When you try self-drive boat hire for the first time, you might feel a bit stressed. But as long as you stick to just a few simple rules, you should have no problems at all.
When you’re going with the flow, there’s no need to worry... Handling a self-drive boat is child’s play if you just keep to a few basic rules. The first of these is to move slowly and anticipate what's ahead. You're always going to encounter some sort of obstacle: a fishing-boat, a lock, people swimming, etc. The best way to be prepared is to study the route you’re going to follow on a map at the start of the day. By doing this you can find out what structures you might come across and also the tourist sites where you might want to stop. On board, anyone over the age of 16 is allowed to steer, but only one person is really in charge: the person who has signed the rental agreement.
When you meet another boat coming the other way, it's important to pass port side to port side, in other words on the left. You should hoot but keep to the regulation speed. Similarly, when you're being overtaken, it's better to slow down and always allow working boats and those that are going upstream to pass unhindered. The golden rule is: always be polite!
Cruising on canals and rivers means that you have to pass through locks from time to time. There are a few safety measures to follow: wear your gloves and lifejacket; keep children inside the boat. The traffic lights will help you to see what to do: just enter slowly and carefully. Taking your time is essential. If there's a problem, just pull the red cable and a lock keeper will come to help. Several boats might pass through a lock at the same time. In this situation, it's important to keep a certain distance apart. And the most important thing is not to fully tie up your mooring ropes or knot them round your wrist while you’re in the lock. Once you’re in the lock, you operate a pull-rod (a 'tirette') to get through and you should hold onto the mooring ropes to keep the boat steady. Then you just wait until the gates are completely open so that you can emerge from the lock. Every lock has a telephone so you can contact the control post.
Apart from that, all you have to do is to obey the rules of the canal or river just as you would on the road: you can still be stopped by the police if you break the speed limit and you might have to take a breath test! But everyone knows that the whole point of canal boat holidays is to take it slowly…
To find out more, have a look at the VNF website (Voies Navigables de France) and watch the short explanatory videos: