Weather: This can be unpredictable anywhere in Europe. But French waterways stretch from the Canal du Midi in the far south right up to the borders with Holland, Belgium and Germany in the north. A typical boatshare itinerary can give off-season owners the benefit of Riviera sunshine and high-season owners cruising grounds in say, Burgundy or even Paris.
Interest: Winding through the French countryside at a relaxing pace. Mooring up at small French waterside villages to collect delicious, fresh bread and croissants. Taking morning coffee in a typical French bistro. Exploring larger French towns and cities, with their medieval buildings and quaint back streets. Enjoying a slice of French patisserie with your afternoon tea on the sun deck. Strolling out in the evening to a waterside restaurant for an aperitif before enjoying unbeatable food and wine. Need we say more?
Comfort: English narrowboats undoubtedly have their charms – but that severe width restriction does mean putting up with less than ideal living conditions: short, narrow beds, minute kitchens and cramped living space both inside and out are typical. No such restrictions apply to the French waterways. Owning a wider boat means you can relax with all the home comforts – full size beds, comfy lounges and dining areas, and generous kitchen space.
Choice: A broad beam boat on British waterways is severely restricted in where it can cruise. The same boat in France can go anywhere - north, south, east or west. The comprehensive network of rivers and canals in France all connect together and over a period of years, a boatshare syndicate can plan to explore it all.
Ease: Unlike British locks, all locks in France are electrically operated. No need to put crew ashore, who then have to wind stiff paddles and push heavy gates. It can all be done remotely from the boat – smooth and hassle free.
Vive la difference!
Do not be deterred by the requirements for certification – these are easily met.
First you will need an International Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft (or ICC) to provide evidence that you are competent to handle a boat. In the UK, this scheme is run by the Royal Yachting Association (RYA). If you have had previous boat handling training, you may already have the necessary evidence of qualification for the ICC – the list of acceptable qualifications can be found on the RYA website.
Don’t worry if you do not currently qualify. You simply need to take an RYA Inland Waterways Helmsman’s Course. This is a practical course, takes 2 days, and costs in the region of £300. Details of the course and of a training centre near you can be found via the link above.
If you have a partner who would benefit from basic crew training, this can often be done at the same time for a modest additional cost (as little as £25), making it a very enjoyable two days on the water. The relevant RYA course is the Inland Waterways Crew Course. There is no exam at the end of either course – you just do the two days and you get your ICC.
The other Certificate you will need is a Code Européen des Voies de Navigation Intérieure (CEVNI). This is like a Highway Code for European waterways, covering signs, rules and procedures. It looks daunting but is really mostly common sense. The CEVNI is only available to those holding an ICC. If you already qualify (see above), you can apply to take the test at a recognised centre or online.
If you are going to take an RYA Inland Waterways Helmsman’s Course, the CEVNI test can be administered at the same time for a nominal cost (£30). The test is multiple choice and you can have the CEVNI Guidebook open in front of you. No one fails!