Manners Maketh Boatman (and Boatwoman)

Speed limits and sensible behaviour on the canals and rivers of France

Hire boaters are an easy target, not without good reason but not always with justification. In our many years on the canals and rivers throughout France we’ve encountered good manners, common sense and proper ‘nautical’ behaviour (e.g speed, locking, pontoon positioning) from hire boaters, private boats, barges, commercials and river cruise ships. We’ve also found a few examples of the complete reverse, from all these. And from port captains and lock-keepers, too. And the different nationalities. If it wasn’t for the hire boat ‘industry’ some sections of the canal network would not still be as open and maintained as they are, for us all to enjoy.

Observing a sensible speed is not just a matter of obeying the rules; excessive speed (above 8 kph generally, above 3 kph when passing moored boats, which is pretty slow) does a great deal of damage to canal banks – it erodes them and this is exacerbated by the excavating activities of the blinking coypu/nutria/ragondins. Last year a significant breach happened near Montech that flooded surrounding houses and caused closure of the canal. This happens every year somewhere on the network. But everywhere, a few impatient people seem to need to go along ‘pedal to the metal’, getting from one halte to another in the shortest possible time. And not just hirers.

A few days ago we witnessed possibly the most stupid and aggressive breach of manners and boatmanship we’ve seen for ages. Irrespective of the ‘right’ that the boat had, that we were on (as passengers) in order to perform a tricky manoeuvre, and the clarity of what she was doing, including sound signals, a private boat (English) powered ahead it seems specifically in order to cause problems, obstruct, shout, act the impatient bully, etc etc when common sense and proper boatmanship would have meant being patient, standing by, waiting – a very short minute or two – for the ‘way’ to become clear. Worse behaviour from a private boat than we’ve ever seen from the Italian flagged Midi hire boats, who seem exuberantly bound to try to emulate their F1 Ferrari heroes when freed to ‘escape’ from the confines of the lock (and I apologise for the sweeping generalisation).

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