Photos by Kata Szabó

The surprisingly cosy comforts of boat life on the Regent’s Canal

Ever wondered what canalboat life is like? Local photographer Kata Szabó spends some time with those who live on the many boats that float along Regent’s Canal.

Whether being able to bask on a bobbing boat on a balmy day on Regents Canal, or reducing the overheads of owning a house, you can’t ignore the allure of living on a canal boat. Seeing a houseboat from the inside, being able to jump on board to feel the gentle, floating sway, and to be able to move your house whenever you want (quite literally) are things that many of us dream of. 

This summer, during long lockdown months, we got a quick insight into this dream – seeing boat-owners’ everyday lives from the inside, and experiencing their unique choice of lifestyle.

Our first stop is Robin, who was making a switchboard for his friend’s boat. He enjoys carpentry and growing his own vegetables, and was kind enough to offer a sample of his edible radish flower (which actually tasted like a radish). 

‘Watering plants is pretty convenient if you live on a boat; just drop your rope and bucket in the water, and try to fight off the duckweed,’ he says.

Robin Working out on deck, living in a houseboat on the Regents Canal in East London.
Robin working on the board of his canal boat

Then we met Ana and Tristan enjoying afternoon tea in their cosy petite home. Their leisure activities involve photography and cooking, and they filled us in on how beneficial it was for them to purchase a boat rather than a flat.

The bookshelf, living in a houseboat on the Regents Canal in East London.
A shelf in the boat

One of the greatest attractions of canal life is being off-grid, but there are still costs and considerations. You’ll need a refillable water tank, boiler, gas bottle for the stove and solar panels provided electricity and battery banks. There is also the questionable pleasure of emptying your cassette for the pump-out toilet. It is also essential to have a license for your houseboat, accompanied by insurance, and mooring costs that vary depending on each marina.

Couple living on a houseboat on the Regent's Canal
Anna and Tristan on their houseboat

Finally, Sebastien’s flora-covered home welcomed us, lovingly named ‘Duffy’. The boat is named after Sebastien’s late beloved friend, who is memorialised in the silhouette of the dog adorning his decor on a rainbow flag.

A houseboat on the Regents Canal covered in potted plants.
Sebastien

His home genuinely reflects his authentic lifestyle as a lover of plants and full-time gardener. Duffy attracts a great audience, besides welcoming the canal’s wildlife with its vibrant colours and bird-feeder.

Gardening in houseboats, living on the Regents Canal in East London.

However, maintaining such a kingdom of plants requires a lot of work and as Sebastien mentions “endless watering”. While walking around the board, he shows his new switchboard (made by Robin), that he thinks fits his vintage interior design a lot more than the old one. ‘You can’t even compare them’,  he adds. 

Navigation enquipment at the wheel of a houseboat on the Regent's Canal

Every two weeks was the average frequency that people moved their boat, but the new location is always hard to predict as it depends on the spaces available at the time.

When we asked Sebastien about the advantages and disadvantages of this lifestyle compared to owning a flat, he said they can be the same. Being able to change your neighbourhood is one of those things.

Once you find a comfy spot, you can also throw some cushions on the top and enjoy some joyful time with a glorious view, like Nicole does with her friends.

Socialising on the rooftop, living in a houseboat on the Regents Canal in East London.

Living on a boat is evidently hard work, but undoubtedly a unique experience that offers many  of the comforts of  home (including gardens) with a splash more freedom.

Robin Fetching water from the canal, living in a houseboat on the Regents Canal in East London.
Collecting water for his plants
Couple on a dinghy on the Regents Canal, covered in pond weed
A couple floating on a dinghy

Now you know what Regent’s Canal is like, check out its 200-year old history.

 


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