Learn about living afloat the easy way. Join me on my own boat for a narrowboat training and experience day... and learn all about the live aboard lifestyle
Enjoy a full day's cruise on the tranquil canals of rural Warwickshire where you'll learn how to handle a narrowboat either as part of a crew or on your own. Find out what style narrowboat and what specification will suit you best. Discover what type of mooring you'll need for your own boat and where to find it.
Here's a taster for you...
Unlike you, I didn't make a concious decision to buy a boat. It was a bit of an accident really, forced on me by the need to quickly find somewhere to live when my marriage failed. My marriage failed partly because my business failed so I was in a mess both financially and emotionally.
I moved onto a semi derilict boat at the marina where I had started working part time a few months earlier. I didn't particularly want to move onto a boat but it was somewhere “cheap” for me to stay while I sorted my life out.
Five years later I'm still on the same boat, although you wouldn't recognise it as the same boat. I've had to spend an enormous amount of money to get it from its dilapidated state to the very comfortable home it is now. Not only is the boat very comfortable to live on but it's also very well equipped to stay for weeks or months at a time “off grid” which is essential if I want to spend any amount of time from the marina where I live and work.
Over the last five years I've learned an enormous amount about these boats. While I've been learning I've also been sharing my knowledge on my web site. I've become a bit obsessed with it really. I've invested over 4,000 hours creating more than 6,000 posts and pages and I've written a collection of guides and developed a narrowboat budget calculator which is available on the site as “Narrowbudget Gold”.
The package has proven very popular indeed. Almost every day I receive emails thanking me for the volume of information in the package. Sometimes I think there's almost too much information.
Last year I was having a drink with friend and fellow boater Allan Izatt. He bought the package before he moved onto his boat the previous year. He told me that although the information had proven invaluable while he was making his plans, he wished that there had been some sort of hands on advice available, practical as well as theoretical assistance to help him make sense of everything.
The result of both our conversation and feedback from hundreds of subscribers to my weekly newsletter is a real life, hands on, “discovery day” on board my own narrowboat James.
The Discovery Day is your chance to learn how to handle a 62' narrowboat. If you can manage a boat of this length, you can manage any narrowboat. You'll steer it along the canal, into both wide and narrow locks on the Grand Union and Oxford canals, reverse it in a straight line, do a three point turn, moor securely against the bank using piling hooks, chains or pins, learn the best knots to use and all you need to know about etiquette on the cut and generally gain enough confidence on boat handling to take one out on your own, with or without a crew.
Boat handling is only part of the day though. Steering your boat is the easy part. Choosing the right craft is far more difficult. You need to consider the overall length and the impact your choice has on the waterways you can use, why the boat's draft will determine how enjoyable your cruising is, which stern to choose to suit the boat's purpose, the pros and cons of front and rear deck covers, how to balance on board electrics, which home appliances you can use on board and which you need to steer clear of, pros and cons of the different types of toilet suitable for narrowboats, how to avoid condensation, solid fuel stoves and central heating systems and which fuels work best with them, telephony and broadband solutions, television on board, the importance of on board storage and why you should avoid “open plan” live aboard narrowboats and just about anything else you care to ask.
Then there's choosing a mooring. Finding the right mooring for your boat is arguably as important as your choice of boat. You'll meet me on my own mooring at one of the most beautiful marinas in the UK. I'll talk to your about different types of mooring, the importance of access, location, proximity to busy roads, access to your own vehicle, facilities you'll need and facilities you'll want, hidden charges to look out for and restrictions to avoid. You may be able to avoid taking on a permanent mooring at all, but you'll have to be sure of your facts.
I've seen hundreds of new boat owners here at the marina soon after they've parted with a substantial sum for their new toy. Often they could have avoided some very costly mistakes by going on a discovery day.
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The answer, which once would have shocked me but which now I almost expect, is that they hadn't set foot on board a narrowboat before they parted with just over £40,000.
Some aspects of living on board came as quite a shock to them. The first was that they couldn't get any electrical appliances to work on the boat. Just a quick glance by one of our fitters was all that was needed to identify the problem.
When they viewed the boat it had been connected to the national grid via a shore line. The boat was fine when it was on a mooring with a handy electricity supply but no good for them to use to continuously cruise the network.
The solution was easy enough, but it came at a price. They wanted to be able to use some pretty heavy duty appliances so they needed to have a generator fitted in the boat. They didn't want the generator running all of the time so they had to have a large battery bank fitted, a 3KW inverter and a better alternator. They didn't get much change from £7,000.
Their expenses didn't stop there though.
They had bought the boat after simply walking through it on a beautiful summer's day on a mooring in a marina. They hadn't taken the boat out for a test drive. In fact, they hadn't even asked for the engine to be started.
If they had taken the boat out for a short cruise they would have discovered that (A) the starter battery needed replacing, (B) the boat handled terribly and (C) the drive shaft was squealing like a stuck pig. The repairs cost them another £1,500.
If they had come out with me on a Discovery Day before they started looking seriously at boats to buy, they wouldn't have made the mistakes which cost them so much money. They probably wouldn't have purchased that particular boat at all.
The on board electrics would have been a deal breaker for them but there were so many other aspects of living afloat which didn't suit them.
The husband had a bad back so found bending and lifting both difficult and painful, which was a bit of a problem in the winter with so much coal to lift in and out of the boat, and equally heavy gas cylinders to lift in and out of a difficut to reach bow locker.
Considering the practicalities of living afloat is an important part of the Discovery Day.
You'll spend a full day, ten hours, with me on board my own 62' narrowboat. The was barely habitable when I moved onto the boat with my single rucksack on a frosty morning in April 2010. It was a very steep learning curve but living and working at a well staffed marina with experienced fitters and engineers, there were plenty of people to steer me in the right direction. I am very happy with my boat now. It is very well equipped both as a static home and as a long term cruiser.
You will be able to walk through the boat and compare it with the plans you have for the boat you hope to buy. This part of the day alone will help you to avoid some expensive mistakes made by new narowboat owners.
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"An excellent introduction to boat
handling and living afloat"
"I had actually been living on my own boat for almost a year before I contacted Paul. My problem was that, although I had taken my boat out a few times with a crew, I had never cruised on my own, and that's what I wanted to know.
Paul's service normally involves potential boat owners visiting him to discuss living afloat and some training on his own boat but because of my slightly unusual situation, he agreed to come to me to do the training on my own boat moored in Braunston marina.
I started the day as a nervous wreck but ten hours later I was confidently handling the boat on my own. In addition to the single handed boat handling instruction, Paul ran me through a very useful pre cruise check list (I ended up with a big shopping list), explained in detail what I needed to know about the dreaded weed hatch, and discussed boating etiquette. Not only was the day very informative, it was fun too.
I highly recommend the day to anyone thinking of buying a boat or, like me, who owns one already but doesn't really know what to do with it!"
Steve Singleton, Braunston
Yes, Steve's situation was unusual but wasn't unique by any means. In fact, I have since taken a booking for a similar day from another Braunston boat owner.
I met Steve on his mooring at Braunston. We went through a pre cruise check list, then turned right out of the marina up through the Braunston flight, through the tunnel, executed a flawless three point turn at Norton Junction, negotiated the tunnel and the Brauston flight once more, threaded our way through heavy traffic through Braunston, turned right at the junction to experience the frequent tight bends and blind bridge holes of the North Oxford before going down the narrow Hillmorton lock flight before turning the boat in a winding hole and heading back to base.
It's all a matter of confidence, which Steve lacked when we set off in the morning. By the day's end though he was an entirely different and very happy solo boater. All he needed was a little encouragement and guidance from someone with more experience than him.
I left Steve hunched over his Nicholson's guide as he enthusiastically planned his first solo cruise since he purchased his boat over a year ago.
Click here to read dozens more comments from very happy participants.
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I'm so sure that you'll love your day on board narrowboat James
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"Frequently Asked Questions"
No I'm not. But I am a very experienced narrowboat owner, I'm also an instructor for the Calcutt Boats hire fleet and I was a fully qualified trainer in my previous career. I have successfully trained hundreds of people.
My boat is moored on the beautiful Meadows marina in rural Warwickshire close to the village of Napton On The Hill and about four miles from Southam. The closest postcode is CV47 8HX.
The helmsman training will be carried out on the Caluctt flight of locks on the Grand Union canal, the Napton flight on the south Oxford and the stretch of canal between the two.
You will receive comprehensive directions when you book your date.
The maximum is two people in line with the RYA guidelines for training on a traditional stern narrowboat. If you have made a two person booking you will have my undivided attention. If you are booking as a single, there may be one other person joining you.
It's entirely up to you. We will begin at 8am and finish at 6pm so it's quite a long day, but there's plenty to talk about so it's just as well.
I'll send you a questionnaire once you've booked. Write down everything you want to cover, send it back to me, bring your copy with you on the day, and make sure you bring a note book and pen too.
Yes I will but only if your boat is close to where I am moored at Caluctt Boats. I sold my car a year ago so I travel everywhere by foot these days. I can manage Braunston but that's about the limit.
Simply follow this link to reserve your place. As soon as you've placed your order you'll be sent briefing notes, directions to the marina where James is moored and a link to the online calendar