Hiring your own cruising boat is an ideal way to explore and experience the pleasures and treasures that the French waterways have to offer.

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?

  • Fabulous routes throughout France
  • Sizes and styles to suit everyone
  • No previous experience necessary
  • No licence or qualifications required
  • Immaculate and well-maintained
  • A to B one-way or A to A round trips
  • Pets welcome on most boats
  • Reputable boating holiday providers

5 Minute Briefing :: Self-Drive Boating Holidays

Explore France from the inside – you have the wheel!


What’s a boating holiday or vacation like?

  • 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.
Couples self-drive hire boating France canals

Boats for Couples

Just for you two. Explore together.

Compact Size Boats

Families self-drive hire boating France canals

Boats for Families

For parents, children – and grandparents!

Mid Size Boats

Groups self-drive hire boating France canals

Boats for Groups

Up to 12 friends can share a fantastic holiday

Large Size Boats

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.
  • 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.
  • Some of the newest boats in the fleets are very high-spec indeed – with dishwasher and microwave included in the galley.
  • Many boats have sundecks for relaxing, appreciating the surrounding countryside or villages, and for al fresco dining. All have large bright windows.
Luxury self-drive hire boating France canals

Luxury Self-Drive Boats

The best boats, from all the fleets
from £1,250 per week

5✮ Luxury Boats

First Class self-drive hire boating France canals

First Class Self-Drive Boats

High quality boats, from all the fleets
from £900 per week

4✮ First Class Boats

Economy self-drive hire boating France canals

Economy Self-Drive Boats

Great value boats, from all the fleets
from £550 per week

3✮+2✮ Economy Boats

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 – usually a familiar steering wheel, just like a car, although some newer models are fitted with a joystick for steering.
    A single throttle lever acts to adjust speed 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.
    Most boats have a bow-thruster to assist with sideways movement.
  • 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.

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 about those locks?

  • Locks (‘ecluses‘ 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 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.

Where are these hire boats?

Explore the Regions  >

  • There are hire boats throughout France, from north to south, and east to west, including 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 on you . . and they will be even more delighted if you respond with 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.

What’s the cost? How does booking work?

  • All the hire-boats on french-waterways.com (this site) 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 can be shared 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.
  • 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.

Self-drive boating holidays France booking

Our self-drive fleet colleagues will help you choose your ideal boat,
in your perfect location