Houseboat for Beginners – Our Tips

As we went as complete beginners on a houseboat tour, here are some tips that might be possibly useful for you if your planning a houseboat vacation. Of course, everyone is different, but this is indeed our personal view.

  1. Read the captain’s guide
  2. Read the captain’s guide
  3. Read the captain’s guide


Three times should be enough. But do it way before the trip. Don’t do it like we did and read it in the car while driving to the harbour. Because reading it once might not be enough.

Though they say in the commercials that a houseboat can be used without a driver’s license this does not mean that it is also without knowledge. There is a lot of information about the houseboat, the handling and the driving. If you want to learn all that within one day it might be too much. In addition you might have had an exhausting drive to the harbour. To keep a clear head after three hours of instructions can be difficult.

4. Driving and Steering

Occupy yourself with the traffic signs long enough and early enough. Not that you suddenly ask during steering the boat: „There is a black-yellow buoy. What does this mean?“. You can always look it up in the booklet on board when you see a buoy or a sign, but variation number one is much more relaxing. And there are a lot of terminology. Or do you happen to know what a „cleat“ is? So look it up and learn! Believe us!

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Also steering is difficult. It is not a car but a boat. Remember your first driving lesson? It is like that with aa boat. It reacts much more slowly and is steered differently. Make sure you can drive different monoeuvres yourself. Landing backwards, sideways, tack and ‚man over board‘. Let others from you boat also try to steer so that they get a feeling for it. We would choose a boat with joystick steering for the next time. That is so much more easy to handle.

And by the way… houseboat charterers always let the fenders hang outside…

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5. Binoculars

It is much more relaxing to be able to read what is written on a buoy or a sign very early….

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6. Life on board

If you have been living in a mobile home or caravan before or have tried glamping or camping, you will know some things on board already. If not there is something new for you like a gas operated refrigerator or the toilette on board.

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On board of a houseboat there are many things that are different. The shower stalls are shower and toilette at the same time. For showering you put a shelve over the toilette and the whole bathroom is the shower cabinet. Which means everything gets wet.

All doors have stoppers so that they won’t open on their own.

7. Floor rags

On our next houseboat tour I would take a couple of floor rags with me. With those I would dry the shower stall after taking a shower. Who would like to use a toilette if it is dripping wet? One floor rag I would put in front of each door and in front of the bathrooms. You cannot dry the floor of the bathroom with the rug. A window wiper would also do. At least for the walls. The floor would still be wet. Sometimes the water stays a little bit longer because the boat is not perfectly balanced. Wet feet are most likely.

8. Sun protection

I can not stay for hours in the blazing sun. If this is the same with you be careful to choose a boat that you can drive with sun protection. On some houseboats the so called Biminis are to high to fit under a bridge. So we have been told to drive as a charterer always with the sun roof down. And please do as you are told. We have seen boats where Bimini and bridge collided. The bridge has won by the way!

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If the boat does not have a sun top or you cannot use it take enough protection with you like a scarf, a cap or a hat. Please remember that on the water it is often windy and there is a fair wind. So things fly away quickly.

9. Fixing

Talking about flying. It is quite cosy on board and during a vacation you might not like to tidy up all the time and stuff is lying around. Here a magazine, there a book, here a pair of sunglasses and there a towel… You won’t believe how fast these things learn to fly. One gust of wind and you sunglasses sail away. As there is water all around you, you should not be to much fond of your stuff. Or you tow it away and fix everything.

10. Bicycles

If you have a chance take your bikes with you or rent some. Sometimes the harbour is a little bit away from the village and you might not want to carry your groceries on board. Or you want to take a tour because you would like to move. On board of a houseboat there is not much work for your fitness tracker or pedometer. The houseboat moves but you won’t. You sit or stand for hours on the steering wheel or on board. Only in locks or during landing manoeuvres you get a chance to move.


11. Protecting gloves

I would take protective gloves with me the next time. The normal workers gloves get wet and that is  uncomfortable during manoeuvres. And the gloves do not dry that fast on board. Sometimes you have to carry out landings several times in front of a lock.

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12. Knots

Did we talk about manoeuvres? Get to know the knots. If you are in the middle of a manoeuvre or steering into a lock and you ask yourself ‚what was this knot like?‘ it is too late. You do not need many knots but those few you should have down pat. Then you can work fast and easy. And all on board should know it. Not only one person. Mostly the women do the job while the men are steering…

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And get used to sort the ropes right away after each landing. So you can use the whole bundle for throwing and with that weight you will hit much better. But even after two weeks on a houseboat we still think about the sentence „avoid that the ropes get wet“. Ha, ha.

13. Garbage Bags

Taken enough garbage bags with you. The toilette on board get blocked easily and we have not thrown the toilet paper into the toilet but gathered it in garbage bags – like it is done in other countries. The small bags for cosmetics are very good for that. The bigger ones you can use for collecting empties. Unfortunately at some marinas they do not separate waste but put everything into one huge container.

14. Cash and coins

You have to pay demurrage and have to buy electricity and fresh water. Mostly they only accept cash and in some marinas there are electricity and water towers where you have to insert coins or you have to load a special card or chip. Sometimes that is done at a vending machine. So make sure to have enough 50 cent, 1 and 2 euro coins with you.

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15. Clothes-peg

Take 10 or 20 clothes-peg with you and also a bit of a washing line. With the pegs you can fix towels at the rail so that they do not fly away.

16. Supplies

A houseboat is like a holiday apartment. Take with you what you would also take to a holiday flat. Salt, sugar, flour, spices. Your favorite knife, oil and vinegar. But remember to victual yourself in good time. It may be that you don’t have the opportunity to do the groceries for a couple of days. At some marinas there are tiny shops and they are exactly that: tiny. You get some items but nothing for cooking really. In time of need you go to the harbour restaurant… And remember to bring enough drinking water. The fresh water from the tank is water from the tank. It works fine for brushing you teeth, but we did not dare to drink it and brought water bottles.

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17. Clothing

Don’t take your best clothes with you. On board it has to be practical and not fashionable. At the locks and during manoeuvres fringes and pompoms would hinder you. In the lock you will get wet and dirty. There is hardly any opportunity to go out. But it might get cold.


18. Trip planning

I would plan the next time the day trips and look up the route in detail to find out where is what. How many locks? Were are the possibilities for landing? We would go for about 10 km and then rest in a marina and chill on the houseboat or in the village.

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19. Time

Talking about trip planning. Allow extra time. On one day we had to pass three locks and on each lock we had to wait for three lockings and at one we arrived during lunch break. This adds quickly to some hours. Also for refueling, buying fresh water or dispose of waste water you need about one hour. Houseboat trips are slow. Really slow. Each maneuver lasts. To drive somewhere quickly is impossible.

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Also on board everything takes time. Breakfast. Cooking. Taking a shower. Everything is different. But therefore you are on a holiday.

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20. Communicate

At the locks and during manoeuvres you have to communicate. We learned that very quickly and talked about each step. Where do you wanna land? Which place are you aiming at? Which bollard shall I use? And so on. Questions and anwsers should be agreed upon in advance. How do you want to communicate? Do you use signs or special words? It does not matter. But you should agree.

We saw a lot of domestics on other boats. It is not necessary. It is supposed to be a vacation.

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21. Harbour

You also have to communicate on arrival at the harbour. Either the harbour master is present and will show you where to go. Or – in case that the harbour master is not there any more – you can ask the other skippers or you look for a nice place for yourself. But you should go to the harbour master right next morning and pay your demurrage.

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22. Waving

You also communicate with other boats. You wave at each other friendly. You talk to each other in the locks. Especially at the self service locks. And you great each other in the harbour. You are very near to each other. We found that the water people were very friendly and nice. There were hardly any parties at the harbours or other rowdies. Everything went easily and smooth.


23. Keep calm

Whatever happens. Keep calm on the houseboat! While steering. Keep calm. While landing. Keep calm. Especially while landing. To land with a houseboat is like backing into a parking space in front of the icecream parlour. You have many spectators. They are sitting on their boats with a beer in their hands and watch. So! Keep calm! If you does not succeed, drive away and try again. Also in the locks. Keep calm!


But the other skippers are also very nice. They jump from their boats to take you ropes and will give you tips about the knots and the manoeuvres.

A houseboat trip? Any time again! With the above list!!

What are your experiences?

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