New to Boating? Don't worry, here's a handy run-down of what you need to know...

First Timers First timers
Many of our holidaymakers are first timers and no experience is necessary before taking the helm of the boat: all our boats are easy to handle.

Speeds are around a leisurely 4mph and a driving licence isn't required. You will receive full training on arrival at the base, which includes: how to steer; daily boat checks; operating locks and safety instructions. (If you would like to attend a training course to achieve an RYA recognised helmsman's certificate, then please visit the Inland Waterways Cruising School website for further details.)

It's Easy After this you'll be given a comprehensive manual (skippers guide) containing information about the equipment and appliances on board, along with useful telephone numbers.

It's easy!
The waterways chosen by Blakes are made extremely easy to navigate because they are largely non tidal with gentle currents. Older children are allowed to steer the boat, provided they are supervised by an adult.

Here are just some suggestions on how to spend your time on your boating break:

  • Relax on deck and look at the ever changing landscape
  • Piloting your own boatNavigate your own boat
  • Operate locks*
  • Explore some of the most picturesque towns and villages in the world
  • Navigate the backwaters and little-known waterways
  • Fishing†Fishing
  • Soak up the sun
  • Observe the waterway wildlife
  • Sample great food by stopping off at the many quaint waterside pubs

Locks * A large, energetic party will enjoy a stretch with many locks to work, such as the Pennine waterways; a couple might prefer a more relaxed holiday with fewer locks or no locks, or where they are operated for you, such as on the Thames.

† The Norfolk Broads, at 300 square kilometres, is one of Britain's best known angling locations and one of the region's premier tourist attractions. The Broads is a good area for fishing where bream, eel, perch, pike, rudd and tench can be found. The coarse fishing season runs from 16 June to 14 March and all that you need to fish is a current Environment Agency licence, available from post offices.

Value Your holiday price includes the self-drive hire of your chosen boat! Your boat will be licenced to use the waterways managed by either the Canal and River Trust (England and Wales), Scottish Canals (Scotland) or the Broads Authority (Norfolk Broads) and this will be included within your holiday cost. Simply divide the total cost by the number of people on board and judge for yourself what good value it is! A group of 10 friends can hire Caversham Royal for a week's cruising in England's capital from £18 per person per night: the cheapest accommodation in the Capital?

Cruising speeds average 4mph (a brisk walking pace), lock negotiation takes around 20 minutes, and four hours cruising a day suits most people. In a week, this enables you to cover about 80 to 100 miles, allowing plenty of time for “shore-leave”. Cruising at night is not permitted by hire-fleets. You can either plan an out-and-back voyage (turning halfway through your holiday), or a 'cruising ring' (a circuit comprised of several canals). To help you navigate easily and discover the surrounding countryside, we offer a good range of maps and canal guides.

Fuel, water and gas
The diesel and water tanks will be full on arrival (water will need topping up from time to time from one of the many points on route). Cooking gas and diesel should last for the duration of the cruise - boats use comparatively little fuel.

Locks Locks are used to lift or lower boat levels and can be found on almost all canals and many rivers. On major rivers and waterways such as the Thames and in Scotland's Great Glen, the locks are manned and operated during the summer. On canals, they are much smaller, and operated by you and your crew (although lock keepers are sometimes on hand to help out). This is done by taking the boat into the lock chamber, which has gates at either end. These are then closed and the lock is filled or emptied by raising small trap doors (paddles), with an L-shaped windlass (lock key). When the chamber is completely full or empty, push the solid wood balance beams to lever the gates open. This requires a little physical effort, but the reasonably fit will have no difficulty.

Moorings There's plenty of free moorings along the waterways. In the more popular tourist centres, there may be a small fee for mooring. On the UK canals, you can stop overnight anywhere without charge. However, you must avoid mooring overnight within 50 metres of a lock or other navigation landmark to allow other boats to pass unhindered.

There are a few very simple rules on the waterways and these are fully explained in the Skipper’s Manual provided on your boat.

  • Narrowboats and cruisers can accommodate up to 12 people and are maintained to the highest standards. Bedroom
  • Domestic appliances, heaters, lighting equipment etc are provided, along with all the necessary cooking utensils and crockery. (Most boats are fitted with 12 volt colour televisions.)
  • All have heating and storage tanks for plentiful hot water.
  • All boats have at least a 12 volt cigar lighter socket (similar to a car), so bring your camcorder or mobile phone adapters.
  • If you wish to take large items such as bicycles and canoes, call the hire base before you leave just to make sure this is OK. (On the broads, dinghies may be towed behind your boat.)
  • Life jackets are always available.Living Area
  • You may want to bring towels, tea towels, a torch, a good waterways guide, enough food for a couple of days cruising (check the location of convenient shops along the waterway with your hire operator), non-slip deck shoes and protective gloves (for locks).
  • Remember: sun rays are stronger when on the water, so sunglasses, cream and a hat are recommended.
  • Whilst all boats have a fully fitted kitchen, many people eat at the plentiful pubs on the riverside, which provide excellent food at reasonable prices.
  • All Broads cruisers and boats on the English and Welsh canals and rivers are fitted with flushing, sealed unit toilets. These may require a “pump-out” service during your holiday. But don't worry - this is simple and clean, and can be done at the many service points (boatyards) for between £8 and £12, or for free at a Blakes Boatyard.

A certain amount of physical activity is involved when locking and berthing, so it's recommended 2 crew members are reasonably fit and active. When disembarking, the height difference between a vessel and pontoon is approximately 3ft, which can causes difficulties for the elderly or disabled.

If you wish to use other waterways, check to see if a separate licence is required when booking. (For instance, if you wish to spend part of your holiday on the canals and a few days on either the River Thames or the River Avon.)

Fuel abroad
In France and Ireland, fuel costs are usually excluded.Last night

Last night
On your last night, consider spending it at or near the hire base. That way you won't have to rush back in the morning.

Getting there
All hire bases have outside and enclosed parking which is usually secure, for just a small fee or sometimes free of charge. Arriving by train? No problem - we'll tell you how to find the base, and can often organise a taxi.

Your boat is fully insured and you are only responsible for any damage up to the amount of your security deposit (although you are expected to take reasonable care!). Many boatyards also offer additional insurance for diving services to clear a propeller fouled by your own negligence.

Safety Clothing
Ideally wear non-slip shoes and a buoyancy aid whenever you or your children are on deckSafety

Pets are limited to two per boat (three is a few cases) – but dogs may be restricted according to size and type. If you’re bringing your dog, please enquire about the boatyard policy prior to your reservation.

Help is on hand
If there's a problem you can't fix, simply contact your base and a service engineer will be dispatched immediately. The Hire Base is at your service 7 days a week.