How to survive your first winter – part 1

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.

Boats in winter ice


Planning is always the key to success. Getting everything in order for your first winter on board your boat could make all the difference between enjoying the crisp winter days and long nights or giving up and becoming a landlubber. Your winter plan will need to cover a far more extensive list of things compared to a land-based existence. Whether it’s food or location, emptying your tanks or restocking on fuel, your winter boating life will revolve around keeping some things topped up and others as empty as possible.

Hunker down or cruise?

If you don’t have a mooring the first big choice will be whether to stay cruising all winter or whether you decide to take a winter mooring. Many cruisers choose a spot in a marina or boat club for anything from a month to up to six months during the colder months.

There are advantages to a winter mooring. A good marina will have all sorts of nice facilities on tap such as car parking, trace heating to water points so they don't freeze, elsan units that don't freeze, electric hook up, onsite fuel sales and all sorts of other goodies from around £200 to £450 per month for an average length narrowboat (55ft or 16.8m) depending on where you are. If you just want somewhere to leave your boat so you don’t have to move every 14 days, at the other end of the scale you can find some more basic options. Facilities, security and comfort is unsurprisingly related to how much you are willing to pay, with a basic towpath winter mooring without any facilities on site costing between £115 to £335 per month for an average length narrowboat. Moorings for widebeam boats generally cost more but not always.

Weather and stoppages

The alternative is to keep cruising. The canal system is just as beautiful in the winter and it can be a lot less busy, particularly on waterways popular with holiday makers such as the Llangollen Canal. The key is to plan your route carefully.

Winter is the time that most of the major repair works are carried out and some places can be closed for months. Use our interactive map for stoppages and plan around those. (Warning: If you find yourself stuck because of a stoppage you will still need to move to meet the cruising requirement, or you may find you are unable to renew your boat licence without a home mooring if you do not meet our expectations for continuous cruising.)

Be prepared to get iced in

You'll definitely need to keep a close eye on the weather and the levels in your water, fuel and toilet tanks. If you get iced or snowed in, or if there's a stretch of very stormy weather and you’re far away from services, it could cause you a real problem. You can plan your access to services using our maps. Bear in mind that in very cold weather water taps freeze, elsan units freeze, pump-outs freeze or malfunction and, in the case of elsan units with a septic tank, they may not be able to be emptied until the weather improves.

Dire warning about toilets

Always have a spare cassette for your toilet and if you have a pump-out toilet have an emergency cassette toilet. We promise you it’s going to be much better than keeping your legs crossed until you can find a functioning loo! That said, you’ll soon learn the boater’s golden rule of always trying to use a land-based facility if you can to avoid filling up your own toilet tank. Obviously boats fitted wth compost or incinerating toilets don't have quite the same problem.

In the next instalment of “How to survive your first winter” we’ll look at staying warm. 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.

Last date edited: 12 November 2019