winter survival kit

winter survival kit

six life-saving items for under £20

When we bought our 58' cruiser-stern narrowboat, Lutra Lutra, I thought that life afloat would be like that in a tiny home surrounded by water. The last 12 months have proved just how wrong I was. We have faced challenges that I never anticipated...and survived!

It's not quite Ray Mears, but here's a few items that I couldn't live without:

1. Three Hot Water Bottles
I vaguely remembered these items from my childhood. Thankfully, they are still on sale in Home Bargains. We have 3 and the water is heated on the woodburner during the evening. If it's particularly cold, I move them around the bed to warm up all the corners before getting in, or make my husband get in first!

spotty hot water bottle

2. A flannel and a plastic water carrier
We have been frozen in twice this winter already and stranded by lock closures once. With a 400l water tank, we can usually last a week between fill-ups, but you don't want to risk running dry miles from a water-point. In addition, the CRT taps are poorly insulated, and so even when you turn up with your wheelbarrow and water carrier, you may be disappointed. So, at the start of sub-zero temperatures, we get out the flannel and save the shower for a weekly hair-washing treat! We also got a second kettle so that the hot water bottle water is recycled each night, saving 2l each time. After all, no-one wants their coffee to taste of rubber!

plastic water carrier

3. Clear plastic sheeting and double sided sticky tape
AKA secondary double glazing, this has eliminated the terrible condensation that was forming on our metal window frames. Not only was this staining the wooden sills but the water absorbs any heat you put into the boat. It's almost impossible to heat a damp boat, and there's nothing quite like waking up to ice on the insides of your windows to make you feel like retreating back to bed. Similarly, we have insulated the underside of our metal hatch with a yoga mat and super-strong spray adhesive and the side of our bed with the cheap two-way stretch fabric that they use on car interiors. #staywarm

plastic film and double sided sticky tape

4. Vet Gloves
Handy if you come across a cow in labour...or when you get poly round the prop on the BCN. So handy, I think they should be listed on the boat safety certificate! And under £20 from Amazon.

vet gloves

Steve Burt wearing vet gloves

5. An iron cookpot (Le Creuset, if you're posh)
We eat seasonally. The gas stove is 'wet heat' meaning that it releases water vapour as the gas burns, and that causes condensation. (Incidentally, candles are the same, but they make you feel cosy, so I make an exception for a couple of those.) Condensation is our arch-enemy, so we cook on the woodburner as much as possible if it's lit i.e. from November to March. We have met boaters who cook exclusively on theirs, but I've found that a frying temperature means the cabin is unbearably tropical, so I tend to start my stews in my retro pressure cooker and then leave them to finish off on the woodburner. We cook porridge every morning on one heat log lit from the embers using a recycled eggbox-woodshavings-and-candlewax firelighter (homemade on my woodburner and available in my eco-shop). All-day rice pudding is awesome, and you can't beat a foil-wrapped baked potato placed next to the coal cage.

morso fire

crock pot on log burning stove

6. Cashmere jumpers
There's no substitute for pure wool, cashmere, angora etc. If you're lucky then you can find them for £10 in a charity shop. Layer them. The woollen fibres are naturally self-cleaning and don't smell, so you don't need to wash them for weeks, which is especially important if you're frozen in.

Cashmere jumper

That brings me to my final item. The CanalsOnline Magasine list of services on each cut. Brilliant for finding launderettes (don't ever dry washing in the cabin in winter), takeaways (for those days when the woodburner goes out), and pubs and churches for when you need your heart warmed.

Roll on the spring!

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About Fiona Burt

Fiona Burt spent her teenage years holidaying on her parents restored FMC butty, Malvern. She weaves (and sometimes sells) rag rugs aboard her 58' narrow boat, Lutra Lutra, and has recently become a Waterways Chaplain.