These are just the basics, certainly not definitive - just things to think about
You MUST do your own research - you really cannot do too much!
I'll list a selection of publications / web-sites at the end to help.
Before you start ask yourself:
- Do you want a permanent live-aboard or (summer) holiday boat
- A permanent home really needs suitable systems – which can be more expensive
Budget / cost
- That's obviously your decision.
- Decide what characteristics you need on your barge
- It's a balance between the condition of your chosen boat (and what equipment it has) and the extent to which you want (or can afford) to upgrade it.
- It is useful to be practical yourself as professional help can be very expensive.
- Consider carefully ongoing running and maintenance costs
- Beware though – nothing costs as little as you imagine unless it doesn't work!
- Consider the VAT status of your barge
Size and shape
- There is a huge choice which can be daunting at first from new to 150+ years-old
- size may depend on whether it is to be a live-aboard or holiday boat. Holiday boats may be smaller and less well equipped
- Different regulations apply dependent on your boat's length (TRIWV for example)
- Different regulations also apply to skippers qualifications and communications equipment
- Cruising and mooring on smaller canals (central France for example) can be restrictive for larger boats. Canals can be shallow towards the bank.
- Many ports and marinas have a 15-metre mooring limit
- There are Length, beam, draft and air-draft restrictions
Check carefully to see if your boat can actually go where you want
- Accessibility – some boats are high sided and can be difficult to board
- A collapsible wheel-house lowers air-draft for low bridges
- Do you want to take your barge to sea or tackle big European Rivers (Rhine or Danube for example)
- Some boats have restricted internal headroom so beware. Some tjalks and skutjes for example.
Condition (see 'survey' futher down)
- This is a can of worms - particularly with older boats.
- Check outside in – in other words start with the hull, particularly with older boats
- Inside there are an infinite variety of 'personalised' fit-outs – some upgrades may be needed!
- These range from single cylinder (old) to high-tech modern diesel engines
- Some old ones even have compressed-air start
- Make sure you understand what you're getting
- Engines have one or more alternators to charge various battery banks
- They can also heat water in the calorifier (hot water tank)
- Are there separate diesel tanks for red / white diesel?
Engines must run on white (basically road diesel)
Red diesel can be used for heating or running the generator and is usually much cheaper
- Understand the engine cooling system (Raw water, skin tanks, matrix)
Number of rooms
- Typically - wheelhouse (with dining space or even galley), galley, saloon, bedroom(s), bathroom?
- Do you require guest accommodation?
- For some, particularly smaller boats, one bedroom plus a sofa-bed is fine
- If your boat is for two people, don't necessarily compromise your own space for occasional visitors
- Bigger boats can have multiple bedrooms with en-suites
- Shower / bathroom – do you want separate toilet(s)?
(Barges often have gas cookers - Have the gas system checked out)
- Much of the summer is spent outside. Rear deck area, particularly with direct access from the wheelhouse or easy access to the main cabin roof are real bonuses.
- Adequate side-decks, rear and fore-deck with space to move around safely while locking or manoeuvering. Well-positioned and well-designed bollards are important here too.
- It's essential for live-aboards to have a decent heating system.
- There's a big choice. For example diesel-fired, gas or solid fuel (coal/wood)
- And there's a wide choice within each category
- Pressure-jet (similar to domestic boilers) which are flexible and programmable and can heat radiators and provide hot water
- Drip-fed boilers / natural draught room-heaters which tick away but are less flexible
- Smaller heaters - Mikuni, Eberspacher, Webasto, Hurricane for example
- Solid (multi) fuel of various heat outputs for coal or wood depending on which is available
- Gas boilers / heaters can be expensive to run but can heat water and run radiators
- (Both drip fed diesel or multi-fuel stoves can incorporate a back-boiler which can heat water or run radiators)
- I feel it's good to have 2 sources of heating.
It's useful to have an alternative in case one malfunctions - in our case pressure jet and multi-fuel stove.
- Naturally aspirated heating (particularly multi-fuel stoves) can help minimize condensation
This is a huge topic but.....
- You'll need a system suitable for your requirements.
- You should do an 'energy audit' to discern what you will need.
For example, do you want appliances such as washing machine or microwave. If you do you'll need a good size battery bank and a large inverter.
When the batteries are not charging, every time you turn on a light or any appliance, be it phone charger or hair-dryer, you will need to replace that energy somehow.
The length of time you can go without charging depends on your requirements and the size of your battery bank.
- Basically there is mains voltage and low voltage
Low voltage (12, 24 or 48-volt) comes direct from a battery bank.
Mains voltage (220 – 240) comes from an external mains hook-up, via an inverter from the batteries or from an on-board generator
- (Bigger boats may have 380-volt too for larger applications – though much less common)
- Solar power is increasing in popularity (for battery charging or water heating for example)
- A diesel generator to provide electricity while stationary
- Batteries are the heart of the system so choose the right ones!
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