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Living on a houseboat is a romantic notion.

Being rocked to sleep, sipping wine on the deck, waking up to geese at your window – it’s the stuff holidays are made of.

But you can have this without going anywhere. Floating homes range from a central London houseboat with tidal Thames moorings, to pretty canalside garden docks.

And, given the current state of the capital’s property market, maybe renting a room on the water is not a bad option. TNT speaks to some boat dwellers to find out what it’s like.

A little piece of history

“It’s very easy to get people to come to you if you’re trying to meet up,” says London showgirl Ophelia Bitz, of the perks of living on the water.

The 27-year-old’s home is the World War Two torpedo boat MTB 219, built in 1942, and with the sinking of German ship the Sea Addler as a notable moment in its illustrious history.

“The history of the boat is wonderful, which obviously makes it a very cool place to live,” Bitz says. She is one of four people who each live in a cabin on the vessel, which is moored on Cheyne Walk in Chelsea.

The cabins are a little on the pokey side, Bitz admits, but she’s often on the deck anyway.

“Everything is just so peaceful on the river,” she adds. “I love having that extra bit of privacy, and the ducks are always around. It’s beautiful.”

Friends and neighbours

It’s the community that boat-dwellers appreciate the most, says Kiwi Nick Bibby, 37, who has lived on a boat for four of his 10 years in the UK.

He resides in Shad Thames, on an old Dutch barge called Ilka, with the looming Tower Bridge in eyeshot and St Katherine’s docks across the way.

“Everyone on the moorings really looks out for each other; it’s quite a social little neighbourhood,” Bibby says. “I’ve lived in heaps of flats in London and never knew the people living around me. But boating life definitely attracts a certain kind of person.”

Bibby’s first experience of living on a boat was with an ex-girlfriend. The two rented out a 60ft narrow boat one summer and continuously cruised around London, spending weeks at a time moored by parks or in marinas.

“We didn’t need a licence, so I guess there’s a lot of trust involved when someone hands over the keys to their boat. But there’s not much to it, you just turn on the engine and go.

Narrow boats are really heavy, though, and don’t stop quickly. We did manage to smash plates and glasses on our first few trips.

Returning to bricks and mortar is difficult to fathom, Biddy says. “While I’m still in London, I can’t see myself living anywhere else. I’m in one of the best locations in the whole city,” he adds.

“It’s amazing to set out on the deck and have breakfast, or sit out there in the evening when it’s calm and the sun’s going down. It’s a million-dollar view.”

Environmentally speaking

Boats are definitely not for the highly strung. “You’ve got to be flexible, because every now and again you might have a power outage, or a pump in the shower might fail, and you have to accept that. If you easily get stressed, boating life is not for you,” Biddy says.

It’s a sentiment confirmed by Ivor Caplan,  planning officer at the Residential Boat Owners Association. “We get a lot of young people who are keen to try out boat living as an alternative lifestyle, but it really helps if you have an affinity with the country’s inland waterways system, and you understand the environment,” he says.

Cruising houseboats, as opposed to those that are permanently moored, require plenty of maintenance.

“You have to think about things such as filling up your water tank, and the less pleasant jobs are emptying your toilet, and finding a way to hook up to electricity,” he says.

However, Caplan adds it’s a sustainable lifestyle, as boat residents become more aware of the services they’re using.


A home that floats: why be a London landlubber when you can live on a houseboat?
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