owner Elena, Regent's Canal, London

Living on a canal boat means being exempt from council tax [Andy Fyles]

The obvious essential requirement for houseboat dwellers is to have a genuine love of waterfront life. There is no need to worry about seasickness, as the most movement they make is a gentle sway.

A movable home presents the chance of living wherever you want but, like any form of property, the well-worn mantra ‘location, location, location’ applies.

There are some beautiful locations where you can moor your longboat in the city. From Shad Thames, with the looming Tower Bridge in eyeshot and St Katherine’s Docks across the way, to London’s ‘Little Venice’ district in north London.

Although the price of buying a houseboat can range between £60-100,000 according to the National Association of Boat Owners (NABO), rooms are being advertised for as little as £80 per week on Gumtree.

However, there are a number of other costs involved. For your waterfront dwelling, you will need a boat safety certificate – think of it as an MOT. You also need a licence to be on the waterways – think of this as road tax. And you need the right to “park” – a mooring permit – and that can be a hefty cost.


Aisha Ferozee, a Fashion Illustration Student at CSM, lived on a longboat and claims that some of these costs can be evaded: “Mooring is free as long as you move your boat a mile or so every two weeks. You don’t have to pay council tax as a boat is classed as a possession and not a property.”

Despite having to move off her boat because of the inclement weather during winter, Ferozee thinks the pros far outweigh the cons of the lifestyle: “Lots of cool, trendy, like-minded young people live on the canals in London; you can run it on red diesel because it’s not on the road; there’s lots of stop-off points on the canal to fill up on water for a few quid and you have the freedom of movement and no rent to pay”.

“Lots of cool, trendy, like-minded young people live on the canals in London.” Alisha Ferozee

She does suggest a few tips for potential houseboat residents to look into: “You have to get a PO Box for letters and you have to think about things such as filling up your water tank. The less pleasant jobs are emptying your toilet and finding a way to hook up to electricity.”

Other fellow students around our campuses have also shown an interest in looking at life on a barge. Lydia Hill, a tailoring student from UAL’s Curtain Road campus, said: “I would love it! I want to buy a boat one day and if it makes the rent cheaper, even better. I think it’s way more exciting than a shitty old council block which is most of London!”

Colette Ashford, an LCC Graphic Design undergraduate, also agreed with the ‘cool’ factor of living on a boat: “I would never have imagined one of those barges was cheaper than renting a room. It’s such an amazing idea though. I’d consider it in the future.”

This option might not be for everyone, but it might just help cash-strapped students facing rocketing rents.




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