Looking for a barge?

Looking for a barge?

Below are some of the things you may wish to consider.

(Many of the points may also be considered for narrowboats or other inland waterways craft)

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:

Intended use

  • 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)

Outside space

  • 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

  • Diesel choices include:

  • 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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