Living on a Houseboat in London | Top Universities

Living on a Houseboat in London

By Piotr Łuczak

Updated March 5, 2016 Updated March 5, 2016

Facing high accommodation costs in London, one student decided to take control of his own finances by buying a houseboat.

Geology PhD student Jake Simpson explains what motivated his decision, and why he’s now a thorough convert to houseboat life.

After spending several years renting accommodation while studying at London’s Imperial College, Jake was keen to gain more control over his housing situation before committing to an additional three or four years in the city.

“I hate dealing with estate agents,” Jake says, “And I hated the idea that I was spending upwards of £5,000 (US$7,900) on rent every year with nothing to show for it.”

Having worked out that he could buy a houseboat for the same amount he would have spent in rent over about three years, Jake was soon converted to the idea of joining the ranks of those living on London’s canal network.

Indeed, the sense of community shared by those living on the city’s waterways is what he’d most miss about boat life, Jake says. “I've made some really good friends on the canals. Everyone helps each other out, we have parties and dinners – it's really nice.”

Another key benefit is the freedom to move around the city (albeit not very fast), spending time living in ‘swanky’ parts of town that would otherwise be well beyond the reach of most student budgets – and also, on occasion, parking up outside a favorite pub for an evening of merriment.

However, Jake does admit that living on a houseboat can be tough, particularly during the winter when temperatures drop. Unless you can afford a new, state-of-the-art barge, “you have to be pretty hardy”, he says.

In addition, boats can demand a lot of time and attention, which can be tricky if you’re studying a very demanding course. “You have to stay stocked up with fuel and water, which can be easy – but if you don’t manage it then you find yourself not being able to cook, heat up or move,” Jake warns.

Those considering buying a houseboat should also bear in mind that there are likely to be maintenance and repair costs; if you make the wrong purchase, it could turn out to be more costly than simply paying rent.

But, if you seek some expert advice before buying, you’re likely to end up much better off, Jake reckons.

“If I live on my boat for three years and then sell it, I will have probably spent £2,500 (about US$4,000) in maintenance, fuel and licences. If I rented private property for that time, it could cost me ten times that amount.”

It’s certainly not a decision to be taken lightly, and not a lifestyle that would suit everyone. But for those bored with the same old student accommodation choices in the UK, boat life could be the beginning of a lifelong obsession.

This article was originally published in October 2012 . It was last updated in March 2016

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