How to survive your first winter – part 3

Helpful advice, especially for new continuous cruising boaters facing their first winter living onboard the inland waterways of Britain. Advice collated with thanks from suggestions, tips and the experiences of seasoned boaters.

Snow viewed from the bow of a narrowboat Snow viewed from the bow of a narrowboat

Is your boat winter ready?

Ideally your boat should be well insulated. You might find that some smaller craft designed as day or weekend boats won’t be sufficiently insulated to keep you toasty as a live aboard throughout the winter. Upgrading the insulation is quite a major job you'll want to have completed well before the leaves start dropping from the trees.

Double it up

Double glazing your windows can make a big difference. Some people use polycarbonate sheets with clips and/or magnetic tape. You can also use bubble wrap or cling film. The key thing is to make sure you don’t block up any ventilation grilles. We really do recommend  you read the advice from the Boat Safety Scheme about avoiding carbon monoxide poisoning.

Spare parts

Make sure your boat is serviced and you have all the essential spares like fan belts and morse/teleflex cables (you only need one spare morse cable but make sure it is long enough to be used as either throttle or gear cable). Spares are useless without the right tools to fit them so make sure you’re fully kitted up.

Make sure you’ve got spare mooring pins, windlass and our Watermate keys. It’s so easy to drop things in the canal when your hands are cold: a magnet is useful for emergency rescue but it’s no fun to be fumbling around near icy water! Many boaters have a cork ball attached to their keyring so they’ll bob to the surface. If you do lose your keys in the canal you should never look for them in the dark.  

Store your water hose inside as then it won’t freeze and split. If you haven't got room to store it inside, then make sure there is no water left in the hose when you stow it away.

Are you winter ready?

Take it from an old hand, fleecy pyjamas, a thick dressing gown, decent house shoes, bed socks and a hot water bottle are a boater’s winter friends for a warm, toasty night. For daytime and boating activities, you’ll need to have some proper winter and weatherproof clothing for those long trudges down muddy, slippery towpaths and steering in a rain storm (because you’ve run out of water. Don’t worry, we all run out of water at least once, usually at the most inconvenient moment while in the shower covered in soap).

Decent boots

Some people like proper Wellingtons, others swear by their DMs or Rigger Boots but many people recommend Equestrian boots because “they are cheap, high quality and made for work, mud and muck”. They are also steel toed and have a good grip, which is very useful for working locks.

If your boots or shoes get very wet while boating, stuff newspaper in them when you take them off and put them in warm place (not right next to the stove). They will dry quicker so you don’t start the next day’s boating with wet feet. Under no circumstances should you be tempted to line your boots with plastic bags unless you want trench foot and possibly even gangrene.

Wet wet wet?

Condensation can be a big issue on boats during the winter. Drying wet washing and wet boating clothes and using LPG gas for cooking all contributes to the problem. Whatever you do, do not block up any ventilation grills.

If you have hopper type windows it’s worth checking that the drainage vents are not blocked as if they are blocked it won't help. What you do want is more ventilation. Ideally you need to get your solid fuel stove hot enough so you have to open all the windows. Done regularly this will keep the damp and mould at bay. Don't forget to give your mattress and cupboards a regular airing as well.

Suck it up!

Quite a few boaters recommend a window vacuum cleaner such as the one made by Karcher (other brands are available). All you need to do is use the vacuum cleaner to suck up the condensation from the windows every morning and tip it out of the boat. If you’ve got a decent battery bank and the means of charging those batteries then you could consider a small 12v dehumidifier.

Embrace winter and your boating neighbours

“Boat Life is always better if you embrace it rather than fighting it, whatever the season” said one of our Twitter followers. Find other boaters to talk to: most boaters are community minded and are happy to share hints and tips, loan you a spanner when you need it, and have a banter when you’re feeling down.

Don’t forget to check on your more vulnerable boating neighbours, especially during spells of hard weather. If anyone is struggling please alert our Boating team or one of the agencies that can support people in need.

Here’s a link to a vlog from "Narrowboat Girl" about preparing for winter. Thanks again to all the boaters who helped contribute to this mini-series. If you’d like to join in the boating chat why not join us on @CRTBoating Twitter.

Here’s to surviving the winter.

Stick together, check your neighbours. The boating community is truly awesome!”

Last date edited: 12 November 2019