Floating homes – London’s houseboats

An interesting alternative to outrageous rent - houseboats on Regent's Canal. Photo credit: Siri R. Svendson

An interesting alternative to outrageous rent - houseboats on Regent's Canal. Photo credit: Kristian RA

Fancy living in downtown London but cannot afford it? Maybe a life on a houseboat is something for you, especially if dirty hands do not scare you.

Megan Saunders, a 24-year-old freelance dancer has just moved into a houseboat on the south of the Thames, close to Tower Bridge. “It is great living on a boat, very quiet and peaceful and we have a community together with the other people who also lives on boats which you do not find in a street in London,” she said.

Megan lives on a Dutch barge, a flat bottom boat originally used for carrying cargo in the Netherlands. She shares it with four other people, including her boyfriend. The boat has four small bedrooms, a large living room, kitchen and bathroom with shower and toilet. “I spent some time thinking about moving on a boat before I decided to do so. I have only lived here for two months, but it already feels more like a home than other places I have lived,” she said.

According to the Residential Boat Owners Association, 15,000 people live on boats on Britain’s rivers. These people may have many reasons for doing so, but the best known is the economical benefits it gives, in combination with a central address. Megan and her boatmates pay approximately 400 quid each per month. One could almost ask why not even more people, especially Londoners, want to save some money, and live on a boat downtown. But Megan also reveals the other side of the picture. “You get your hands dirty by living like this. Once a week we have to empty the toilet tank. We often joke about whose next to empty it, but we do it in turns,” Megan says.

Gary Arnold of Waterview, a waterside property, said to Find a Property that there are mainly three categories of people who live on boats: those who buy a Dutch barge and live there for a few years before they move back to the mainland when they start a family; Static boat owners who stay there till the day they die; and the divorced people – mainly men.

Intimate and Social

A house boat moored by the Regent's Canal towpath. Photo credit: Garry Knight/Flickr

Megan eats dinner together with her boatmates almost every day. “You live quite close on each other and you cannot go and hide even if you want to. It is not like a house with several floors. So whether you like this way of living or not really depends on the people you live with,” she said.

The boat Megan lives on lies in a secured area, where no one without a key to the gate can come close to her boat, in opposite to the boats along parts of the Regent Canal. Megan’s neighbours also have a communal boat with roof tables and chairs where they throw barbeques.

“It is lovely to live in the centre of London and at the same time get really close to the nature. I could never afford to live as central as this in a house,” she said.