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Boating Overseas

You will find some useful overseas websites here

Going Boating in Britain and Europe
You have decided that you want to go boating while you are in Britain and Europe. How do you go about it?

Cruise or 'Drive Yourself'?

You should think whether you want to take a cruise or to 'drive yourself'. A cruise will be similar to travelling on a small ocean liner except that you will be boating on inland waters i.e. still water, except perhaps for some current. Boats range in size from narrow boats from 15m to 21m long on British narrow canals, up to cruise ships over 100 m long on European rivers. Narrow boats will be about 2m wide, wide beam boats about 4m wide, and cruise boats wider again.

Hire boats on the Canal du Midi at Beziers
Hire boats on the Canal du Midi at Beziers

A cruise boat is usually like a floating hotel, usually with all meals provided. You will not be expected (or depending upon the size of the boat, not permitted) to get involved with running the boat. On smaller boats you may be welcome to help if you want to.

If you hire a boat, you can be a lot more flexible in where and when you travel. You can often stop when you want to, at interesting pubs, towns or historic sites.

You should not worry that you will be unable to control the boat. Your hire company will instruct you about your boat before you set off. If the hire base is near a lock, the hire company will usually guide you on how to work through that lock.

If you think that you may want to have a number of travels on the waterways, you may choose to buy a time share in a boat. This gives you three or four weeks use of the boat each year, probably at different times from year to year.

If you decide that you want to travel for an extended period you should examine the possibility of leasing or buying a boat.

You could try to negotiate with a hire boat company or other boat yard about a lease. A number of suitable companies advertise in the magazines listed below.

Where do you go?

Consider how active you want to be on your holiday. Some routes include a lot of locks and may contain a number of lift or swing bridges. Also locks on broad waterways, can be heavier to operate than those on narrow canals. However on some waterways, these will be operated either by the waterways staff or electrically.

Waterways can pass through the countryside, towns and large cities. Each has different attractions. Some routes will only have a few locks; others have more locks. Some canals go through tunnels or across aqueducts.

Stockton Lock
Happy boaters meet on Stockton lock flight

Some routes form a ring where you are always covering new 'ground'. However, do not think only of these routes. You could also travel 'out and back' along the same route. Often the return journey can look quite different from outward bound. And you can stop at different places on your return.

Rivers are at the bottom of valleys. This means that they are below the views, unless you are travelling through hilly country. So, often, along a river, all that you can see will be what is along the banks, until you reach a town or when you are travelling through very flat country.

Once you have chosen your route consider a range of hire bases, not just those which are on that route but also think about those which can reach the route fairly easily.

How far will you go?

Have a look at what the hiring companies suggest as a reasonable trip for one or two weeks. They often count on you travelling for an average of 6 or 7 hours per day.

Work out how far you expect to go in your booking. On most British canals there is a speed limit of 4 mph. A rule of thumb is that you should allow about 1/4 of an hour to pass through a lock. This means that people often count 'lock miles per hour'. This is the sum of the number of locks and miles that you travel. Assume that you can travel at no more than 4 lock miles per hour. You will not be able even to maintain that speed because you should slow down when you are passing moored boats, or you may be slowed down because of lack of depth in the canal.

When do you travel?

Prices are highest during school holidays. In England, these are roughly from mid July until the end of August. Prices are cheaper earlier and later in the year. However, prices will also be higher in weeks which include public holiday weekends.

Normally, you will only be allowed to travel in daylight. However, remember that your daytime is much longer in mid-summer e.g. sunset in London is around 9 pm but with a significantly long twilight.This reduces to 12 hour days at the equinoxes in late March and September.

Most companies will hire for one or more weeks at a time, from weekend to weekend. Sometimes you can pick up mid-week bookings or 10-day bookings. You often get a small discount for a longer booking.

British holiday companies start their advertising for the following summer, over the Christmas season (to divert the British from the grimness of the winter to come). As a result, popular routes and times can fill up more quickly.

You might want to get hold of maps and/or guides about your proposed route. Heron Maps is one company which produces useful waterways maps in Britain. Nicholsons, Waterways World and Pearson's are three companies that produce a range of guides to either individual waterways or a group of waterways.

Overseas Boating Sites

This list of web sites is not exhaustive. It is provided as a guide only. ACS does not 'recommend' any of these sites, but rather hopes that you will find them useful. Please give us your feedback about this list.

British Sites

Other British Organisations

British Magazines

  • Waterways World
  • Canal Boat
    These two magazines are British-based. Both include a variety of articles of interest to waterways enthusiasts, and many pages of advertisements from boat hire companies, boat builders, brokers and equipment suppliers. Subscriptions and other information are available on their web sites. Their web sites also have a question and answer section which can be a helpful starting point.
  • NarrowBoat
    This is a British quarterly magazine which is devoted to waterways history.

International Waterways Organisations

Boat Hire, Hotel Boats And Agencies

UK based Companies

Booking Agencies

European Based - Agencies

Other Useful Pages

  • A page which will help you with planning a British inland waterays trip is Nick Atty's Canalplan
  • Information on Hiring Boats and Cruising from other Agencies which do not have web pages, can be found on
Boat Hire
  • There are great hire boat companies.

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