Some interesting facts from expert Dagmar Rockel-Kuhnle
Holidays on a houseboat are the perfect introduction to the world of boating: with no special licence required we chug along the waterways at a leisurely pace, on the move without sacrificing comfort and experiencing nature without getting your feet wet. Together with houseboat expert Dagmar Rockel-Kuhnle, the most important questions about "how”, “where” and “what" are answered here.
Let's start with the good news: Anyone can go houseboating! With or without a licence, as a family or a girls-only trip, for a group outing or as a romantic break for couples - boating holidays are what you make of them!
The fact that holidays on a houseboat are particularly popular at the moment is borne out by the number of boat rental companies and agents of boating holidays. Logical, because the journey to Europe's most beautiful waterways can be made comfortably in your own car. Besides, on a houseboat the Corona safety distance is already built in, so to speak. You're only close enough to the people you find nice enough to want to take them on board. Nevertheless, you don't have to start your new life on the water completely unprepared. Here are Dagmar Rockel-Kuhnle's tips.
Tip 1: Book in good time!
The bad news is, word of the houseboat's suitability as a mobile quarantine began spreading just before the start of the third corona wave. So if you want to houseboat this summer, you should book NOW. The biggest choice of boats and places is in January, by the end of February there is steadily less, and as soon as the sun warms up, the last boats for the main season are gone. Especially boat crews who want to book during the school holidays in the states of North Rhine-Westphalia, Bavaria or Baden-Württemberg should really take care of this now.
Tip 2: Set your priorities
Before you start looking through the endless expanses of the internet for descriptions of sailing areas, boat layouts and technical questions, you should define what makes the perfect holiday for you. So please answer the following questions: What is most important to me? The boat? The dates of your trip? The region? Depending on how you set your priorities, certain charter companies may be ruled out because they’re not present in the desired region or don’t have the boat you want in their fleet.
Tip 3: Find a charter company
Especially beginners should choose a large, well-established charter company for their first trip. If you’re still a bit unsure, it’s good to have a really reliable partner at your side. From smooth-running procedures and high quality standards, being experienced with beginners to tried and tested procedures for unexpected situations and a 24-hour emergency call service, you also benefit from a clear contractual relationship with such providers.
You’re also protected from fake companies that cheat charter crews out of their deposits with amazingly realistic websites, which was a big problem in the last season.
Kuhnle-Tours have been renting and brokering houseboats in Europe for over 40 years now. Currently the fleet contains about 160 boats for 2 to 12 people, which are handled by charter crews in France (Alsace-Lorraine) and at four locations in Germany. Between the bases in Berlin-Zeuthen, Zehdenick, Priepert and headquarters on the Müritz in Mecklenburg, licence-free and licence-required single trips can be booked. The company group has its own shipyard where Kormoran, Aquino and Febomobil boats are built. Information on boats, trips, regions and dates can be found at kuhnle-tours.com. In addition, the company publishes fluvius-magazin.de, an expert boat portal with cruise reports and all kinds of worthwhile reading from the boating world. Videos on boats and educational films on boating are available on their YouTube channel.
Tip 4: Select your boat
Houseboats come in a wide variety: from 15-metre, 25-ton luxury boats with four bathrooms that sleep 12 people down to light craft without any plumbing. If you’re sleeping on board, for the sake of the environment there should be a toilet and a proper wastewater tank on board. Also pay attention to any special needs of your crew members, such as barrier-free access for the mobility impaired, a large berth and sufficient headroom for the 2-metre man or ample kitchen equipment for hobby cooks. Each crew member should have their own bed that doesn’t have to be pulled out every night. If you’re cruising in spring and autumn, you should make sure you have an efficient heating system, ideally one that doesn’t rely on shore power. In summer, a bathing platform with an outdoor shower and a sun awning on the aft deck are advantageous. An important piece of equipment for beginners is a bow thruster. It makes manoeuvring easier in the harbour and in the locks! Boats with bow thrusters are a little more expensive than without, but worth the extra cost.
Sport Boat Hire Ordinance
If you want to sail fast boats (more than 15 hp) anywhere on Germany's inland waterways, you need an inland navigation licence. This can be obtained with a reasonable amount of effort within a weekend at certified boating schools. With a German licence, you can usually also sail on inland waters in other countries. There are two exceptional rules for boating WITHOUT a licence on German inland waters:
If the boat’s engine power is less than 15 hp, it’s not necessary to obtain a licence to travel on German inland waters (except for on the Rhine and the stretch of 6.5 km in front of the Chancellor's Office in Berlin).
Within the framework of the charter licence regulation, you don’t need a licence for boats with more than 15 hp engine power if the boat cannot go faster than 12 km/h. Please note: this only applies on specially selected waters.
Further details can be found in the Sport Boat Hire Ordinance Binnen (Sportbootvermietungsverordnung Binnen. Poland and France have similar regulations. You can also sail a houseboat without a licence in Italy, the Netherlands, Ireland and many other countries.
Tip 5: Select your region
All you need for boating is water, a boat and a little sun. Each region has its own special features: The lakes in Mecklenburg and Brandenburg invite you to swim in their clean waters, the French canals offer spectacular hydraulic structures such as ship tunnels and a ship lift, and cosy, historic old towns invite you to stroll through the city. Ireland delights visitors with its pubs and music culture, the Masurian lakes with inexpensive restaurants and the Netherlands with a mixture of everything. Every crew member should be able to experience a small highlight: Whatever it is, Dagmar Rockel-Kuhnle's advice is not to pack the bucket list too full on the first cruise, to leave enough time to enjoy your maiden voyage.
Tip 6: Check extras
What’s included, what isn’t? Bed linen, life jackets for children, barbecue, final cleaning – consider in advance which extras you need and what you can bring or do yourself. In any case, the technical briefing for the boat and the charter licence briefing for crews without a licence should be included. A suitable life jacket for each crew member and a map of the water routes should also be on board free of charge. It makes sense to have at least one bicycle on board for running small errands ashore. You should also take a look at the inventory list of the chartered boat. But don’t worry, on a houseboat you’re not travelling outside of civilization! It’s still possible to buy a potato peeler or the mosquito repellent you forgot to pack.
Tip 7: Preparation & implementation
Stay relaxed. Your first houseboat trip doesn't have to be completely planned out. One thing you can do to prepare yourself is get the charter primer from Quick Maritim Medien and a cruising guide for the area. Some charter companies or agencies include the cruising guide in the price. In any case, the companies have a good overview of which books are recommended. Don't take on too much. With a houseboat you will travel between 20 and 40 kilometres a day if you’re still on holiday. Passing through a lock takes an average of 30 to 40 minutes, so plan in a leisurely lunch break and also an afternoon to while away at anchor.
Typical beginner mistakes
Yes, they happen and they will happen to you too. Sinking the mobile phone, missing the dolphin when mooring, not hitting the box until the third try - these things also happen to crews who have been on the water for ages. Keep calm and don’t lose your sense of humour - the biggest mistake you can make would be not to set off at all and miss out on a great adventure on the water.
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