What to look out for when buying a canal boat:

I’ve been going through my early blog posts (mainly just them so far), and adding Blogger “labels” to them over the past few days. In one sense it’s nice to re-live it, but in another it’s not, mainly because we had so many problems to deal with. Oh we were so naive when we first bought this boat, even then there were no regrets. We just got on with it whatever it took to put right and even managed to have a laugh at our own expense,, literally…

After all this time, I’ve never really discussed our steep “learning curve” in one blog post, simply because it felt embarrassing. So for any newbies out there buying a second hand boat, (I’ll try and go through this in the order we discovered things). Please do your research in advance even with regards to small problems that may not be obvious even to a surveyor:

  • The boiler, make sure it’s the right size for the system.
  • The toilet, if it’s a pumpout loo “try it out for size” (excuse) and make sure the macerator isn’t blocked.
  • There’s no leaks especially from the shower, including joints on the water tank. (You might need a torch for that!) 
  • In conjunction with,, no BEFORE that, check for condensation on the walls, especially near the bow. (Bad sign). Look inside built in furniture to make sure there´s no sign of mould.
  • Check the alternator can supply enough juice to charge the leisure batteries.
  • Check there’s enough leisure batteries (and ampage) in the first place for the power the boat requires, when not hooked up to mains.
  • Check the combi inverter / charger, or standalone inverter and charger are powerful enough to manage the above.

There are many more things that are checked in a full marine survey. What I’m discussing is just our experience alone of essentially hidden bugs.

Thing is, TT would have passed a marine survey, she was only a year old with a powerful happy engine that had but a few hours on the clock. We have the paperwork to prove that the hull, engine, steelwork, insulation etc was all sound at the time of leaving the boat yard.

She’d also been well looked after, so that was enough right? Wrong.

The Boiler: The boiler was too big, it was a Webasto 9.5Kw which would’ve passed a
marine survey, because there was nothing wrong with it. (Except it coked up quick). If boilers aren’t worked hard enough that’s what happens,, then different yet related problems can occur. They did, and we got ripped off good style by a cowboy engineer. The problem first occurred in February 2008. 

It was too cold to stay at the boat without heating or hot water. We were waiting for parts for months, one excuse after the other. And in July of that year the cowboy stole the boiler from the boat when we weren’t there! Yes really!

During that time we could only go to the boat when the weather warmed up, and we ran the engine for warm water. In August we got our mate Tom (trusted boat engineer – we were learning) to fit a 5.5Kw Webasto boiler. It serves to heat the water and central heating to 6 radiators quite happily.
Note: Make sure a multi fuel stove is situated a third of the way down the boat. Sit a 3 blade eco fan on top, and it will then blow warm air throughout.    

The Loo: The toilet didn’t last long because it was gummed up. It still would’ve passed a marine survey, because it flushed properly and had no other problems. (As long as nothing had to go down it). Dave ended up taking it to bits and replaced the filters. Fortunately once it was cleaned up the macerator was ok.
The shower: The fancy double shower leaked into the bedroom. With a great big chest of drawers in front of the wall, the damage went unnoticed, till we bumped the boat hard on the remains of a bridge. Someone told us to check the grout, one line was full of cracks. That was when we pulled the chest of drawers out and discovered a black wall… Previous to that the grout was fine, but after we did a thorough test, the shower had been leaking (underneath) for a long time. Would a surveyor have noticed?  

The elbow joint on the water tank: We bought the boat in summer, at that time no condensation was visible. Would a surveyor have noticed a leaking elbow joint at the back of a water tank when there was no visible damage?

It became obvious in our first winter that something was wrong when mould began setting in the wood panelling from the floor up. (Worse inside the built in wardrobes). Not knowing the source of the problem we tried all sorts to prevent it, nothing worked. We even thought this might be normal.

It was only when we had the bow thruster fitted that Tom noticed a slow leak in an elbow joint to the water tank, it was the source of the problem. He replaced and fixed it with the welder. (Lucky). Then we ripped the bedroom out , dried it out, and refitted it with free standing furniture. We put a double skin layer of waterproof lining on the floor beneath the underlay and the carpet on top. (Warm). Wood panels (lining) were replaced, with sealed lambs wool on top of insulation behind them. Touch wood (excuse pun) there hasn’t been a problem since. It took us 3 months to do 2,000 quid to refit, but well worth it. Yes we went “overboard” on it, we weren’t taking any chances.
Another 3 months and another 2,000 quid later, the bathroom was gutted and refitted to a high standard, with NO LEAKS.

The alternators: The starter alternator was fine at 80 amp. The leisure batteries alternator was also 80 amp… This was not enough to even supply the 2 – yes just 2 leisure batteries from a trickle charger and 1800W sterling inverter set up on a widebeam. It may have been the only thing a marine surveyor would have picked up on, RATIO.

But again there were no “official” technical problems apart from the low power that totally screwed up output performance. The surveyor couldn’t say “this isn’t working” because everything was. Perhaps he might’ve mentioned “this isn’t enough to supply your boat away from shore power.” He would’ve been right, we tried it.

Outcome: After learning the hard way, we installed a 3000W Victron Inverter / Charger, and 6 sealed for life leisure batteries. We also upped the leisure battery alternator to 120amp (with mounting plate), costly but worth every penny.

Total spent so far: 12,000 quid.

Optional stuff: 

  • We replaced the tatty back cabin with the lux con, it’s marine grade material with stainless steel supports and twist lock fasteners. No poppers in sight. If you buy a narrowboat with a “pram cover” as they call them. Make sure it’s marine grade standard, otherwise within a couple of years, weather conditions will thin the plastic material, “poppers” will pop no more and split off. Believe me, we’ve seen how quickly they degrade on friend’s boats, 2 years tops.
  • Bow thruster: Get it built with the boat, saves a lot of extra dosh! Ours has lasted 2 years without any problems till now. If you read the blog you’ll know the score! But having behaved well for over 2 years, everything needs upkeep!

Total spent so far: 18,000 quid.

Till then we thought every penny was worth it, but if you´ve read the problems we´ve had here at Mercia since then,, it´s not so funny anymore…

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