How to Survive- Best Boat Kitchen Interior Hustles

Canal boat Interiors can get messy.

Follow your heart, but take your brain with you.

brown wooden dining table
Photo by Wendelin Jacober on

What Boat Interior Hustles do you need to know before you begin a re-build?

Small Boat Interiors- The Reality!

A narrowboat interior re-jig is like climbing Everest. Narrowboats are… yep, you got it- Narrow! Be advised then, about boat renovations- if you are excited talking partners when you move onto a liveaboard, you won’t be on speaking terms when you leave, without you can quickly turn your accommodation around, making a liveable space for all.

Stew bubbling atop a woodburning stove and the gentle aroma of dumplings amongst woodsmoke is the nice part of off-grid barge life. But Winter is challenging when you’ll be inside more than out. The fire feels like a never-ending chore by February, as ash and coal dust coats every cupboard, cup, and dish… and as you have a cough, perhaps your lungs too.

How to Do Up a Boat While Living Aboard?

Unless you have to, Don’t! You’re doing your kitchen up while cooking on two hobs and buttering bread on your only accessible worktop space- a breadboard and a sink drainer. “DINNER IS SERVED!”, you slam a plate in a hand. Seriously, you’re gonna lose it at times!

Showering is no picnic in the tiny bathroom either, the wardrobe- I wish, I wish, I wish… but in the temporary kitchen, you’re the undexterous artless of one of those spinning plates on a stick balancing acts you might enjoy in a circus.

Boat Interior Kitchens & Piss Poor Planning

A game plan for a boat builder’s help is not a bad idea. Although if you haven’t lived aboard, you’ll be clueless. The blueprint will be flawed- sorry to say. It might look fabulous, but the design won’t be practical, and on reflection, you’ll regret not knowing your needs.

But a plan is better than no idea. Consider your floating home’s layout and essential requirements. What will you change first? Put the practical before the decor. Draw sketches. Collect ideas. Pinterest helps pin creative splurges. A vision to hold on to will help you keep going through the tough times.

Tiny Lived-In Spaces- Build Organically.

Organic vegetables, you’ve heard of. However, ‘Organic Builds’? Yes, this sounds like a flawed design idea, but, if already living on your boat, this is the only way to go. Be ready to scrap that concrete plan- yep, toss that dream in the bin with the peel, ‘cos boats don’t bend like Beckham’s balls.

Squeezed into a tiny cabin, with your kitchen in your lounge, the time has come to pull out the irritating old cooker that didn’t cook. The repugnant cupboards and ill-matching worktop are going.

Hoist all into the clunker (a hatchback at least, you hope!), as close by as you can park to the waterway, and off to the tip with them. If you have the storage you might keep the basic kitchen units as they’re often reusable and save much dough for niche design features.

Boat Interior Renovation- where to start?

Attack the walls, one side first, prizing the wooden boards off to investigate the damp, dark cavities beneath. Pile good wood somewhere dry- timbre costs lots too. Consider the gas pipes and emergency stop taps, the electric wiring, and the drainage. Then re-consider. Fix it. Now break it. And move it again!

Imperial? “Never seen one like that before”.

I silent talk, “Do you think this is an empire or the minty kind?”
Old imperial pipes on boats- “What measurement’s that?”- the perplexed young plumber’s merchant contorts, twists, and frowns, tapping fingers on the counter to think through the odd fit. I feel ancient! New copper pipe sizes don’t match old ones. Replacing them, (like the wife?), we discover, is the only way forward.

Bunches of dead wires to nowhere. Pulling and stripping their browns, blues, yellows, and reds, a pile of dead wires lays tangled at my feet. I’m tearing my hair out too!

I climb between the mayhem, then over the tool kits, the heaviest is perched on the bin, to manoeuvre to a carton of cold juice in the fridge- now warming. The boat sways gently, I almost lose my balance and my pomegranate drink. The gas is off. The lights are down, but the sun is shining, so that’s ok.

Why Insulating a Boat Interior is the Most Significant Upgrade You Will Do!

Behind those old boards is your insulation, you hope! Gaps won’t do. Polystyrene pieces?- not great either! The welding of steel plating to our hull has left a neat dense line of bare metal and melted packing, the length of our vessel.

The steel reinforcing struts lay bare too, and have channelled water to the floor. Exposed steel, forms condensation which drips constantly throughout the cold winter months. Every nail head oozes a drop of water.

Insulating Begins

The warmer months allow the walls to truly dry. We are keen to get going though; a towel rub, an inspection, decent boards are re-placed, and 1cm holes are drilled. The boards need some reinforcement to stop the insulation bulging them outwards.

Spray foam insulation (the fire retardant kind), is sprayed into the many holes until you can see it bulging out the top of the walls. Like soft, sticky beer it froths now, but sets hard in a few hours, and smells like an aerosol fly killer. Supposedly poisonous, the best advice is to keep the windows open when working.

Why not sleep somewhere else for a few nights? On our return, the excess bleed out of every orifice, now hardened, can be chopped off with a knife. One side of our galley is dry, waterproof, warm, and complete!

Building a Kitchen on our Tiny Boat- step by step

The steps are unique, adding character to a narrowboat, but hinging them to lift and hold to the ceiling is a great way to gain access to pipework, and in our case- a calorifier, and the rubbish bin.

Too wide, they are removed. Then pulled apart, and re-hashed a little narrower. Later I’ll sand them and paint them- they’ll be a creative small project for me, and a prominent feature.

Worktops & The Wizard of Wizz!

Boat Interiors- ‘The bathroom wall is now in the way!’ Photo © by Jane Firth.

The worktop, heaved and slid through the tiny hatch, is placed atop the base units- a monster- and as heavy as a cow. Real wood is beautiful, and adds warmth, but is expensive. Matched with white cupboards- they look smart and add a feeling of space.

The length of the plank wanted means the bathroom wall is now in the way! The panel has to come down, but we can’t expose the loo. A curtaining it off is a suggestion dismissed- I didn’t hear that! The thought of sitting on the throne behind a shower drape in the midst of company- haunts my mind.

Getting Organic in the Kitchen!

We moved our kitchen location from centre to stern, the idea- an open plan, light and spacious looking boat. Knowing the layout of the worktop, units, and the key components- sink and cooker, is a must before placing gas stop-tap and drainage. The worktop and cupboards are placed and removed several times.

I’m amidst a muddle of saws and screwdrivers and things I don’t know the names of, boxes, drawers, steps, food jars, lean too’s of wood, sweat, and swear words.

Now the basin outlet requires a hole drilling through several millimetres of steel. A shiny new drill-bit set later, costs are rising, and with a warning to ‘go slow and keep it cool’. We’re almost ready to place the brass thingy in the void, that stops the canal water coming in but lets the dishwater out.

Oh… For a Bath Full of Bubbles!

Boat Interiors- ‘The shower is dismantled.’ Photo © by Jane Firth.

The shower is dismantled. I guess family generosity and the canal douche will have to do. I hanker for a tiny bathtub full of bubbles, to ease my stresses, but my sensible and caring other half, my lifetime companion won’t allow it!

How to Make the Best of my Boat Interior Rebuild- Take Note!

My bed is a dining table, my office, the TV lounge, a phone call, my silence from drills- headphones, my meditation space; a sleeping place.

And I’m clutching on for dear life- to the dream, our plan… holding on… to this organic shape-shifting plan of an off-grid goal!

  • Is living in a small space all that you dreamed of?
  • Did you build something challenging and reach your goal?
  • Would you take on a boat project while living aboard?
  • Got any inspirational small space ideas or advice to share?
  • Do you have a bathtub on a boat?

Hang around by following me, and find out if we reach our end goal.

You might like reading Don’t Look Back! This first-ever blog looks at how my narrowboat life began.

Take a peek at some of my Pins- Brilliant Narrowboat Interior Design Ideas. Click Here

Search for a Topic
Posted Recently

Would you like to contribute as an editor or a writer to our blog? Let us know all the details about yourself and send us a message.

%d bloggers like this: