How houseboating works: basics for first-timers

How houseboating works: basics for first-timers

Guide to the basics for first-time houseboaters — booking the boat, required documents and recommended insurance, as well as essential info about check-in, training and the cruise itself.

First time on a houseboat / How houseboating works

Before you start choosing a specific houseboat and route, it's a good idea to have a general understanding of the steps involved in booking a boat, what it's like checking in to the houseboat at the marina, what to expect from the on-site training, where to moor, what type of insurance is best and what staying on a houseboat is actually like. So, take a look at our guide and tips for first-time houseboaters.

Complete guide to booking a houseboat: what to expect

Are you about to go houseboating for the first time and want to know what the booking process is like? What documents you will or won't need, what insurance is recommended for a boating holiday or what a refundable deposit is for. Read on for our comprehensive overview.

Chartering a boat without a skipper's licence

Yes, it's true — you don't need a skipper's licence to drive a houseboat on European rivers and canals (although there are a few exceptions). In general, houseboats can be rented to people without the need for a boating licence. Before you set off, you will be briefly trained at the base marina on the rules of navigation and the use and maintenance of the boat after which you will receive a permit to drive the houseboat for the duration of your charter.

However, there are a few places where a skipper's licence is required — these are mainly areas where navigating and operating a boat is more challenging and therefore for more advanced captains. In Berlin and Potsdam, for example, a boating licence is required — the SBF Binnen or sports boat licence). Similarly, a licence is also required for the Saarbrücken–Apach section of waterways in France. If you are unsure whether a licence is required in your chosen destination, please contact our sales staff who will be happy to answer any questions you may have.

What is included in the price of a houseboat rental?

Boat rental includes all the necessary equipment (see inventory sheet for specific items), a full gas tank (13 kg), initial instruction on how to operate and steer the boat, accident assistance throughout the trip (during opening hours), captain's book, boat insurance and loss insurance.

What is not included in the price?

Meals, transport to the location, engine fuel, gas and lubricating oils associated with the operation of the boat, river map, trip cancellation insurance (optional), one-way cruise surcharge and other optional services. In some destinations, you will receive a river map free of charge from us when you book your boat.

Booking and paying the deposit

Once you have selected a suitable boat, you will receive a confirmation of the reservation for this boat under agreement with us. This initial reservation is non-binding and is held for 3–7 days. For a binding booking, i.e. the conclusion of a contract, a deposit of 40–50 % of the charter price is required. The remaining balance should be paid ten to six weeks prior to departure and once paid, we'll send you all boarding details and information about the base no later than 14 days prior to departure.

What is the purpose of the boat security deposit and how much is it?

The refundable deposit is paid in euros (cash or card) directly at the port (base) just before departure. If you hand back the boat in good condition, i.e. clean, without damage, at the agreed rate, at the agreed time and place, and with a full inventory, the charter company will refund your money. The amount of the deposit varies from €300 to €3,250 depending on the type and size of the boat. Some companies also require a cleaning deposit or a fuel deposit. To make sure you don't lose the deposit, we recommend taking out deposit insurance when booking.

Houseboat insurance, deposit insurance and cancellation insurance

The boats, including equipment, are insured against any possible damage. The insurance also covers damages caused to third parties, with the deductible for these damages covered under the deposit. The insurance does not cover the lessee's personal belongings and the lessor is not responsible for their loss or damage on board the boat unless the loss or damage is caused by the negligence of the lessor or their staff. We, therefore, recommend that you take out standard travel insurance before cruising, trip cancellation insurance in case you are unable to take part in the trip, and deposit insurance to protect your money in the event of damage to the boat or its inventory.

Taking over the boat and embarking

Prior to your trip, you'll receive a document from us which will give you information on all the transport options to the embarkation point (car, train, plane). The ports or bases vary in size and there will always be staff there to help you embark. These people are also at your disposal at all times.

It takes about 15 minutes to complete the check-in formalities — signing the charter contract, paying the deposit, ordering optional services and, in the case of a one-way cruise, booking the transfer. At the base, you will also receive a folder with technical information about the boat and you can purchase a river map with a guide containing tourist recommendations in the chosen location (shopping options, restaurants, museums, etc.). You will receive the captain's book with technical information directly from us before you leave.

Take a look at this video to see what a houseboat holiday is like:

More useful info on mooring and boating

We've put together answers to the most common questions from our clients about mooring options at the marinas (bases), on-site bike hire, boat equipment and general boating practices. We hope you'll find them useful.

Car parking at the marina (base)

All bases have a fenced or covered car park where you can park your car for a fee. The car parks are not guarded. If you are travelling by caravan, please check beforehand if you can park such larger vehicles there.

One-way cruises

If you don't want to return to the base you set off from and would like to return the boat at another location, please contact us. We can arrange both the boating trip from point A to point B, as well as a taxi transfer or the transport of your car to the landing point. However, this is a special service that we cannot always guarantee possible. Therefore, please always request confirmation from us 48 hours prior to embarking that the one-way cruise is still valid.

Onboard boat equipment

Blankets, pillows and clean linen are provided on board the houseboat. Each boat has a fully-fitted galley, which includes a refrigerator, freezer and a gas stove with 2–4 burners and an oven. If it is a larger boat, the equipment is adapted to cooking for a larger number of people.

Berths and moorings

It is possible to dock at marinas or anywhere in the open air where there is no direct prohibition on mooring or landing. Basically, you can stop wherever and whenever you want.  Numerous jetties and bollards allow for plenty of freedom in tying up and mooring your boat.

Before you set sail, the helpful charter staff will explain all the specifics of the route. Listen carefully to their advice and you won't run into any problems.

A group of people sit together at a table on the pier next to the moored houseboats and eat.

Locks and moveable bridges

Passing through locks (or gates and sluices) is an integral part of a houseboat holiday, more or less so depending on the route. However, this shouldn't be of concern as going through a lock is simple.

In the vast majority of cases, locks are free of charge, and it's only in the Netherlands that there is usually a fee. Locks are either fully automated or manned and it's only in exceptional cases that you'll be operating the locks yourself. But bear in mind that in some regions, locks are closed on public holidays. On these days you can plan a day trip in the region or do or another activity.

Women on the bow of a houseboat in the lock in front of the lock

Fuel consumption

When planning your cruise, you must take into account the extra fuel costs associated with operating a houseboat. When you return the boat, the base staff will read the number of motoring hours you've done on the boat's meter and calculate the surcharge which is payable in cash. The fee is set at a flat-rate and includes fuel (diesel), gas, lubricating oils and engine wear. The number of motoring hours undertaken depends on the way you drive the boat, but on average you can expect 5 motoring hours per day. Flat rate prices vary according to market prices, season and the cost of diesel.

Increased water level in rivers

If you are going on a houseboat holiday during the spring or autumn, always check with us about the current water levels of the rivers. During these seasons, river levels tend to rise in some places and in exceptional cases, this can restrict your navigation along your chosen stretch of river. Changes may also affect embarkation or disembarkation points.

Boating on lakes in strong winds

The lakes of Thau (southern France), Műritz and Plauer See (Germany) and the lakes in Ireland are not navigable in strong winds (above Beaufort 3). All the necessary information about the restrictions will be given to you by the staff at the base before embarking.

Bike rental on site

Cycling is a popular activity on a houseboat vacation. Not only will you enjoy exploring the local waterways along the well-maintained cycle paths, but it will also save you time getting to the shops or other points of interest. You can either bring your own bikes or hire them at the base.

We recommend that you find out how many bikes can be accommodated on your chosen boat ahead of time and reserve the number of bikes you need in advance.

Need more information? Contact us, we'll be happy to advise you.