Reflections of an Ancient Boater Living a low polluting life (hopefully)

Published: Friday, 07 August 2020

VARIOUS people and organisations, for reasons best known to themselves, have attempted to label boaters with the 'polluters' and 'wildlife unfriendly' tags.

I would dispute both of these labels—read on, writes Ralph Freeman.


It was suggested each boater annually dumps two litres of diesel/oil from their bilges into the Cut.  Well, I debunked that claim in an article in narrowboatworld a few months back pointing out that would lead to marinas being permanently covered in an oil slick!

The majority of boaters I know are very careful about what ends up in the Cut (or elsewhere for that matter).  For example 'Blue' contains Formaldehyde which is the chemical used by places like the Natural History Museum to preserve animal brains and the like.  That's because it kills most bacteria.  Water companies hate it as it kills the useful bacteria in their filter beds at treatment plants.  Bleach is also on my prohibited list and I try to use water based paints to avoid having to use spirit based brush cleaner too. It's not hard really if you use a little common sense.

Anyway if boaters are polluters as claimed, can anyone please explain why there is more wildlife in Barton Marina, with it's 300 boats, than the nearby (boat less) Branston Water Park?

Green credentials

I have to admit I'm a bit of a tree hugger and if I had not retired to the Cut 17 years ago I would have liked to have bought some woodland and tended that instead.  I'm not as 'green' as some liveaboards though who run 12v ultra low energy boats and re-cycle fallen trees for fuel on their wood-burners.  My energy consumption is pretty low nevertheless.

There is a common belief that if you live a 'low energy' lifestyle then you live in some sort of Stone Age equivalent. That is nonsense.  I have sophisticated electronics aboard my boat and can monitor the interior temperatures, battery voltages and the like from anywhere via my mobile phone. LED lights are a boon for energy saving too, such that my boat runs happily taking just 80W to 120W (0.5 amp max) from a shoreline and even less when cruising.  I monitor the shoreline input too so that figure is not a guess. A £10 top up lasts me approx 30 days or more, depending on the amount of sunshine we get as on sunny days the boat is self sufficient electricity wise via the solar panels.

Other energy inputs

The Mikuni boiler uses approx 1.5 litres of diesel a day for hot water; smokeless fuel for the stove amounts to approx 25Kg a week in the coldest of winters and I use about 3 x 13Kg Calor gas cylinders a year for cooking.

If I were having a new boat built I think I would have a heat pump installed to replace the Mikuni boiler.  With global warming, pumping heat out of the Cut would be doing the fish and other canal critters a favour I reckon?


So that's about it energy wise.  Not a lot as they say and much less then many at CaRT Ivory Towers, I would suggest, who seem to have a thing about continuous cruisers and liveaboards in general.  It would be interesting to compare my (or your) 'carbon footprint' with theirs!

As Spike Milligan said "Everyone has got to be somewhere."  Given the current situation I feel much safer on my narrowboat than I would ashore, especially if consigned to a care home!  I'm counting my blessings (and surviving) at this point in time.