Earning an income while living afloat

If boat life sounds idyllic – and it often is – then that can be tempered by the realities of modern life, namely employment. Only the lucky few can sit out their days unbothered by the need to earn money; for everyone else, employment of some form remains a requirement and that can be tricky when your home is always on the move.

Clearly the easiest solution to a traditional job with traditional commuting is to find a permanent mooring and stay there, enjoying the benefits of living on a boat but limiting actual cruising to days off and weekends.

Unfortunately, this may be less straightforward than it seems since true residential moorings are very scarce and leisure mooring owners may not take kindly to people living aboard. This depends very much on the mooring owner and any vigilance of the local council’s planning department.

If you cannot find a suitable mooring then you’ll become a continuous cruiser and this requires moving on every 14 days. The rules dictate that simply shuffling around a local area is prohibited by the licence terms; you must be “bona fide” cruising, not that this stops a huge number of boaters from doing the absolute minimum distance they can get away with in order to stay local to a particular area. London and Bath / Bristol are notorious for this.

If public transport is good then moving along may not be an issue with trains or buses that can take you to work every day. A compact bicycle may become your best friend so as to enable you to cycle some part of the journey to and from the boat.

Some boaters even go so far as to bring a car with them as they cruise, by cycling back to where they left it each time they moor, then driving the car to the new spot, and repeating as required. Clearly, a folding bike is essential as is a good humour about the time it will require each time you move along.

By far and away the simplest solution to working from a boat is to have a job that permits remote working (“working from home”). 4G and 5G cellular coverage is generally good across much of the canal network, apart from a few blackspots here and there in open countryside, so an internet connection with reasonable speed is quite feasible in most locations.

Provided your boat has sufficient power to run your laptop (and even a modest solar panel array should suffice except in winter) then you’re good to go.

There are also plenty of canal boat owners who are self-employed, trading from their boats either by mail order or out of the side hatch to passers-by on the towpath, though you need a business boating licence from the Canal & River Trust to do this as well as suitable business insurance covering public and professional liability etc.

A walk along popular canal spots in the summer will often show boats selling ice cream, pizza, sweets, jams, artworks, crafts, clothing, metalwork … pretty much the entire array of what people can turn out from a small space.