Boat buying information

Looking for a boat?


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

I put this together for barges really, but many of the points are applicable to other types of boats too.

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!




Basically on-board water is pumped around the boat from water tanks.

An adequate size main water is important (500 litres minimum?)

Types of toilets to consider:

Sea toilet

Electric flush

Cassette toilet (porta-potti type)

Holding tank (needs pumping out periodically)

Macerator (low voltage or mains voltage)

**Is the flush water sourced from on-board tanks or externally**

Pumps, for example - main water supply, shower waste, bilge, deck wash




A well-insulated boat will be more economical heating-wise – and warmer

Condensation can cause literally gallons of water in the bilge

Spray-foam may well be the best (make sure it's fire retardant / self-extinguishing) but it's difficult to install retrospectively

Others types are rock-wool (which is non-flammable) or polystyrene (not recommended)


Layout and level of internal finish


This can vary!

One thing to consider is having easy access to plumbing, electrics or under floor for maintenance for the addition or replacement of components (EG taps, traps or shower drain pump).

Access to parts of the boat (engine room for example) is important

Position of windows / port-holes. Large, low-level are better for light and seeing out.

A walk-round bed?

Double-glazed or single-glazed widows? There's no right or wrong

Opening windows / roof hatches for ventilation




How does the boat handle?

This will depend on factors such as:

Hull shape (including for example draft / shape of swim)

Size of rudder

Keel fins

Lee boards

Engine power

Well-geared steering - which may be hydraulic or chain and wire or tiller

Visibility from steering position


(Only people who don't have them don't like bow-thrusters! But in a cross wind while waiting for a lock or manoeuvring in a tight space they can be very helpful.)

You should have a test drive to see what happens!


Running costs


Fundamentally the bigger the boat, the more it costs. Costs include:

Cruising licence


Mooring fees

Routine mechanical maintenance / servicing including:



Central heating boiler

Sundry equipment (pumps for example - which do go wrong)

Dry-docking (periodically, every 4,5 or 6 years for insurance purposes)

Painting / varnishing

Gas / electric costs (ports and marinas can be expensive)

Fuel consumption


Extra equipment


These bits can add up! For example, does the boat have:


Boarding planks / Ladders

A tender

Spare parts (filters, fan-belts etc)

Emergency tiller

Boat poles

Mooring stakes

Adequate ropes


Safety equipment:

Fire extinguishers / systems

Fire blankets

Smoke, CO, Gas and water alarms

Electronic equipment

VHF Radio

Battery monitor / management systems

Chart plotter


External lights (Navigation lights for example)

The buying process is vitally important


The DBA [Barge Association) is a valuable resource here on such as:


Getting expert advice 

Dealing with brokers / builders

Required Paperwork


The contract

Proof of ownership


The buying process includes:


** A SURVEY **



Make sure you engage a reputable marine surveyor who will check hull, engine, systems, drive train and installations.

It may not be cheap but it could literally save you a fortune.



There is a wide variety of barges, differing in size, shape, style, layout and level of equipment.

There are motorized barges, fixed-berth residential barges and sailing barges.

Some are over 150 years old and they differ depending on country of origin.

You could consider a new-build - either complete or a 'sail-away' which can be built to a stage you suggest and complete yourself.

All the above are just pointers - things to consider. I stress you must do your own research.


Looking for a barge, owning one and cruising is a fascinating journey - enjoy it!


Some choices of where to look for barges for sale:

Apollo Duck

Botentekoop (Netherlands)

Bowcrest Marine

Multiships (Netherlands)

The Dutch Barge Association

Fikkers (Netherlands)

Dovemakelar (Netherlands)

H20 (France)


Fluvial Magazine

You can also Google 'Canal Magazines'


Information resources


Probably the best and most extensive place to seek help is:


The Dutch Barge Association - The DBA. (Membership required but an excellent resource)

You will find Information on:






Country by country information


TRIWV (Technical Requirements for Inland Waterways Vessels)


Links to other organisations


** The DBA produce The Barge Buyers Handbook which is a wonderful publication **

Experts in various fields advertise in the DBA's Blue Flag Magazine


Nigel Calder - Boat Owners Handbook

Alastair Garrod - 'Electrics Afloat'

Boating magazines

Graham Booth - The Narrowboat Builders Book

These are just examples – there are many alternatives


I stress again - Do your own research. Good luck!