"Cruising on the Pont d'Avignon" by Vincent Brassinne via Flickr Creative Commons

Canal and River Cruising Training

It is far easier to operate a boat than to drive a car as things happen at a much slower speed on the water and there are fewer controls. It doesn’t mean you can fall asleep at the wheel – always beware of the approaching lock or submerged log! - but you can start with a few skills and build as you go. The best way to prepare is to undertake a basic training course. Many hire operators will include this as part of the fee and it is usually more than adequate for basic boating.

Some of the best training involves learning the rules. Speed is a good one to start on. Wash from passing boats destroys banks and bumps other boats around so do observe the speed limits on canals and rivers. In narrow canals give moored boats a wide berth and pass them slowly. Always pass other boats on the right hand side but keep to the center of the waterway if no other boats are coming. The water is usually deeper here on straight sections and on the outer side of bends. Deeper boats will want these waters and indicate this to you. If there is a boat behind you check to see if they want to pass and move to the side and slow down in the next clear stretch of canal.

Boating does require some agility or ability to handle cramped or awkward conditions so keeping fit and active will make it far less demanding.

Canal and River Cruising Gear

There is never a guarantee about weather on the water so pack for all seasons, particularly wet ones! Bring good waterproofs and rubber-soled shoes for wet decks. Eyeglass wearers should use a device to prevent the loss of glasses. Pack a pair of gloves to protect your hands if you have to work the locks or tie rope.

Early mornings and evenings on European rivers can be cold so bring a fleece, even if there is central heating. Dry bags are handy for keeping deck items dry like books and phones. Remember to pack books to read and any activities for the evening like cards and games.

Self-drive boats are self-catering so stock up on the goodies before departure, particularly specialized or favored items. You will pass supermarkets and shops on route so don’t take too much with you, although choices can be limited. Guides and hire-fleet operators can list the nearest shopping choices but part of the fun of touring is discovering local inns and pubs – a kind of belly cruise.

On more ‘rustic’ river journeys you may need to pack a few snack items even if meals are included, and plenty of bottled water. For journeys on passenger boats where you only get deck space you will need some sleeping gear and possibly a hammock. Mosquito nets and insect repellant are a good way to combat malaria.

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