Jennifer's story

We all know the three most important elements in a house purchase: location, location, location. But for Jennifer and her husband, they have a choice of locations: their home is moveable.

“We both took early retirement about ten years ago; I was 57,” she says. “So we sold our house and bought a 70' narrowboat called Roma. We’ve been living on it ever since.”

It was a decision that their friends considered crazy, particularly since the couple had no experience of boating or canals.

Saying goodbye to dry land

“We’d never lived on a boat, so we hired one for a week to see if we’d like it,” she says.

“Oh, and we went on a course to learn about being a helmsman and how to maintain the engine.

But we definitely dived in at the deep end.”

Thankfully, the decision has paid off.

They considered keeping and renting out their house, but decided it would be better to sell up in order to buy a better quality boat. Moving from a three-bedroom house to a 7'-wide narrowboat meant they had a lot of decluttering to do. Most of their furniture was sold (it wouldn’t even go through the hatch), electrical appliances were given away (too much of a drain on the battery), and cupboards were emptied into a skip.

“We don’t regret it at all,” Jennifer says. “I always say the next move for me will be into a nursing home. But we’ve got friends in their 70s who live on boats. Maybe when we can’t get on and off the boat because our knees won’t let us…”

Adjusting to life on the water

That possibility was tested last year, when she had to have a knee operation. They moored up for a few months, but Jennifer managed to negotiate getting on and off the boat despite her crutches, so it looks like the move back to dry land is some way off. They normally moor up at a marina in the winter, where there is easy access to facilities such as electricity, but come the spring, they are on the move.

“It’s a completely different way of life,” she says. “If you watch two hours of TV it will drain your battery, so you have to find different ways to entertain yourself. We do a lot of reading – or we find a nice pub for the evening. I wouldn’t want to go back now.“

Jennifer has also turned her hand to a couple of money-making ventures: she used to make fudge, selling it at boat festivals and fairs, and now her hobby is mosaics. Many of the boating community supplement their income with crafts such as jewellery or stained glass.

“People think it’s cheap to live on a boat, but it’s not; it must be very difficult if you’re struggling on the state pension. You’ve got to buy gas bottles, and diesel, and a licence from the local authority that works out about the same as council tax.”

Obviously mooring up at a marina costs money, while boats require maintenance; and the couple recently bought a car in order not to be entirely dependent on public transport. But it’s clear the lifestyle suits her.

“We love the freedom it gives us,” she says.

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