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Owning a Boat

This article gives information and advice on practical considerations for anyone considering buying a boat to moor on the river.

I used to live in Henley-on-Thames. The clue is in the name of the town – it is located on the river. All along the riverside are moored various small pleasure boats, typically between 20 and 30 feet in length. Soon after I moved to the town I decided that I wanted a boat also. I soon found out that no qualification is required nor is there any test to be passed. So all I had to do was go and buy one. My home was located only a five minute walk from where I wanted to moor the boat. It was going to be fantastic.

Buying a Boat

Finding a boat to purchase was not difficult. There are plenty of these craft available, and the prices are not prohibitive. Obviously it depends on exactly what you are after, and it is certainly possible to spend an awful lot of money, but for what I was looking for (a second hand small to medium sized river boat) the prices are not excessive. It is certainly possible to purchase such a boat, complete with engine, in the £5000 to £10000 range.

I found a suitable boat for sale at a boatyard in Windsor, some 30 miles downstream from Henley. This was partly chosen because I knew it would be easy enough over the course of a weekend to sail it back to Henley. You may be thinking that 30 miles should be achievable in 1 day, but there are 7 or 8 locks to negotiate along this route, and these take some time to get through.

Here is my first piece of advice. When purchasing a second hand boat it is a good idea to have a boat survey carried out. This is likely to show up a number of small problems (in my case there was a missing fire extinguisher, and a problem with some of the rubber seals in the cabin windows). You can use the content of the survey as a bargaining tool to get the price reduced, or you can do what I did and simply insist that all the issues in the survey are corrected prior to purchase.

You may also find that the boatyard tries to charge you for the cost of the survey itself, as well as charging for lifting the boat out of the water, and back in again afterwards, so the survey can be carried out. These costs are not inconsiderable, and amount to several hundred pounds. Do not let them get away with this. I made it clear at the outset that I was not prepared to shoulder these costs irrespective of whether or not I ended up proceeding with the purchase. This was eventually accepted.

However, I did make a mistake in my purchase which you may be able to avoid. I bought the boat in January, in good time for the start of the season. However I had no intention of collecting it before April. After the deal had been done, the boatyard then presented me with a bill for storage fees for the period from Jan to April, I think it was about £250. I had not thought about this at all, and would certainly have negotiated for these fees to be included in the purchase price. But as it was I had to stump up the cash.

Mooring and Storage

This is where I got really, really lucky. It was only after buying the boat that I phoned up the council to ask about a mooring. I was told there was a mooring available and was signed up.

However, my advice to you is definitely to secure your mooring before thinking about a purchase. Although I got lucky, I happen to know that the waiting list for these council moorings is now around 3 years! There are other, private, moorings available in Henley and I expect I would have been able to obtain one of these, but at significantly greater cost – in fact I know the cost of these private moorings to be approximately double the price of the council moorings.

The cost of the council mooring is £3.50 per foot per month as of Jan 2014. Be aware that moorings are charged by the foot accordingly to the length of your boat. For the council moorings there are a certain number of mooring slots, each suitable for a boat up to 30 feet in length. However, the amount you pay is dictated by the length of your boat. So even though you are taking up a whole slot, if your boat is 20 feet in length you will pay less than the boat in the next slot which is 30 foot long.

My plan was to have the mooring from April to October, and over winter the boat would be stored in the boatyard which is located just across the river from the moorings. I informed the council that this was my plan and was told this was fine, I could have the mooring for April to October and then again starting in April the following year.

In September I discovered the next mistake I had made. It was only then that I contacted the boatyard about winter storage. It turned out the boatyard was already fully booked for Winter storage. After much pleading, they eventually agreed they could squeeze my boat in.

Winter storage is also charged per foot – currently £40 per foot for the winter period but you also have to pay for the boat to be hauled out of the water and again to be put back in. This is £7.50 per foot each way. Oh yes, and there is VAT at 20% to pay on these figures. So in fact the overwintering costs for Oct to Apr are somewhat greater than the mooring costs from Apr to October. Nonetheless I decided in the first year that this was what I was going to do.

In March the following year I contacted the council again to reconfirm my mooring for April and I was informed that there were no moorings available and there was now a waiting list! Exasperated, I mentioned the conversation I had had with the lady at the council offices the previous Autumn. It transpired that she had since left the council, and the statements she made about being able retake the mooring in April were subject to availability.

However, since this had not been made clear to me, and after several emails and visits to the council offices, they eventually took pity on me and bumped me up the list, so I was able to get a mooring. But if course it was now very clear to me that to retain the mooring I would need to pay for it 12 months a year.

At this point I took the decision not to overwinter the boat in the boatyard in future years. It simply did not make economic sense to pay the 12 months mooring fess and overwintering fees for my second hand boat of modest value. The insurance would in any case cover any damage caused, and the money saved over 2 winters would pay for a brand new outboard motor.

Cleaning

Most GRP constructed boats are white – the hull, the deck, the cabin, everything. But it is rare to see one that is anything other than gleaming white and clean. I had never given the prospect of having to clean the hull and deck a second thought, but as it turns out regular cleaning is needed.

Special preparations are available which coat the surface and help to an extent, but you will still need to do a lot of cleaning (and it is hard work) or you will end up with a boat looking like mine did after 1 season. Grubby. You will also discover that if any significant amount of dirt is allowed to accumulate it is the devil’s own job to get if off again.

The problem is exacerbated by leaving the boat in the water over winter. This is the time when the boat is most likely to get dirty and also the time when you are least likely to do anything about it. This has certainly taught me one lesson – if I ever get another boat it will NOT have a white hull and preferably not a white deck either. A nice dark blue would be much more suitable. Why is it you don’t see more boats in dark colours for this reason?

On the subject of cleaning I should also mention here about anti-fouling. Conventional wisdom has it that your boat should be lifted from the water every 3 or 4 years and the underside of the hull thoroughly cleaned. Obviously it is the usual story

  • Lift the boat out of the water at £7.50 per foot
  • Perform the anti-fouling at £Arm+Leg per foot
  • Return the boat to the water at £7.50 per foot
  • All plus VAT (20%)

I have to say that in 8 years of ownership of my boat I never once got this done. I was not trying to race the thing, and since I cannot see what the underside looks like why should it bother me?

Using the Boat

How much use will you get out of owning a boat? In my case the answer was much less than I expected. Our daughter was born shortly after we took ownership of the boat and obviously she took up a large amount of our time. Although I had visions of us spending lazy days on the water at weekends, this really did not happen. Certainly we had plenty of 2 to 3 hour outings but the demands of having a young child with you is always a limiting factor.

I was able to use the boat (on my own) after work on fine Summer’s evenings and this really was exceptionally pleasant. The river in the evening is an extremely relaxing place, even more so than during the day. Very few boats are about … maybe the odd rower … peace … tranquillity.

When I first bought the boat my brother commented that he thought I would get fed up of covering the same ground time and time again. On a river, unless you are planning a longer trip, you have the choice of travelling 2 or 3 miles upstream or downstream. And that’s it. Well, I have to say that in all the time that I owned the boat I never, ever, got bored with either the upstream or the downstream. It probably helps that Henley is located on a particularly beautiful stretch of the river. Although you are well aware of what is just around the corner it doesn’t matter because the view is always changing and this means it is not boring.

Other Costs

You will have got the picture by now that owning a boat is an expensive business. Here are some other things that will cost you money that I have not mentioned up till now.

  • Engine servicing. I had a simple 2 stroke outboard engine on my boat. It was quite reliable but tended to smoke a lot when it needed a service. Service was needed every couple of years. £100.
  • Boat Safety Certificate. A legal requirement. It is a bit like an MOT for boats. This has to be done every 4 years and thankfully only costs about £50.
  • River License. This is the equivalent of your tax disk for your car. You get a rectangular (instead of circular) document to display in the cabin window of your boat. Like everything else with boats it is charged per foot of boat. Current rate is about £10 per foot for the year on the Thames.
  • Insurance. There is no such thing as Third Party insurance. All insurance policies are fully comprehensive. Thankfully, the rates are reasonable. I was paying around £150 a year.
  • Fuel. The amount of fuel you will use depends on the size and weight of your boat, and its weight. My boat was quite light and had an outboard motor. A 25 litre tank of unleaded petrol would power it for a whole days boating.
  • Battery. This will need replacing every few years, and is also likely to go flat in the winter so you may need a battery charger.
  • General Maintenance. Small things go wrong/break. Ropes wear out. A window might need replacing. It is good if you are sufficiently handy at DIY (or have a good friend that is) to sort minor maintenance problems yourself. If you can’t it is likely to get expensive.

Conclusions

Owning a boat is an expensive business, with costs similar to that of running a family car. You may also find, as I did, that you do not end up getting as much use out it as you might have expected. There is also a lot of hassle in ensuring all the required maintenance and documentation exercises are carried out.

Having said that, on a nice Summer’s day, there is nothing better than going out on your boat. But I have to conclude that from an economic and convenience perspective it is just not worth it. You would be better advised to hire a boat as and when you want to use it.

I sold my boat when I moved away from Henley. I now live on the South coast very near the river Stour which leads into Christchurch harbour and then the Solent. There is a fantastic walk that I often do (Hengistbury Head Walk) which includes the river Stour and Christchurch harbour. There are boats moored all along the river which I always look at enviously. Of course, this being a coastal location there are all types of boats including sailing yachts. In my youth I did an awful lot of dinghy sailing and the appeal of yacht sailing is definitely there for me.

I know I should be sensible and take my own advice. Buying a boat is expensive and not cost effective. I should perhaps hire a boat from time to time. But hiring a boat is also hassle, and when I look at all the moored boats I know that I really, really want one.

And let’s face facts. I am probably going to end up buying one. But it won’t be white…

Recreation | Hobbies | Sailing


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