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What is a Self-Skippered Cruise?
A family or group can rent a boat that they will operate themselves, traveling at their own speed and agenda. The rental base staff will provide a full checkout of the details of the particular boat, followed by a brief lesson and, in some cases will accompany you for a short portion of the trip. After that, your cruise is entirely on your own.
Do I need a license to operate the boat?
No, operator’s license requirements are waived for a certified rental boat. The rental base has paid the fees charged for use of the waterway. (Technically, you do receive a temporary license issued to you by the rental-boat operator.)
Do I need previous boating experience?
No. Even first-timers will find that the boats are remarkably easy to handle. Travel will be in canals and controlled waterways, so navigation skills are unnecessary. The rental base staff will provide a chart of the area and they should review it with you to explain your cruising and mooring options.
How big are the boats?
Boats are available for 2 to 12 passengers. The length varies from 9 to 15 meters (30 to 50 feet.) The classic style is long and narrow, a beam of 3 to 4 meters (10 to 13 feet.) Motorcruisers may have a beam approaching 5 meters (16 feet.)
Where can I dock the boat?
You can usually moor the boat anywhere you like (some short areas are restricted because of the narrow waterway.) The boat can be tied-up along the banks of the waterway using stakes furnished on the boat. There are often mooring facilities in towns and villages, usually free. Water and electricity are sometimes available; there may be a charge for their use. In large cities, marinas offer docking facilities at reasonable fees.
Is it difficult to get through the locks?
While the skipper needs to be alert and plan the approach into the lock, it is not difficult and becomes quite enjoyable with a little experience. It is best if at least one member of the crew is physically able to handle the lines that will hold the boat in place while the lock is filling or draining. Often the lock keeper or other bystanders will offer to take the line and pass it around a bollard.
How fast does the boat go?
Most canals and waterways have speed limits and the rental boats are designed to operate within the limit, usually no more than 4 to 8 miles per hour. Walkers on the towpath can often keep up with the travel of the boat.
What happens if I have a problem with the boat?
The rental base staff is always available by telephone and can be contacted for immediate assistance. A mechanic will be sent if necessary. Because the length of the trip is not far from the base, assistance can arrive by road very quickly.
Where can we get provisions?
Initial provisioning is available by an advance order to the rental base. Shopping along the way at local outdoor markets and stores is part of the enjoyment of the trip. Many towns and villages have shopping available within a short walk of the canal, but in some places a bicycle or taxi may be necessary.
How can we travel on land?
Bicycles can usually be rented from the base at the beginning of the trip. In larger towns and sometimes at small villages taxis can be called; often there will be a sign with the telephone number at locks and ports. Rail and bus transportation may be located near the beginning and end of the route.
What are the cabin facilities like?
Single and double berths are often quite comfortable in the sleeping cabins. To reach the full advertised passenger capacity of the boat, it will be necessary to convert the dinette or lounges into temporary berths. Look for the statement in brochures “Sleeps 8, comfort 6”; that will most likely mean three double-berth cabins and the other two berths will be on the converted dinette. Be aware of the potential inconvenience of this arrangement.
What about bathrooms?
All boats will have at least one toilet, sink and shower; large boats will have two or more of each. Check the layout before you rent, by looking carefully at the diagram in the brochure or questioning the booking agent. Many boats will utilize a hand-held shower in the same compartment as the sink and toilet. The more comfortable arrangement will have the shower in a separate cabin, so that two people can be using the facility at the same time. A separate shower stall is the most convenient, so that the bathroom compartment does not become wet and a sometimes-unwieldy wraparound shower curtain is not needed.
How much baggage can I bring?
Most boats have substantial storage space; it is not always in rectangular spaces, so soft luggage is best. There are no laundry facilities onboard except hand-wash and clothesline. Laundromats will be difficult if not impossible to find, so plan enough clothing for the length of the cruise.
Can we swim or fish?
Generally, the canals and rivers are not recommended for swimming, although it can be enjoyed in some specific locations. Fishing will usually require a license. Consult the rental base staff for advice on the area where you will be cruising.
What are the kitchens like?
The boats are fully equipped for cooking, usually with propane burners and oven; bring your own matches as backup. Hot and cold water is supplied to a sink.
Is there electricity onboard?
All boats will have adequate lighting from the onboard 12-volt system. Power for computers and other devices may sometimes be available from the onboard system, but more commonly it is only available when moored at a port with shore-based connections. In this case, it will be 220 volts; the proper adapters and connectors will be needed.