Frequently Asked Questions
What’s your name and what’s your background?
I’m David Johns. I’m 48 and used to work as a local TV news reporter for ITV in the south east of England. After 13 years of doing this and working in radio, I decided to chuck it all in, sell my house and buy a narrowboat to live on.
How long is your boat, who built it and when?
It’s 55 feet 11 inches and was built in 2000. The shell (hull) was built by G&J Reeves and the interior fit-out was by Millburn Boats.
What did your boat cost?
That’s a bit of a rude question really; would you ask someone what they paid for their house? That said, the boat was advertised at just under £50,000 and I paid less than that after haggling and after the survey showed some work needed doing.
What’s your boat’s name?
I prefer not to give out my boat’s name and I don’t show it on the videos so that I can hide inside and maintain a bit of privacy when I’m moored. I have not changed the name since purchase.
Can I have a tour round your boat?
Errrr, no. This is my home – would you invite random strangers off the internet to walk round your house? Just because I did a tour in a video doesn’t make it an open house for all comers. Besides, I’m really quite introverted in real life and wouldn’t enjoy it.
What does it cost to live aboard a canal boat?
There are a huge number of variables which mean there is no simple answer to “what does it cost?” Please make a cup of tea, get comfortable and take a look at my Vlog 66, Vlog 67 and Vlog 68 which go into the costs in excruciating detail.
Where does the “grey” water from the sink and shower go?
Unlike your sewage, which has to be stored in one form or another until you get to an emptying point, grey water goes straight back into the canal. It’s therefore important to use wildlife-friendly washing products so as not to poison the fish, ducks, swans and other canal animals.
Those canals look very narrow, are they one-way?
Very, very few bits of the canal network are so narrow that you can only get one boat through. Usually – though it may not look like it! – there’s enough space to two to pass albeit carefully. So no, the canals are two-way for 99% of the time.
How do you turn around?
There are turning points, known as “winding holes” (“wind” as in the breeze, not as in winding a clock) every few miles although not all of them are big enough to turn the longest boats in (sizes are usually marked on the canal guides though)
Why are you driving on the right when you drive cars on the left in the UK?
Apparently international maritime convention is for driving on the right. I’ve also heard it said that most people are right-handed thus their right hand is on the tiller so they stand on the left hand side of the boat; therefore when passing another boat coming towards you, both skippers will be on the side that’s nearest to the oncoming boat.
Why don’t you have / fit a bow thruster?
Although many (generally newer) narrowboats have bow thrusters, it would be near impossible to fit one onto my boat without some major, and expensive, surgery. The water tank under my well deck is huge and takes up the space where a thruster would go (plus the thruster would need its own battery and new charging wires run throughout the length of the boat from the engine room). So it’s not a retrofit option but I wouldn’t object to one on another boat!
Is it cold in winter?
No! An unheated boat in winter – even in Spring or Autumn – would be cold but that’s precisely why narrowboats have heating installed. Many, possibly most, have multi-fuel stoves which burn coal or wood and they will keep a boat so toasty you’ll have the windows open in mid-winter!
Other boats have diesel or gas-fired radiator central heating systems just like in a house. And you can get diesel stove as well. There is no need to be cold on a narrowboat.
Have a look at Vlog 74 which is all about heating on narrowboats.
Why don’t you fit a wind turbine?
They’re quite costly, apparently make a lot of vibration noise throughout the boat, don’t generate a huge amount of power (not least because the wind is generally too little and too inconsistent on the canals apart from some high spots around the network) and they have to be put up and down each time you travel. In short, not really worth the effort according to most sources I’ve read.
How do you / Why don’t you paint the baseplate of the boat?
This is a source of much debate, a bit like what type of boat toilet is best. Many boaters do not paint the bottom at all! The argument is partly that most rust occurs at the waterline (true) because that’s where you get the highest mix of water and oxygen, and partly that the baseplate is (usually) 10mm thick so it can withstand many, many years before it’s rusted to a point where you’d worry about it. Also, due to the shallowness of much of the canal network, any blacking on the baseplate would be quickly scraped off in many areas.
That said many boaters disagree entirely with these arguents and do paint the baseplate – how often is down to their enthusiasm for the task and / or the depth of their wallet.
How do you get post and what about registering for a doctor?
Your mail can go to a friend’s or family member’s address plus there are postal redirection services you can sign up for that will either scan and email your letters to you or forward them to a location of your choice, which you can update as you move around the canals. If you have a permanent mooring on a wharf or in a marina, you can often have post sent there though it depends on the contract terms.
As for doctors, dentists etc, just stay signed up to your usual one and go in to any local surgery on a “visiting” basis if you need to; they don’t need to know you’re on a boat. Just say you were visiting and felt ill or needed a checkup or whatever. If you’re permanently in one location or have a base mooring, register somewhere near there and whenever you go back to the mooring you can get your teeth checked or whatever.
As for voting, you can vote by post or by proxy and (I’m told) either declare an affiliation with a particular area of the country and vote there, or if you still own a bricks-and-mortar home, you vote wherever it is.
Can you fish in the canals?
Yes, if you have the appropriate licences – local angling groups tend to have the rights to each stretch of canal so talk to them. All fish must be returned to the canal alive except non-native species which must not be returned.
Will you ever be visiting <location>?
People often ask if I’ll be going up a particular canal at any time. I really have very few fixed plans – such is the joy of the narrowboating life – so I’ll tell you now: “I don’t know”!
How do you make money?
I do some freelance writing for Canal Boat magazine and I film and edit corporate videos. I don’t do a huge amount of it, the whole plan of going on the boat was to kick back and, frankly, be a bit lazy while I have a mid-life crisis and take stock of things.
I also earn a tiny bit of money from YouTube every time someone watches the ads that occasionally play (and only the ads – I get nothing for views of my video itself). I don’t get anything if the viewer presses “Skip” so if you like my videos, please try to let at least some of the advert run! The sums are tiny; it’s a fraction of a penny for each ad that gets watched so for a typical video which will have taken me several hours at least to film, script, edit and upload, I might – in total – earn a fiver after it’s had 10,000 views or so!
This website has ads on it from Google; that also earns a few pounds each month. Links from my videos to Amazon with an affiliate code in them mean I get a small commission if someone buys anything (yes, anything, not just the product that was linked to) after going to the site from clicking on my link. I also have a Patreon page for really dedicated fans – yes, there are some! – who actually want to pay me money, typically $5 a month – to support me in making more Vlogs.
And finally, I opened an online merchandise store selling branded mugs, hats, t-shirts and suchlike; this is a new venture so I’ve only had a few quid from this to date.
What video gear do you use?
I have (with affiliate links to the products on Amazon UK):
Sony AX53 camcorder: http://amzn.to/2b78NN8
Rode VideoMicro microphone: http://amzn.to/2brV9Ge
Rode NT-USB microphone: http://amzn.to/2erIjoF
Rode wireless microphone: http://amzn.to/2erKIQj
Lexar 64GB SDXC card: http://amzn.to/2erJlkB
For editing I use Sony Vegas Pro 13 (now called Magix Vegas and up to v14 but I didn’t upgrade) on a very ordinary PC laptop. I enhance the appearance of my footage using Red Giant’s Magic Bullet Looks v2.5 (that’s what makes all the colours pop) plus I use Boris FX BCC 10 for occasional effects and tweaks.
Why don’t you get a drone?
Firstly they’re very expensive. Second I hate the nasty buzzy noise they make on what ought to be a tranquil canal. Thirdly there are loads of regulations about where exactly you can and can’t fly them (including needing permission to take off and land from the landowner and the CRT has stated it won’t generally give permission). Let’s not forget public liability insurance too in case the drone drops onto anyone’s head or their boat. Furthermore, it’s very easy to get carried away on drone footage and splatter loads of it across the videos which rather diminishes the effect – it needs to be just one or two “perfect” shots per video in my opinion.
All in all, it’s a very expensive and complicated proposition for just a slight enhancement to the videos; the benefits are too slight compared to the costs. Maybe, maybe once drones are cheaper and if ever I get the training for my corporate video production work, then I might consider it.