Living on a houseboat tips – animals, people and you

living on a houseboat tips community life


Houseboats are a chance to connect with solitude, animal companions and friends you haven’t met yet. The third and final part of Faith Roswell’s houseboat tips.


When I announced that I would soon be a ‘boat person’, a third of the people I knew revealed a desire to have a boat of their own or to take a holiday on one.

Despite my best efforts, my lifestyle was suddenly ‘cute’. Nothing I did could stop guests from squealing “it’s like The Wind in the Willows!”. They weren’t persuaded of non-cuteness by my houseboat’s armoury, my Lovecraftian sea monster art, or even my Hannibal Lecter Come Dine With Me poster.

Even if my boat resembled a Mad Max war rig it would apparently still be adorable and I’ve had to get used to that.

While I still haven’t joined the net curtain, rag doll and embroidered cushion brigade, my life onboard has taught me a lot. Especially about community, of both the animal and human kind.

Animal companions

I don’t mind spiders – in fact, I like them. Even so, I have a rule that only three spiders are allowed inside at any one time and any extra get re-homed on the jetty. While the early light of an October morning makes my web-festooned boat glitter very prettily, it can be a bit jarring to my arachnophobic friends! It’s a fairly Autumn-specific problem, but you have been warned…

By way of fluffier creatures, I’ve been genuinely surprised to find out how many people living on houseboats have pets.

DOGS: There are plenty of fields and lovely riverside walks nearby so if you work from home and have the time to take your dog out for long walks every day, there’s no reason you can’t have a dog on the boat with you.

CATS: I can’t have a ship’s cat yet because I travel so much. One day I intend to adopt old cats who cannot go outside and just want a place by the fire, lots of cuddles and a food bowl with treats.

There are very few cats at the marina where I live but plenty of ‘riversiders’ have them. As long as you’re a good distance from the main road and have a cat flap, there’s no reason your cat can’t go exploring and return to the boat when it’s ready.

I wouldn’t recommend it if you have a wandering cat and move on every couple of days but if you’d like to live on a boat and have a pet, there are definitely ways and pets to suit everybody!

The art of being antisocial

Most boaters I’ve met tend to be solitary kinds, myself included. That doesn’t mean any of us are unfriendly.

quiet life on the marina

A quiet life on the marina (enlarge pic)

If I want company then having a drink, a chair and a place on the jetty end of the boat is usually all I need to begin proceedings with a “hello” to people walking past.

If I want to enjoy my book in peace, I’ll take a seat on the other end of the boat and I won’t be bothered. It’s a very polite code of conduct!

Before I actually started living on a houseboat I had wondered if there would be jetty Christmas parties, Easter egg hunts and mini Glastonbury (Glastonboaty?) festivals for us hippies. However, the community spirit here is more understated. In one way I feel we’re missing a trick. In another, I’m glad that quiet and peace is the default state. I’d prefer to seek out adventure than have to search for a place in which to simply be alone.

Introverts are very welcome here and many marinas have offices and coffee shops where the more extroverted congregate.

A feminist relief

I was struck by the atmosphere of equality at the boatyard (not my current marina but the place we all go to work on our boats when they’re out of the water).

In the daytime, the majority of people sawing, sanding and hammering were men. And then there was big-breasted, platform-booted, sweating-horribly, screwdriver-wielding me.

Though I spent the first few days on edge and expecting a remark or two, the catcalls never came. At no point did I feel threatened, belittled or unwanted. In fact, we often took it in turns to buy rounds of coffee and help out if there was heavy lifting to be done. If I asked in the office for a hammer, a hammer was found and lent.

It was assumed that I could handle things myself and if I couldn’t, I’d have the gumption to ask for help. This approach was one I really appreciated. I feel a lot more capable if I’m treated as capable!

As far as I have seen, things have retained this equilibrium on the marina too. There are more men than women here but it’s nice to be outdoors chopping wood or stapling down the non-slip chickenwire with no double-takes from the neighbours.

A laid-back assumption

I suppose the one misconception I’ve heard about life onboard is that it’s automatically a peaceful and carefree way of living.

Many of my guests do feel peaceful the moment I close my door behind us, but I think that’s due to camomile tea with a heavy dose of the placebo effect!

Maybe you’re retired with no health concerns, few stresses and a literal boatload of money. If that’s the case, I’m sure that cruising the waterways and the nation’s beauty spots could be one of the best lives imaginable. For those of us with full-time jobs, hectic schedules and life’s usual drama, boat life is no more or less stressful than any other way of life.

Moving onboard will not change your life’s pace unless you make that change. It can give you fewer expenditures and some gorgeous views but it’s important to remember this one thing:

Boat life is simply your life, just on a boat.

When I began travelling solo back in 2012, I didn’t care about being rich or getting married by 30. I still don’t. All I wanted was a place of my own – somewhere where I could support myself without feeling like a ‘kept woman’. I just wanted a place to put my boots and to call mine. Preferably with character and a few hooks to hang ornaments on.

That was a pretty big ask, as it turns out. After all, I’m currently in my twenties and house prices in south-ish England are famously extortionate (you can see my thoughts on the cost of living on a houseboat here).

As dreams and plans change so quickly, it only occurred to me while writing this series that my wishes have moved forward. I’m now looking ahead to people still wanting to read my blog even as I start collecting wrinkles, getting my books published, keeping up a flow of inspiration etc etc.

But, at one time, buying a boat made my dreams come true. And that’s a nice thought.

houseboat stove