You’ve probably seen many colourful houseboats moored beside the Thames Embankment in London. That’s because living on the water has become a popular, environmentally-friendly housing alternative, with a 57% increase in London since 2012.

Living on a boat is greener than bricks-and-mortar houses for many reasons, such as: being a smaller, more manageable living space, needing less energy to run the dwelling and fewer personal possessions as there isn’t much room to clutter.

However, there are still many environmental risks to consider when choosing a life on the water: being greener will depend entirely on the choices you make.

If you’re looking to live an eco-friendlier lifestyle on your boat then here are three tips to get you started:

Disposing of your Waste

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Monitoring your waste disposal is crucial when it comes to reducing your boat’s environmental impact and avoiding polluted waterways. You will have to consider:

Grey water discharge

This is the waste water from on-board sinks, showers, air conditioners and washing machines that is flushed out the boat into the waterway. Use eco-friendly cleaning and personal products (shampoos, showering products) as they contain fewer chemicals and more natural ingredients like lactic or citric acid and enzymes which are much less harmful to our delicate eco-system. This can to help avoid harsh chemicals entering the waterways when grey water is emptied.


Black water (raw sewage) contains harmful bacteria that can pose health risks to humans and shellfish and also reduce oxygen levels in the water. Yes, whilst your houseboat’s toilets will need to be emptied regularly, the waste must never be pumped out into the river or canal.

40% of rivers in the UK are polluted by sewage. Since 2006, The Recreational Craft Directive (RCD) requires all vessels to have holding tanks fitted. This means that toilets with holding tanks for sewage may only be emptied at suitably designated stations or far, far way in the open sea.

You could even have a compost toilet installed to avoid using any chemicals. Once broken down, the waste is composted and essentially becomes compost.  There are different compost bases you could use including wood shavings, sawdust, chopped straw, coconut coir and cocoa shells which are some of the more common materials.

General waste

The rubbish you accumulate on a day-to-day basis should be separated between recyclable and non-recyclable. Recycle as much as possible along the waterway recycling points or find a boat mooring for refuse disposal. Never throw any rubbish overboard particularly cigarette butts, anything bio-degradable or food waste.

Being Resourceful

Living on a boat can help you become more resourceful by re-using the basics, such as fuel or water, in a sustainable manner to minimise any environmental impact.

This could include:

  • Insulation – this is key for fuel efficiency onboard. Natural materials, such as wool, can be great to use to maintain warmth in your boat. Having double glazing on all your windows (and roof) can also help fuel efficiency
  • As you’ll be relying on the water in your tank, aim to reduce usage wherever you can Where you may choose to have a washing machine onboard, go for the most energy-efficient model you can afford as many washing machines tend to use large amounts of water and power
  • Where possible, choose FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) certified wood and recycled products
  • Can you grow your own greens on the roof of your boat? Aside from being eco-friendly, this can save money on essential ingredients for your meals
  • Reuse and repurpose any furniture or equipment – consider anything you can give away or sell instead of throwing away unwanted items.

Your Fuel and Power

Although the houseboat’s resource consumption, such as power and fuel, is much lower than a typical two-bedroom house, the way you live on your boat can still affect the environment and our waterways.

To reduce the amount of oil and fuel entering the marine environment you should be following best practice, i.e.

  • Install a bilge discharge filter – this will catch any oil or fuel and is designed to remove the oily water from the vessel’s bilge prior to its discharge. The oily substance collected can then be disposed of properly, along with the sewage disposal
  • Use a drip tray under the engine to catch leaks (this is a legal requirement on many inland waterways)
  • Do not overfill your fuel tank as this can cause the fuel to overflow from the vents
  • Be aware of how much fuel you are using for cooking or freezing foods
  • Look at whether you can use alternative fuel, such as biodiesel or biogas that are sustainably sourced and produced.

Further guidance and advice on best practices can be found at