Spending holidays or living on the peaceful waterways of the Canal du Midi is a dreamy prospect, but for many the red tape and confusion surrounding the rules of navigating Europe’s waterways can put people off. So what’s required?
While learning basic safety, boat handling and rules of the road through training is not mandatory in the UK, RYA qualifications can be used as evidence of your boating competence to hire companies abroad. If you intend to pilot your own boat abroad you will be required by law to hold a licence.
How do I gain a licence?
For extended holidaymakers with their own boats or those living aboard their own boats and barges abroad, gaining the International Certificate of Competence (ICC) including the CEVNI examination is a must. This can be taken at certified training centres in the UK or abroad.
Steve Bridges, owns RYA-recognised Training Centre Bargecraft, on the Canal du Midi in south-west France. His three-day barging experience attracts professionals towards the end of their working life to join a tight-knit boating community of a more permanent kind. As well as gaining the RYA Inland Waterways Helmsman qualification and subsequent International Certificate of Competence (ICC) including the CEVNI exam, the course provides valuable insight into the French culture and community spirit of living afloat.
Culture and community
“It’s the longest village in the world,” says Steve, who set up the training centre after buying a 21m Dutch barge of his own. “Everybody knows everyone and wherever you are there is always someone willing to help.”
With an unwritten rule that aperitifs should be served after 6pm with your neighbour as well as traditional BBQ gatherings in the local villages, it’s easy to see why such a social and relaxing lifestyle should appeal.
Making it happen
Stephen (62) and Erin Freeman (59), from Rotorua in New Zealand, spent five years holidaying on hired barges, cruising around the Garonne and the Baise. They fell in love with the French culture, food, wine, peaceful canals and friendly camaraderie of boating life. The Freeman’s dream is to buy their own boat and retire in France spending five months of the year cruising the waterways.
The closest place to New Zealand to undertake the inland waterways helming training courses is Europe. There were a number of options available to the Freemans: undertake training within the French system, but the exam written in French that was another hurdle, take the Inland Waterways Helmsman training at an RYA recognised training centre.
In the end they decided to add the Bargecraft RYA Inland Waterways helmsman training experience to a holiday in France, giving them the vital accreditation needed and improving their knowledge, skills and confidence along the way. The course taught them the importance of safety, awareness of dangers, teamwork, using the correct nautical language for clear communication with others on the water, navigating locks and how to make a clear plan.
The overall experience
“It was extremely worthwhile,” says Erin. “Even though we had had some experience with hire boats, the training given is minimal at best; a quick tour of the boat, detailed written instructions and a short demonstration on the water and off we went! We feel far better equipped now.”
“We became far more confident handling a large barge, in particular experiencing navigating 18 locks. And all this in this comfort zone of having an instructor on board at all times, not to mention some fantastic hospitality and great food.”
For more information about the RYA Inland Waterways Helmsman Course visit www.rya.org.uk/go/IW-courses
For more information about training and cruising France’s inland waterways visit www.bargecraft.com
What is CEVNI?
Code Européen des Voies de Navigation Intérieure (CEVNI) is the code governing navigation on the interconnected European inland waterways.
In the same way leisure boaters on coastal waters are expected to know and abide by the rules of the road, boaters on many of the inland waterways of Europe, especially in places that are heavily utilised by commercial traffic, are expected to know the CEVNI.
CEVNI is a written or online test which validates the Inland Waterways section of the International Certificate of Competence (ICC). The ICC enables you to prove that you are at required level of boating competence for that particular country. For more about the ICC visit www.rya.org.uk/go/ICC.
Where can I take the ICC/CEVNI Test?
The ICC/CEVNI test can be taken through RYA recognised training centres and affiliated clubs that are authorised to carry out the test.
Joining the RYA is a brilliant move if you want to apply for an ICC, as the cost of applying for it is covered by your membership fee - www.rya.org.uk/join