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Building Your Own House Boat

By: Thomas Muller - Updated: 19 Sep 2012 | comments*Discuss
Building Your Own House Boat

If the boats on the market fail to tickle your fancy and have your own definite ideas about what you want, then why not take on the challenge of designing and building a boat yourself?

Why Build Your Own House Boat?

Not everyone wants a ready-made boat. For the DIY fanatic there is the option of buying a partly-built narrowboat that can be fitted out and complete yourself. You might chose to do this because of financial restrictions, because you want something more unique and individual or simply because you relish the challenge.

Unconvinced by the standard of the vessels currently available in the sub-£40k bracket of the second hand market, more and more boating enthusiasts are opting to take on the job of creating their own boat. Rather than fork on reworking an old overpriced vessel, they believe it to be more financially sound to start from scratch with a narrowboat shell.

Buying a Boat Shell

Shells are available to buy from specialist boat builders in three different styles –traditional, semi-traditional and cruiser – and in sizes of up to 70 feet in length and 12 feet in width.

At the purchase stage they are far from canal-worthy, comprising of little more than the steel framework. Typically this will be painted in primer, with bearers fitted for the chosen engine. The stern tube, propeller, windows and portholes will also be in place.

Everything else required to get the vessel fully-functioning is left up to you. This means you’re responsible for painting, plumbing, insulating, heating, wiring, fitting the kitchen etc.

Boat shells are also available that are at the ‘sail away’ stage, which means that they already have an engine fitted.

Seeking Assistance

If you are not up to the challenge of fitting the whole boat yourself then there are boat builders that offer shells at more advanced stages of completion. For example, you might buy a shell where jobs like lining the interior in plywood, or fitting the hatch, window and porthole trims, have been completed.

Alternatively you could employ a boat builder to complete the jobs that you have found to be beyond your skills.

Do You Have the Money?

With shells costing anywhere from around £16,000, depending on the size, on first glance it certainly seems like a cheap option, but the costs will soon mount once the all the necessary extras are taken in account.

For this reason it is advisable to first compile a detailed spreadsheet listing everything you would need and the accompanying costs before committing to the project. It also recommended that you add 20% to the total costs to cover incidentals and aspects that might have been overlooked.

Do You Have the Time?

What’s more not only is it a costly endeavour in terms of finance, but in time and effort too. Fitting your own boat is a very time consuming operation that requires unfailing dedication.

One boat enthusiast spent a total of 120 8-hour days building their 60ft narrow boat up from an empty shell. Further time was invested in preparation, such as planning, researching, and buying materials.

Do You Have the Skills?

You don’t need to be boat building specialist to complete the job, but a degree of confidence in your DIY skills and ability to apply yourself to new practical tasks is a must. At the very least you should have some basic experience with woodwork, plumbing, electrics and painting.

Nevertheless it is unrealistic to think that you will not require some help along the way. For instance, the painting stage is long and arduous, requiring the application of several coats, and at the very least, the gas installation should be carried out by a professional because of the great risks involved.

Research and Advice

Opting to live on a boat is itself not a decision to be lightly, never mind one you have to build your self beforehand. It is therefore vital that the project is well-researched beforehand, and not undertaken by anyone with no live aboard experience.

Professional advice is strongly advised before any work is begun. You should speak to, and visit, a number of different boat builders before agreeing to any work. How long will it take to build the boat? Will it be built to the ECU’s Recreational Craft Directive standards?

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Great post, What would be the estimate costs of converting a boat into a houseboat? I.e building a bathroom and a kitchen? And where could I find an expert in the field? Thanks
Lauralop - 19-Sep-12 @ 11:10 PM
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