All About Hire Boating on the Canals of France

Taking a hire boat holiday or vacation in France is one of the most enjoyable, most relaxing ways to appreciate this beautiful country with its thousands of years of history, heritage and culture. And, it’s a great way to have fun, too! So, what’s it all about . . ?

What is a hire boat like?

  • Hire boats have been developed over many decades to provide a safe, spacious, well-equipped and easy to drive means to explore the fascinating network of gentle inland waterways that there are across Europe, in particular in France.
  • Hire boats come in different styles and sizes but whatever the type, each will provide separate bedrooms (‘cabins’ is the correct boating term) for all with comfortable beds, wardrobes and cupboards; bath- or shower-rooms with familiar plumbing arrangements including hot and cold running water; a kitchen (‘galley’) equipped with cooking, refrigerator and preparation facilities; and a lounge area (‘saloon’) for relaxing or dining. There’s lighting and power too – either from the boat’s own batteries or from mains electricity when moored up at suitable places. Plenty of space for up to ten people enjoying life aboard, with plenty of headroom!

Self drive hire boats in France – Size, Style and Price

  • Nowadays, many boats also feature HiFi systems with CD and/or MP3 players. Some have air-conditioning, which can be very appropriate in high summer in the more southerly regions of France. All will include heating for the early and later season months.
  • Many boats have sundecks for relaxing, appreciating the surrounding countryside or villages, and for al fresco dining. All have large bright windows.

  

How easy is it to drive a hire boat? Do I need prior boating experience?

  • With just a little care and attention, it’s easy . . and you don’t need any previous experience.
    Cruising always happens at slow speeds, at around 3-4 m.p.h (a brisk walking pace) so there is plenty of time to manoeuvre. In fact, the slower and steadier the action the better will it succeed – there’s no need for fast reactions, anxiety or stress of any kind.
  • There is plenty of time to appreciate the passing scene – be it countryside, village town – or to cycle ahead to the next lock or mooring.
  • Hire boats have simple controls – and a familiar steering wheel too, just like a car. A single throttle lever acts to adjust speed both forwards and backwards. There isn’t a brake – slowing down or stopping merely involves reducing the throttle and gently coming to a halt, or using reverse ‘thrust’ to remove velocity.
  • Some boats are steered from inside; some have both inside and outside steering positions.
  • All the hire fleets provide experienced and friendly hands-on explanation and instruction before the holiday or vacation cruise begins. As much or as little as any individual hirer needs to gain full confidence.
  • Each hire boat will come complete with information about the waterway routes that can be followed and the places along the route.

‘Expert’ level detailed navigation guides for detailed preparation and planning   (opens in new window)

What about those locks?

  • Locks (or ‘ecluses‘ as they’re called in French) provide a method to go up or down a change in level in the waterway. Put very simply, your boat enters the lock through open gates (the front gates are closed) and with the water level in the lock chamber the same as where you’re coming from. Then you tie up to the lock side and the gates close behind you. Water then enters or leaves the chamber and your boat rises or falls until it is at the level of the next water section. The front gates open, you untie and drive out.
  • It’s a fairly simple procedure and one that thousands of boats experience every year. Taken slowly and sensibly (as always) it’s great fun (each one is slightly different for one reason or another) and does not require any kind of muscle power!
  •  The great majority of French locks are operated mechanically and automatically in some way. Some are operated by a lock-keeper and a few waterways sections have no locks at all for tens of kilometres.

Do I need a licence?

  • In general terms, nearly all hire boats are licence-free and fully covered by consequential insurance. There are a very few exceptions to this licensing rule.

What’s a boating holiday or vacation like?

Different people all enjoy boating in France . . .

  • There is as much or as little to do as you want.
  • It is very relaxing – as well as being very interesting, rewarding and stimulating. It is most certainly not boring, nor on the other hand is it a constant round of noise, challenge and ‘excitement’. Many people take the opportunity to catch up on some reading, chat or simply day-dream . . .
  • Aboard the hire boat, there is the constantly refreshing vista of passing countryside, village and town, differing with every bend in the canal or river.
  • Off the boat, there are many historic towns and villages located by the waterway that can be visited and explored by foot or by bicycle.
  • Visits to local places of interest can include stunning villages, castles, chateaux and vineyards. Of course, there is also the possibility of savouring wines and spirits of the region, fresh local produce and fine cooking.

Can I stop anywhere or get off the boat?

  • For the majority of hire boats that travel the canals you can stop to explore the surroundings practically anywhere and everywhere, as your mood takes you and circumstances allow.
  • There is almost always a level tow-path alongside that is perfect for cycling or walking. Get off at a lock, walk or bike to the next one and get back on board again. It’s very easy and very enjoyable, and nearly all boats have well-maintained bicycles available for hire.

Does it rock and roll – will I feel nauseous?

  • Not in the slightest. The inland waterways are nearly always flat calm and the hire boat is robust and sedate.

Where are these hire boats?

Self drive hire boats in France – the Regions

  • There are hire boats throughout France, from north to south, and east to west, including in ‘Celtic’ Brittany.
  • Cruising routes include Picardy, Alsace-Lorraine, Provence, and Aquitaine and Bordeaux. There are many hire boats that ply the wonderful wine regions of central France and Burgundy, and that travel the historic and picturesque Canal du Midi.
  • Many routes pass through wine regions . . .

  

What routes are possible?

  • Most hire boat routes start at the base of your choosing and return back there at the end of the holiday or vacation.
  • Some boats in some regions are available for ‘one-way’ cruises, from one hire base through to another.

Do I need to speak French?

  • All hire boat fleet personnel speak excellent English – or are English!
  • You will no doubt come into contact with French people who you will find to be friendly, welcoming and polite. Often they will be delighted to ‘try out’ their English . . and they will be even more delighted if you ‘try out’ a few words of French.

When is the hire boating season?

  • From March to October. Earlier months can be delightfully crisp, clear and sunny. Later months enjoy a softer mellow warmth. In between, the high summer months advertise deep blue skies, hours of bright sunshine and heat that radiates off every old stone in every ancient village or historic chateau.
  • Short breaks are increasingly popular as more and more people take advantage of cheap airfares to get away for long weekends. Or why not use your hire boat as a longer-term alternative to hotels and villas and get to see more of the region you are in. Some people hire boats for a month or more, especially if they are property hunting in an area.

What’s the cost? How does booking work?

  • All the boats on the french-waterways.com website are booked direct with the fleets. Our role is to enable you to make the best possible, informed and educated selection and to make it easy for you to make a direct booking enquiry.
  • Hire boat prices vary according to boat type, size of boat and time of year. A booking enquiry response will provide you with accurate quotations for your holiday or vacation. Remember, the cost quoted is for the complete boating vacation and should be divided by the number of people on board enjoying the holiday!
  • Nearly all hire boats require a non-refundable deposit at the time of booking with the balance being paid prior to the cruise. Cancellation insurance is strongly recommended.

Sounds great! What can I do next?

  • Consult our Master Directory of hire boats in France. It is the most clear, complete and up-to-date on the internet. Nearly every hire boat is featured, together with links to information about their routes and locations. Using the links we provide, make a general request for information or a specific booking enquiry – direct to the hire fleet.

Self drive hire boats in France – the Master Directory

  • Once you’ve enjoyed a self-drive hire boat holiday or vacation, you’ll want to do it again. Quite a few people decide they like boating on the French canals and rivers so much that they’d like to do a lot of it – and buy their own boat.

There are always boats for sale – pre-owned, ex-charter or brand new