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Digital Free Family Boating Holidays on the Canal

by TRAVEL talk

Canal boating holidays are great for an active family break, learning new skills and sharing the fun of navigation and mooring away from the madding crowd and the madness of the digital world we now live.

If you have never tried it or thought it not suitable for children then I would encourage you to take a closer look.

You’re probably wondering why we keep bleating on about family boating holidays. Well, the answer is simple, we are totally & utterly hooked.

The pace is set! Full stop!

No faster than 8kmph. Set for the duration of the trip and how refreshing we as a family find this style of holiday.

A boating holiday comes with complete freedom to sail the waterways at your own pace. This pace creates perfect quality time to spend with your loved ones.

Wifi & mobile phone signal connection is not always available or very weak out in the sticks. Yes! I hear you say! All aboard seem happy to be away from the digital world.

It’s a great way to regroup and bring the family back together as a working team. Everyone slows right down to the same pace with one goal in mind, to arrive at the next destination for more exploring.

Family cruising on a canal boat

Onward to the next destination

So our 3rd trip aboard a canal boat was with Nicols Boating. We have six days ahead of us to spend cruising along one of France’s most picturesque canals, The Nantes-Brest canal.

Whether you’re travelling as a family, a group of friends or a couple, Nicols boating holidays offers complete freedom with cruising itineraries not only all across France but also in Portugal, the Netherlands, Hungary and Germany.

The duration of your holiday can be from weekends away and short breaks to longer holidays of a week or more.

A boating holiday offers a novel and unique experience to see a country or region from a totally new perspective.

The bonus is no previous boating experience or licence is needed.

Nicols boats have a great reputation for the style and layout of their boats to accommodate the whole family.

Lock gates covered in beautiful flowers

They really do make a lot of effort with the canal system


All the crew can be involved in the running of a boating holiday. Handling, and steering a canal boat and navigating locks are all part of the boating fun.

You’ll receive full instructions on arrival and buoyancy aids will always be provided for adults and children.

If you’re really keen to keep the family active on your boating holiday, then everyone on board can be allocated a job.

Jim my youngest likes to drive the boat, in particular in and out of locks, manoeuvring her gracefully into each lock.

He is in full control and content to be in the driving seat giving out captain’s orders to the rope handlers and keeping the boat stable whilst the gallons of water poor in and out of each lock. This is quite a crucial and perhaps most difficult part of each day and full concentration from all crew is needed to keep the boat and its crew safe. I think he would find a Channel Crossing Ferry a piece of cake to be honest as he makes handling boats look so easy. He rarely needs to use the fenders which are strategically placed around the side of the boat which give assurance and protection from any bouncing or bumping into the lock walls.

Passing the boat back to dad at the point of departure from the lock and taking this time to hop off the boat and choose to keep his fitness up by either running to the next lock or cycling carefree along the towpath.

Our crew working like a well oiled machine

Our crew working like a well oiled machine

What’s in a day?

In the past, we have talked about our holiday on board and the areas we have visited but we wanted you to get an overall feel for a family boating holiday so a typical day runs like this:

  • Awake and up by around 9-9.30am for breakfast prep and discussion of the day’s plan/goal for arriving at the night’s destination. This consists of checking the weather, the number of hours cruising, whether we need groceries and of course does our destination have mooring facilities. Ideally an electric hook up for charging up appliances and moreover the boat’s batteries for showering/heating/cooking etc and facilities for topping up the on-board water tank.
  • Usually, about 4-5 hours actual cruising time per day is sufficient, do remember of course that these times need to include time in the locks so taking in to account when planning the number of locks you will be passing through. The more locks the more time it takes. Ensure to allow around 20-30 minutes for each lock, more if the canal is busy as you will have to wait for other boats to pass through.
  • And then we hear the captain start up the engine and it’s all hands on deck for departure. Lines off and boat clear for sailing. Once on our way the crew can step down from outdoor duties and enjoy the cruising, taking in the beautiful scenic countryside, quaint villages and watching the natural habitants of the waterways.
  • Coffee break is always a good time to join our captain on deck (if the weather permits outdoor driving) and enjoy hot or cold drinks (depending on the season) and a biscuit or two as we cruise along.
  • Also, note that when cruising in France that most locks (if they are manned) close for lunch! Again another perfect reason to slow down and take a leaf out of the Frenchie’s book with 2 hours’ time out mooring up and waiting for the lock-keepers to finish their baguette and lunchtime wine!
  • Lunchtime for us consists of chilling either lazing/nodding on the boat or a walk around the surrounding area. Whatever takes your fancy really. I generally choose the chilling option whilst my husband will take a wander and Jim will be happy to cast his line!
Totally relaxing

Totally relaxing

I hope you are getting the picture and pace now and can see where we are coming from.

  • After lunch, we cast off and head for the final destination. Coffee/tea break and treats along the way, tackling locks and enjoying the camaraderie with each other and with other cruisers.
  • Arriving at our destination all crew stand down and activities can be pursued. Discovering the village/town/city that you have arrived in, topping up on groceries, evening meal preparation and general maintenance duties on board – water top-up etc.
  • Evening activities consist of traditional family board games, reading and chilling, not forgetting the obligatory glass of local wine! Why not, we are not driving again until morning!

The day itself is somewhat exhausting but it is a “good” tired and bed comes early for all. So what’s not to like?

A game of Mölkky on shore

A game of Mölkky on the towpath

Everyone can choose how to relax

Everyone can choose how to relax

Time for a few chores with a beer

Time for a few chores with a beer

Time to cool off

Time to cool off

Accessible to everyone

We took this holiday with some close friends of ours. One of whom had recently been hospitalised with a broken foot and in a cast! So not an easy task for hopping (literally) on and off the boat.

In practice though she found that boarding and alighting the boat was very easily managed. So we now feel happy to say that these holidays can also be accessible to disabled passengers.

With a little help from a crew member access on and off the boat, either in a wheelchair or on crutches was fairly easy. Well that’s how she made it look!

At least we were able to give her one job!

At least we were able to give her one job!

More Pics

Click on an image to enlarge

Discover the fun and flexibility of a canal boat holiday onboard a Nicol’s boat and make some great family memories this summer.

Enjoy an unforgettable time captaining your own stylish cruiser.

Nicols offer canal holidays on board a range of self-drive cruisers for parties of between 2-12 people.

New to boating holidays?

No experience necessary, no licence required!

If you’ve never been on a boating holiday before, the concept is simple. Nicols will provide you with a boat, which will be your home and transport for the duration of your holiday. Pick it up from one of their many bases, situated along some of the most beautiful waterways in Europe, and the rest is entirely up to you. Go where you want; do as you please.

Read more here


Boat hire prices start from €349 for a 2-night short break or €698 for a one week trip. All linen and towels are included.

We travelled on board a stylish three-cabin Sixto from the Nicols base at Sucé-sur-Erdre.

Boat hire prices for the Sixto which sleeps six people start from €1172 for a 2-night short break or €2343 for a one week trip.





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About The Author

Smalltalk Magazine

Since 2005 Smalltalk Magazine is a printed A4 information magazine aimed at parents, distributed throughout the Yorkshire region. Printed 6 times a year it is distributed free to over 300 parent-friendly locations in the area. Full of useful and informative articles about family life.