Are Narrowboats Eco-Friendly?

I’m by no means an eco-warrior, but I do try wherever I can to make environmentally conscious decisions, but as boat dwellers do we have more of a responsibility to consider the impact we make on the environment. I think about it a lot and put a lot of a thought into it before the move aboard. You often look out of your window to a giant carp basking at the top of the cut, or ducklings bobbing up stream, the natural world is constantly smacking you in the face making it hard to ignore the impact you could have.

As shocking and moving as the images David Attenborough beamed onto our tv sets with blue planet were, we are still relatively far removed from those images, so whilst great changes have been made we are still so far removed from the impacts of this in our daily life. You can open up your side hatch on a weekly basis and see a plethora of items bobbing down the cut.

The thing I was most conscious of was grey water, so to all the none boaters out there our grey water, such as the water from your kitchen sink, shower or bath will go directly out of the boat and into the cut, straight into the eco-system. Granted it is a big draw for a lot of the marine life, with ducks and fish feeding of the crumbs of food washed down the sink. That doesn’t worry me too much, and with a lot of our vegetable peelings and the like I will pop these over the side for the fish and ducks to nibble away. (We accidentally lost a beef joint to the cut as well but that’s another story). What worries me is the chemicals which go along with this. Take a look at the back of half of your cleaning and washing products and they will have that awful hazard symbol on the label. It is thankfully getting easier to make more conscious choices; washing-up liquids and household cleaners are now widely available with minimal environmental impact. Shampoos and shower-gels/soaps are more difficult, but it is improving.

I appreciate that I may be coming across as over the top here, and what difference can it make if everyone isn’t doing the same. But I do find myself passionate about it, you only have to spend one day travelling the cut to see all the wonderful life you come across, surviving and thriving on and around the canal system. So, whilst it may seem a silly notion if I can know that I am doing as much as within my power to live alongside them with minimal impact, well it’s a job well done in my opinion.

One of the biggest struggles is with refuse recycling, on the waterways I’ve found you’re lucky if you come across a refuse point which isn’t either locked or over-spilling, never mind one which gives you the option to recycle. I try wherever I can to make this possible, you can often find locally glass or plastic collection points, I keep these items washed and in boxes and then will stop off weekly to drop these at the local bottle/plastic banks. It can be difficult with boat life, space is tight and using that up for several different bins isn’t necessarily practical, I’ve found the stacking boxes in the cratch have been the easiest and most space efficient way to do this.

With our paper and card, in winter at least we use this for fire lighting, whilst I appreciate might not be the most environmentally friendly option, it does give these a secondary use. We’ve struggled to find any drop off points for small scale paper and card recycling which are convenient for use.

It’s a small and simple thing but it really does make me feel better about life aboard and the impact we make around us, whilst it may only be a drop in the canal network, it’s a drop all the same. I feel like where we can we should do what we can to sustain what sustains us. The changes we’ve made have very little impact on us, on average the cleaning solutions cost us 50p more than a standard solution, the biggest inconvenience is in finding them, although more and more stores are starting to stock this type of product.

I’d be so interested to hear if this is something which boaters across the board consider, or what little things you do to help the world around you.

James & Kirsty

A diary of live aboard life

4 thoughts on “Are Narrowboats Eco-Friendly?

  1. Hi, James and Kirsty
    I was very interested to read your piece, and thank you for writing it. We don’t live aboard, but we have a narrowboat that we have decided, this week to trade up for a new one, built to our specification.
    I do all the things that you suggest, but si would like to go one step further with our new boat, especially in light of Theresa May’s announcement this week.
    I’m wondering if you have any ideas for our boat being eco friendly. I’m already trying to persuade my husband to have a hybrid engine (expensive) and not to get a Reflecks heater. We already have a solar panel, and intend to put these on the new boat.
    I would be very grateful for any suggestions.
    Thank you
    Shirley Jolley


    1. Hi Shirley,

      Thank you for taking the time to read our blog and I’m glad you enjoyed it! It sounds like you are taking some great steps towards living an Eco-Friendly lifestyle.

      You seem to already be covering all the big things! I’m trying to focus more on the smaller things now. Something I’m particularly conscious of is Water Resources and trying to use as little as possible. I’d love to change to a composting toilet, but this is unlikely to be practical for a little while yet. At my stables all the water I use is harvested rain water and I wish we could do something similar on the boat, but I’m yet to think up a workable solution to this.

      I can only really offer advice on the smaller things. I’m very conscious of the products we use for cleaning, as once we run a tap any chemicals are released straight into the eco-system we live around. If you’re looking to move aboard then finding a usable refuse point is a miracle, never mind an option to recycle, because of this I keep large storage boxes with recycling separated and take to local recycling points every two weeks or so, perhaps a better way of storing these would be a good idea!

      We also try to recycle things as much as we can ourselves, the water from our dehumidifier is used for cleaning, in winter any waste cardboard is used to light the fire. It sounds simple but it all makes a difference.

      Solar panels are brilliant and it is amazing how much they power for us. Good luck with building your dream boat and sorry I couldn’t be of more help.



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