I’m Stumped Help! – The Great Narrow Boat Smoke Debate

So I read something today which had me going hmmmm, and honestly I’m not sure where I stand on all of this. So where better to talk it out than here!


Whilst very very busy at work, I stumbled across a delightful article on the problems Cambridge is currently experiencing with narrow boats.

Canal boat owners are turning the waterways of Cambridge into a “Shanghai industrial wharf” because of the smoke created by their wood-burning stoves, according to locals.

You can read the full article here if you like, but in short the house dwellers of Cambridge are not happy with the boat dwellers of Cambridge.

The council’s moorings policy says that permit holders “must not create nuisance by smoke” but many are thought to flout the rules by using cheap coal or logs and sticks foraged from nearby woods.

I’ve visited Cambridge and I’m not sure I recall the forage rich woods they speak of, but I can’t be sure, maybe I couldn’t see them through the billowing narrow boat stove smoke. Likewise I have to question what this cheap coal they speak of is? And where they are getting it from!

So why am I struggling with this so much? Well on the one hand I’m a rule lover, a big believer in following them, and a big worrier should I accidentally not. We only use smokeless coals, and kindling which seem to give off little to no smoke. (I get it the clues in the name)

On the other hand I struggle to see the choice that boaters have, the article here seems to suggest they should go entirely smoke/stove free, which honestly I don’t see to be realistic. There have been times when we have been hooked up to off shore power, and we still can’t run the kettle at the same time as any other appliance, and without a stove we would have nowhere to fulfill a Brits right to a solid cuppa! Never mind when we are running off our battery power alone.


Whilst I appreciate that the smoke from a Narrowboat stove falls at a much lower height than that of a house, I struggle to see how there can be no magnifying glass on what a house dweller burns, especially when a good majority of these house stoves/open firplaces are a mere matter of cosmetics. Particularly as this article claims that the smoke from these stoves is highly toxic and responsible for all Polar Bear deaths for the last 10 years (May of made half of this up, decide which half for yourselves).

Whilst rules are rules and I think the boaty folk should adhere to these and only burn smokeless options, is calling for an entire ban on stoves really appropriate?

I can’t help but feel this is more an issue of social perception than indeed facts. House dwellers viewing boat dwellers as rule breaking and not fairly contributing to society, and boat dwellers seeing the house dwellers as upperty and self-righteous? Honestly in my opinion you’re just as welcome to purchasing a boat as we are, but please abide by the smokeless coals rule.

I don’t want to become political or to take a side here, as I say the article really had me going hmph! My current feelings are more towards this being a social perception issue, but rules are rules. I’m off to ponder this in greater depth, probably over a bottle or two of something fizzy, in front of a smokelessly burning fire!

Interested to hear your thoughts.

James and Kirsty

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