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Nine things you only know if you live on a boat in London

Written by
Josh Mcloughlin

Ever wondered what it’s like to live aboard one of London's canal boats? Life on the cut can be challenging: most boaters have to up sticks and move two miles down the road every fortnight, and rack up least 20 miles each year. Plus, boaters are totally off grid, which means you have to sort your own gas, electric and water. But living on a boat is wonderful way of experiencing London, and some of the city’s most exiting bits lie on or beside its waterways, from pretty Little Venice to hip Hackney Wick. Here are nine things you only know if you live on a boat in London.

You don’t need a licence to drive a boat

You do have to pay a yearly fee to have your boat on the water, but there’s no driving test to cruise the nation’s inland waterways. That means you’ve got fresh-on-the-boat nutters sharing the cut with salty sea dogs who’ve been haunting the Lee for decades.

London’s waterways are like a city of their own

Floating along the capital’s canals and rivers you’ll find bars, cafés, hot-dog stands, village halls, workshops and even a floating bookshop, Word on the Water. Boaters also buy, sell and trade everything from ovens to bikes with each other.

Boaters never stay in one place for more than two weeks

The majority of boaters you see along the canal are ‘continuous cruisers’, meaning they don’t have a home mooring, and are required to move regularly. One week you might be at Broadway Market, and a month down the line you’ll be waking up in Uxbridge. It does, however, make answering the simple, smoking-area question ‘where abouts do you live?’ rather tricky.

The boating community is one of the best in London

Most boaters are really friendly. Got a boat related problem? Post it to the community Facebook group and you’ll have a reply within the hour from an experienced boater, who will more than likely offer to pop round and have a look at your dodgy boiler/batteries/engine. It’s a sort of massive, floating hive-mind.

Boats can get freezing cold

Boaters burn wood, diesel or other fuel to stay warm, but you can see your breath inside most of the time during winter. It makes you look forward to being at work, which is perverse.

Boaters know London really well

Having to move around all the time means boaters know all the best pubs, cafés, bars and restaurants – as long as they’re within reach of the canal or river.

The waterways speed limit is a blinding 4mph

Boats are limited to 4 miles per hour because if you're going any faster, you’ll create a ‘wash’ behind you that disturbs other boats and slowly erodes the bank, causing the towpath to cave in, basically.

London’s canals and rivers are the best way to traverse the city

Cycling along the towpath of the Regent’s canal or the River Lee gets you across London in no time – without having to worry about rogue cabbies and angry cyclists.

Paddleboards are stupid

Please just don’t.

Here are five reasons you should hop aboard a boat for your next commute

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