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Student Accommodation

Meet the students living on a house boat in London

Ever wondered what it's like to live on a houseboat? We met two London students who did just that to find out what life on a boat is really like, as well as how much it costs.

students living on a houseboat in London

When it comes to student accommodation, halls are generally the first port of call for most. But even those can be fairly pricey, especially in London.

If you don't have parents that already live in the Big Smoke, or a well-paid London student job, student life in the city can seem virtually impossible.

This is why physics students Mantas Pastolis and Jakub Zálešák ditched communal bathrooms and kitchens to start living on the Thames.

The pair found their beloved boat, Gina, on eBay, and moved there in September 2018. It's the first time that either of them had tried living on a boat, but they decided to throw themselves into the deep end for their third and final year at University College London.

We met them in 2019 to find out if it really was possible to live on a houseboat at uni and how much money they were saving by opting for alternative student accommodation.

Living on a houseboat would be a pretty great thing to cross off a bucket list at uni...

What is it like living on a houseboat?

student by a houseboat in London
Both Mantas and Jakub had always dreamed of living on a houseboat. Following the move, Jakub was enjoying London life a lot more than he had when he lived on land.

When I first came to London, I really didn't like it. I'm from a small town in the Czech Republic so I found London too big. But I was walking down the Camden canals past the boats and thought: I really want to do this!

Jakub and Mantas said that one of their favourite things about living on a houseboat was the tight-knit community it comes with. The pair made friends pretty much everywhere they were moored, and they even got their hair cut at a boat hairdresser.

Boat parties were also major highlights of sea-living, according to Jakub.

We once had a party with 15 people on board. We invited a friend who also lives on a boat but he had moved on to Hackney, so we decided last minute to sail to him!

And, when we chatted with them, they said they'd sailed around 240 miles since picking the boat up from Swindon.

However, for a while, they had been living without a central heating system, which Mantas said he struggled to cope with.

The cold was hard. As soon as you got in, you had to start cooking or making tea to heat the boat up and you had to fall asleep within five minutes after eating to not feel the cold at night!

He said that remembering not to drop things into the river had also been challenging at times.

Jakub has fallen in the canal twice...

Once I was doing the washing up and went to empty the water into the river. It didn't feel very heavy, but when I threw it out all of our cutlery went flying with it!

As there was no shower on the boat, the boys washed at uni and did laundry at their friends' houses or at the laundrette. But neither of them felt that the change of lifestyle had affected their grades.

In terms of my academic performance, it hasn't really affected me. At the beginning, it was a bit tough, but I saw it more as a personal challenge. It's become a lot easier since we've had the plumbing and electrics sorted.

Is living on a houseboat in London safe? According to Jakub, they hadn't experienced safety issues:

We haven't had any problems with security so far. Once we had a piece of plywood that was attached to our roof stolen. But they were actually doing us a favour because we didn't have any space for it on the boat!

Worried about safety at home? Do these things to protect your house from burglars – and get good student insurance just in case the worst-case scenario does occur.

How much does it cost to live on a houseboat?

kitchen area in a houseboat
Paying for everything upfront is not a cheap affair. If you are thinking about renting or buying a boat to live on, you will need to have a good sum saved up to buy your boat and undertake any repairs.

We paid for the boat out of our savings. You can expect to pay between £8,000 and £10,000 for a smaller GRP (fibreglass) cruiser boat like ours. Then you have to have a cushion of about £1,000 in case something goes wrong. We needed it for heating, but you might run into problems with the engine.

However, once you compare that to the cost of average rent in London, the figures make a lot more sense.

According to our National Student Accommodation Survey, the average weekly London rent is £185 per person, which comes to just over £1,600 per month for two people – between a fifth and a sixth of what Mantas and Jakub paid for their boat.

Mooring costs in London

houseboat in London

You will need a mooring licence to be able to live on a houseboat in London, of which there are two kinds: short-stay and long-term. Both vary in price and depend on the length of your boat, as well as the duration of your stay.

Mantas and Jakub had a short-stay mooring licence which, based on the length of their boat (27 feet), came in at £550 and was provided by the Canal and River Trust. Only having a short-stay mooring licence meant that they had to move their boat two miles upstream every two weeks.

Long-stay mooring licences vary from site to site as some locations are more desirable than others. These are provided by marinas and private boat clubs and allow the owner to stay in one location over a set period of time.

We made a table to round up Mantas and Jakub's spending at the time of our interview (excluding the purchase of the actual boat).

It's worth bearing in mind that they really had stripped back to the bare essentials, so if you are attached to your creature comforts you might well ending up shelling out a bit more.

When we bought the boat the seller said you won't need a fridge and we thought he was crazy. But actually we don't. If you do want to keep something cool, you can just keep it in an air-tight box outside.

Houseboat living costs

Type of expense
Cost*
Wood-burning stove
£800 – £1,000
Fuel
£50 for 140 miles
Wood
£300 for one winter
Kindling
£15 per month
Gas
£20 per month
Water
Free
Mooring licence
£550 per year
Laundry
£12 per month
Insurance
£80 – £300 per year

The costs were given to us by Mantas Pastolis and Jakub Zálešák in 2019.

If the cost of a fibreglass boat is outside your means, take a look at this student who lived on a yacht worth just a couple of months' rent.

Advice for living on a houseboat

Students in a houseboat

First of all, Jakub said, do your research.

eBay and Apollo Duck are both good places to start looking for a boat to buy.

When viewing a boat, make sure you know exactly how good/poor its condition is and how much work you'd have to do on it, like fitting central heating or wiring electricity.

I would say to anyone thinking about living on a boat: do your research first. Find out how much it's going to cost and be careful to not buy a boat with an old engine!

If your houseboat has a fairly rudimentary bathroom situation, ration your use of the toilet and be prepared to cut down on showers. Be prepared to run out of water, fuel and basically take your adventures as they come.

And if you've got a short-stay mooring licence, you'll have to get used to moving around regularly.

It's a complete change of lifestyle and it's not for everyone. Living on a boat is like having a part-time job. At the beginning, it was like a full-time job because of the repairs we had to do.

What about personal space? Well, if you do decide you want to move to a boat with a friend or partner, make sure your living habits are compatible, said Jakub.

I was really worried about the personal space thing but actually it's been fine. Living on a boat is definitely a make or break of any friendship or relationship!

Wondering whether you'd be able to hack living with your best mate? Check out the reasons why you should (and shouldn't) live with friends.

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