Alternative Living: Life on a boat with two kids

“It taught the kids that nature is very real and tangible, not just a concept outside a window or on a screen,” says Simon Bagnall, as he discusses life on a boat with two kids. He managed it for four and a half years…

Simon Bagnall lived on a boat when his daughter, Abi, was 12 and his son, Ru, was eight. He tells us about having a surprising amount of space and it costing more than you might expect.

“At the time I was a gardener employed by the local council. We moved aboard (me full time, the kids a few days per week) when their mother and I split up in 2006. The boat was on a marina berth on the Penryn River, a tidal inlet on the Fal River, Cornwall.

We lived there for about four and a half years, until I entered into a new relationship, then we split our time between my partner’s house and the boat, depending on weather and inclination.

It wasn’t as cheap as you’d imagine. I came out of my marriage with a bit of money from equity in the house, but not enough to get a mortgage and my wages wouldn’t cover rent without me spending my savings too. So I did what I’d done part time when I was in my teens/early 20s – when I was working on commercial fishing boats – and moved afloat.

life on a boat - theearlyhour.com

As I had a ‘proper’ job with tied times, and the kids had to be able to get to school every day, I had to keep the boat on a marina with 24 hour access. The thought of battling tides and gales in the dark in a rowing boat to get ashore on winter mornings didn’t appeal to me.

The moorings cost £4k per year. I had a dongle for internet (£15pcm), electricity (I had a mains hook up – another big advantage of the marina!) was about £10-30 pcm depending on summer or winter. I found my car insurance went up, as they wouldn’t recognise it as owning a house any more.

The boat was big enough to all have our own space 99% of the time. The only thing I missed about a more conventional set up was my open fire and a washing machine

Calor gas was £25 every six weeks. However, the maintenance on a boat with two seven-litre engines and ageing electrics was enormous. Just getting it lifted out the water and put back in was £700. Marine engineers cost £50ph.

Life on a boat 2

The layout was great. At the bow (front) there was a big double bed in a reasonable cabin with a couple of wardrobes; windows around three sides. Behind that was a smaller cabin with a small double on the port/left side.

On the starboard/right side, there was a toilet/wet room. Just behind that was the galley with four gas rings, oven, grill, two sinks, fridge, toaster, kettle.

Behind this and up a couple of steps was the helm area, which was in the saloon/lounge. This had all the controls for the boat, access into the engine room and a settee/table arrangement that seated six or folded down to make another double berth. This also had large windows all around, plus triple patio doors onto the deck.

Living aboard certainly gave my kids and me a different perspective on day-to-day life

It was great having this space in the summer. The options of fishing, swimming, kayaking, feeding ducks etc was amazing. We had seals, swans, gannets, cormorants, kingfishers and shoals of big fish right next to the boat. There was always something interesting going on. You were far more aware of the weather.

There was a strong live-aboard community and we looked out for each other, giving all our kids a lot of freedom to explore and learn new skills. However, in the winter it was unrelentingly damp and chilly. My fault for buying the wrong sort of boat I suppose, but luckily the winter is short in Cornwall.

The boat was big enough to all have our own space 99% of the time. The only thing I missed about a more conventional set up was my open fire and a washing machine.

I lived aboard full time for just under 5 years, and on and off for another 18 months. I now live 100 yards up the road in a very old cottage. If I could live anywhere maybe it would be another boat; if it was the right boat and I had a bigger budget for maintenance!

Living aboard certainly gave my kids and me a different perspective on day-to-day life. Silly things like wasting water became very real when it would actually run out and you had to go and either fill jerry cans or find the hosepipe and get it to the boat tanks.

Things like that always happened at night when it was raining for some reason. It taught the kids that nature is very real and tangible, not just a concept outside a window or on a screen.”

Life on a boat with two kids… could you handle it? Let us know your thoughts in the comment section below…

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