In the Caribbean, this would be called bareboating; the British call it hireboats. We have decided to call it self-skippered, as used by many companies that rent boats without captain or crew.
In France, this is advertised as sans permis, meaning that the skipper will not need to be licensed (and that the rental operator has paid the necessary fees for use of the canals.) A brief lesson at the base, perhaps followed by accompaniment for a short portion of the trip, will acquaint the skipper and crew with the operation of the boat and the rules of the road for the waterway to be traveled.
Once underway, the skipper is in full control of the itinerary. Each day of travel can be as short or as long as desired, with stops for dining, sightseeing, and overnight stays usually decided as you go. The only limits are the schedule of locks that must be passed through and the need to return the boat at the agreed place and time. In some locations, the rental operator will limit the waterways that can be used, to prevent travel in hazardous areas. Usually the cruise is round-trip, back to the starting point, but multi-base rental companies can offer one-way trips.
Going ashore for dining, provisioning or sightseeing is done on foot, on bicycles (which can usually be rented at the start of the cruise) or by taxi (taxis are not generally available in rural areas, but sometimes there will be a sign at the lock, with a telephone number to call a taxi.) In most areas, the boat can be moored anywhere along the banks of the waterway. Many towns and cities offer a quay (stone or concrete bank) or a port, sometimes with water, electricity, showers and laundromat available.
Boats are available for families or groups of 2 to 12 passengers and equipped with separate cabins and bathroom facilities. At least one person will need to be physically able to go ashore easily for the handling of lines during mooring or locking. Initial or complete provisioning can usually be ordered in advance from the base, however a major part of the enjoyment of the trip is shopping at local stores or at the many local market days. The boats will be fitted with toilets and showers (some with bathtubs), often one per cabin.
Navigation is not difficult, since the trip is usually in a confined waterway. The base will supply a chart and guide that will give detailed information for navigation, restaurants, shopping, sightseeing and mooring. The better rental bases will send you a chart with the contract, for pre-planning your cruise.
You pay one price for the boat and can bring as many guests as will conveniently fit. $500 to $2,500 per week, no meals, activities or transfers included.
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Three couples are traveling the Canal du Nivernais, France, on this Penichette rented from Locaboat Plaisance. It's early morning on the first week of May, the men have gotten the boat underway while the ladies prepare breakfast. The Nivernais is very popular for self-skippered cruising, it is an excellent choice for a first-time cruise, for novice or experienced boaters. View a slideshow