- Elizabeth Earle is a freelance writer and illustrator in England who lives on a 70-foot narrowboat.
- Because he doesn’t have a steady income, he couldn’t qualify for a mortgage.
- Earle said living on a boat is cheaper than a house, but licenses and insurance also come at a cost.
This essay is based on a conversation with Elizabeth Earle, 34, about her experience of living in a 1920s 70ft narrowboat in the English countryside from April 2022. Earle is a writer and illustrator from Warwickshire of England. The discussion has been edited for length and clarity.
Living on a boat was a complete accident.
In 2017, while I was living in Australia, I got in touch with these two American brothers and they were living on a sailboat traveling the world for the last 10 years creating content and getting it out there. They were occasionally looking for crew and asked me if I would like to travel with them from South Africa to Brazil. Agree.
I thought, I could do it. I’m going to live on a boat. I bought a hurricane damaged sailboat in the Caribbean with my overdraft. I think it came to £8,000 and I only had half of that so I had to sell what I had. I moved to the Caribbean, renovated this boat and adopted a stray dog who hated sailing.
I had to choose to sell the boat and keep the dog or get rid of the dog and continue this world trip. I chose the dog.
I managed to refurbish the boat to a point to resell her, cut my losses, returned to England and then fell in love with canal boats. I bought a hull of a boat for £3,800, once again using my bank overdraft, and refurbished her for two years and then lived with her for a year and sold her for £22,500.
I spent a lot of money on her. I made a lot of mistakes with some cowboy builders, so really the money I got out of her is probably the money I put into renovating her and the mistakes.
None of the money went to waste, it went back into my pocket and onto what is now a beautiful 70ft 1920’s boat. I now have a piece of canal history.
I bought her from my friend and paid £35,000 in total. Her official name is Malvern, but I nicknamed her Maggie because it’s much friendlier.
Why I chose to live on a boat instead of paying a mortgage
I think the mortgage process favors people who have a steady job, a guaranteed salary from an employer, or if you are partnered or married. It doesn’t favor the solo, self-employed, slightly hungry, 30-something artist from the Midlands.
You usually need to show proof of income for a certain period of time and then put down a deposit of around 10% or 20% to apply for a mortgage. Bob is your uncle. But this is why there is a stereotypical view of the starving artist. The price for a house in England is a bit ridiculous at the moment.
Even if you can save £200 a month, how on earth are you going to save £20,000 for a mortgage? It feels so unattainable compared to how our parents did it. Thus, more and more young people are looking for alternative ways of life, whether with boats, trucks or sailboats.
I know it sounds really ridiculous, but as long as I can survive this month, the possibilities are endless.
I don’t have a mortgage, but I still have monthly bills to pay
There are many things you need to live the boat life.
You can either choose to be in a marina, or live in The Cut — that’s what we’ve nicknamed the canal. This is what I do. You have to move every two weeks, but you live for free. You don’t have to pay any rent, you don’t have to pay anything. It’s a harder lifestyle but it forces you to travel. It forces you to see more of the country.
A big cost will be your canal and river licence, which for me is £650 every six months. Plus I pay £350 per quarter for my diesel. I have diesel to run my engine and that charges my batteries. And on top is coal for the fireplace. A bag of charcoal for me is about £8 a bag and lasts me two and a half days.
I also pay about £100 a year for third party insurance on my boat. If I hit another boat, they are covered. If my boat sinks, I’m not covered.
Life on a boat is much more exciting than any ordinary life
One of my favorite things about living on a boat is that I can just cruise somewhere and find a nice pub along The Cut. Once you bond, you go out and meet all these people from the boating community and it feels very healthy. You walk in and it’s like you have the energy of the main character at all times.
I just want to live an extraordinary life, and if I get the chance to find an extraordinary place to live, whether it’s a lighthouse, or a castle, or a forge for another story, then that would be exciting for me.
But something has to come to make my story even better. My story won’t be any better if I get a two-bedroom flat or a three-bedroom semi-detached house in the country.
It’s like with exes. You break up with someone and you have to make out with someone better, right? You can’t go with someone who was worse than your ex.
I think your life experience should be like a love story and wanting better for yourself. Either in your work or in your living environment. I’m always looking for something better and if I can find something better than Maggie, like a giant pirate ship somewhere or a castle, then that would be great.