Londoners are swapping expensive property for a life of boating as the cost of living crisis deepens
The cost of living crisis is pushing Londoners to live on riverboats as they are prohibitively expensive in the capital’s increasingly unaffordable property market.
With soaring property prices, skyrocketing rental costs and soaring bills, many Londoners are struggling to afford a traditional way of life and therefore the historic waterways of the city are seeing an influx of people putting down roots afloat.
Experts say there is currently twice the normal demand for narrowboats in London and they are selling for a quarter more than their normal value, with the majority of vessels bought being used as permanent residences.
The trade-off for escaping the abyss of the rental industry is a small, confined and nomadic lifestyle requiring the sacrifice of the comforts of modern creatures such as microwaves, washing machines and flush toilets. .
While glossy magazines and twee TV documentaries paint a picturesque and idyllic picture of boating life, the reality for most full-time boaters, especially in London, is a far cry from this rose-tinted perception. While summers can be picturesque when moored in Little Venice and surrounded by swans and ducklings, winters in Uxbridge or Ladbroke Grove are long, dark and cold.
Most boaters who choose to live aboard their vessel do so because they do not need to pay rent, provided you notify the Canal and River’s Trust – the canal’s omnipotent authority – that you are a so-called continuous cruiser.
This involves traveling at least 20 miles of waterways per year and it is strictly forbidden to stay in the same place for more than two weeks.
As a result, electricity comes from an on-board 12V battery pack, charged by the engine and solar panels; toilets must be emptied manually; gas, diesel and water must be constantly monitored and topped up; the heat comes from a coal stove; and laundry must be done via a laundromat.
It’s often referred to as a “liberating lifestyle change”, but the reality is often hard and time-consuming work, with hours spent on maintenance and upkeep.
“Twice as much interest in buying a boat than normal”
Kerry Bolsom, director of London-based boat broker Virginia Currer Marine, told The Telegraph the boat market in and around the capital has seen an unprecedented period of activity over the past two years.
“I personally think [boats are selling for] between 20 and 25% above their real value,” she said.
“You find a lot of private sellers who are overextended and I would easily say 85% of new buyers are continually cruising.
“There’s probably twice as much interest in buying a boat than normal. It’s definitely a seller’s market.
“Because the demand was so high last year, there is now a shortage of boats. There are still a lot of people who want to buy but not enough boats for everyone and that has driven prices up, so they sell more than they should..
“Before, we tended to have a lot of boats to look at. Now people show up and most of them are offered, so I only have one or two boats to show.
“Some of them I sell before they hit the open market because you have people who want to buy and obviously you know what your customers are looking for.”