A Green way of life?

Published: Thursday, 18 February 2016

THERE appears to be an antipathy towards liveaboard boaters in some quarters, the IWA in particular springs to mind, writes Ralph Freeman.

I can't recall anyone referring to living aboard as a 'green' way of life with a tiny carbon footprint, of late? The low energy requirements of a liveaboard have been enhanced in recent years due to availability of low energy LED lighting for the dark winter days and solar panels to charge batteries effectively during the lighter months.

Energy sources

The sources of energy on my boat are smokeless fuel for the stove, diesel for propulsion and heating, plus a couple of (I'd like more) solar panels . The energy requirements vary considerably from winter to summer as might be expected. For instance on a warm sunny summer's day when moored out in the sticks, the solar panels charge the batteries so the net input to the boat is zero (barring sunlight)! That being the case the figures I will quote from here on will be for a cold winter's day/week which I hope you will find interesting?

Heat loss

The heat loss from the boat on a winter's day depends, of course, on the outside temperature, but many will not realize the direction and strength of the wind has just as large, if not larger, an effect. This is due to the airflow the wind generates through the various vents and also the chilling effect on the steel superstructure.

The cabin surface area is quite large on a narrowboat as anyone who has had to navigate on a windy day will confirm! However, as a rule of thumb here are some typical figures for an average winter day/week.

Smokeless fuel.

Most liveaboards run their stoves 24/7 during the winter months. The good thing about this is, if tended properly, most stoves will stay lit for 12 hours unattended and ensure a warm boat to get up to in the morning. Nice! My usage is typically one 25Kg bag of smokeless per week when used continuously.


I have the central heating/boiler on a time clock so it comes on for an hour in the morning to give me a tankful of hot water. I think the Mikuni uses around 1.5 litres of diesel/hour. Of course if I'm moving the boat that day the boiler is not required!

If I move the boat or run the engine for say two hours a day to charge the batteries/heat the water, that consumes in the region of 3 litres of diesel and represents the amount I use to estimate when diesel tank top-ups are required. Something like once a month seems about right as I like to keep plenty in the tank as a method of reducing condensation and a reserve for bad weather.


My daily 'carbon footprint' consists therefore of around 3 litres of diesel and 4Kg of smokeless fuel during the winter months, reducing to practically zero in the summer. Even when a shore-line is available it's rare for my electricity consumption to exceed 1KWh/day and then the diesel usage falls to around 1.5 litres for hot water via the boiler. I imagine some boaters use more energy and many(?), less as I know a good number reclaim wood from fallen trees etc for their stoves. No matter. I suspect the energy usage for a liveaboard boat is a very small proportion of that of a home owner with two vehicles! So why do CaRT never seem to mention the 'green credentials' of the liveaboard boaters on the Cut?