Living on a boat, I have most of the facilities you’d find in a house: they just work a little differently and require more thinking ahead.
There’s a large water tank at the front of the boat which I refill every two weeks or so and provides all I need to shower, cook, clean, heat the radiator and drink. There are taps at many mooring spots along the canals.
The diesel engine does much more than just enable me to drive the boat. Running the engine for about three quarters of an hour heats enough water for a decent shower. While running it also charges up one starter battery and two 90 amp hour leisure batteries so I can switch on the lights, watch tv and use a computer. If stationary, I usually run the engine for about two hours a night to produce enough electricity; this can prove awkward if I’ve not returned to the boat till late because it’s considered bad manners to have a noisy diesel engine running late at night if there are other boats nearby. Boaters can buy red diesel at about 50p a litre. I topped up with diesel yesterday and bought 70 litres (the tank capacity is 200 litres) – Â£35 is not bad going for two months’ use.
Bristol Fashion has gas central heating: a boiler gives me hot water and warms the radiator. The boiler is the single item on the boat that’s given me the most problems but then I believe that’s also true of many houses. Next boat I’ll get a solid fuel stove instead. There are two 13kg Calor gas bottles on the boat so that if one runs out I can switch to the other; they cost about Â£17 each and in winter I can easily get through one a week. For safety, gas cannisters are stored in a metal locker at the front of the boat. Running out of gas, or worse a boiler breakdown, is no joke in winter: a narrowboat’s steel shell does not keep in the heat very well.
Marinas sell fuel and gas but not all boats want, or are able, to travel there and back for it. Fortunately two working boats, Ara and Aphrodite, crewed by Barney and Jane, cruise around the London canals and sell diesel, calor gas, firewood and coal to boats on the way.
When towpath walkers stop to chat they always have two questions: the first could be about anything at all but the second is always about sewage. My theory is that’s what they really wanted to know but didn’t want to appear rude! The toilet on Bristol Fashion is a dump-through into a holding tank affair. At marinas and various moorings they have pump-out facility which does exactly what it says: every so often you moor up, stick their hose into the tank and press a switch and… that’s quite enough on that topic.