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Tips for a great boating holiday in France

PUBLISHED: 12:54 17 October 2017 | UPDATED: 17:26 02 January 2018

Being overtaken by another canal boat on a boating trip in Alsace ©Alice and Ray Kershaw

Being overtaken by another canal boat on a boating trip in Alsace ©Alice and Ray Kershaw


Booked a boating holiday on the French canals and rivers? Follow these tips for a safe, stress-free and fun boating holiday in France

Pack for all types of weather

Conditions on a canal are a little different than on land. Nights can get chilly because of the freshness of the water, it gets hot because of the sun reflecting on the canal and rain affects you more since you will probably be piloting outside. Add a couple of warm jumpers and jeans to your suitcase in the summer, hats and sunglasses in the winter and always bring waterproof jackets.

Be aware of the limited space on board

So now that we’ve told you to bring every type of clothing you own to face different weather conditions, we’re going to tell you that you won’t have space for everything! Hire boats have loads of clever compartments to pack away your belongings but the space is still compact. Try not to bring too much of your own food since fridges are small and you’ll be able to buy food in the markets and villages you stop at. No need to pack those stiletto sandals you love, you’re more lickely to injure yourself. Keep it simple, comfortable and practical.

Don’t forget sun protection

As mentioned above, the sun hits you harder on the canal because you won’t benefit from the shade of the trees whislt cruising. Most canal boats will have parasols but don’t forget hats and sun cream. French summers can be unforgiving to us fair-skinned Brits. Bear in mind that it gets very bright out there: many boats are white or cream-coloured and when the sun hits, it gets rather blinding, so pack those sunglasses!

Be safe while on board

Have your children wear life jackets at all times. You can ask for kids-size life jackets, giving ages and weight. Teach them never to run or jump on or around the boat. You should always have 3 points of contact with the boat when moving on the outside: your two feet and one hand always holding on a handrail - stress that importance to kids too. You’ll be handling ropes so pack some gardening gloves to protect your hands and don’t wear loose clothing.

Pay attention to your lesson

When you hire a boat to cruise on inland waterways, you do not need a licence. You will, however, have a lesson with an instructor from the base you hire from to learn basic rules, how to navigate the boat, moore up to a bollard or a quay and go through a lock. Don’t worry, it’s easy. But pay attention to your instructor since he or she will be telling you everything you should know to have a safe and fun cruise. Ask questions and make sure you understand everything.

Remember when the canal opens and closes

Canal authorities close the canals at night. How? By closing the locks to ensure no one can get through. You cannot operate a lock on your own so don’t try to get through after hours. Opening hours vary but are usually around 9:00 to 12:00 and 14:00 to 19:00. Remember that if you need to moore up to a port for water or electricity, you should allow time to get there so that you’re not rushing to get through the last lock. The lock keeper might not always wait for you!

Don’t navigate too fast

Pace yourself, you’re not on a race. Life on the canals is on a different time frame and you should take your time. Speed is limited on canal stretches to around 8 km/h and you must be dead slow on approaching a lock. Going too fast creates ripples that damage the embankment, threaten wildlife and make local fishermen very angry, so it is courtesy to slow right down when passing moored-up boats and fishermen.

Hire bikes

Most companies will ask you if you want to hire bikes and you should definitely opt for that even if it does add a bit more to the overall cost. Bikes are a great way for you to get around when you’ve moored up the boat by a village: you can cycle into town and explore the area. You can also choose to cycle alongside your boat: many cycle routes in France follow the canals and are very well-maintained.

Be friendly to lock keepers

Lock keepers are instructed to get the most out of turning a lock around so she or he may ask you to wait inside the lock for another boat to enter. Be patient and don’t press them, you’ll go through eventually. You can help them open the gates but it’s always polite to ask: this is simply so that she or he knows where everyone is for safety reasons. Lock keepers may seem to have it easy, but it is hard work so feel free to tip them with a coin or two or to hand them a cold drink on a hot day: it will be much appreciated!

Relax, have fun!

A boating holiday is such a nice way to discover a country since you will be navigating through countryside that not many people get to see. If you take your time, relax and don’t pressure yourself or your friends on board, it is one of the most relaxing holidays you can go on while in France. So sit back, enjoy the scenery, chat to locals, try the local food and wine, pace yourself and don’t crash the boat!

Like this? You might enjoy:

French canals and rivers: France’s best 5 regions for boating holidays

These photographs truly capture the beauty of the Canal du Midi

Boating in France: Q&A


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