Frequently Asked Questions

Late joiners and Early Leavers

The course begins on the Thursday evening around 19.00 (unless you’re joining us as part of your DofE Gold, in which case, it starts at 12.00 on Thursday), although we do recognise that it can be difficult for people to get time off work. For that reason, you can also join us on the Friday evening or Saturday morning, when we’re generally around the Alperton, Kensal Rise, or Little Venice area. If you are joining late, it’s not a problem, but do keep in touch by phone so we know where to meet you. Given the abilities of some trainees, canal traffic or weather conditions, it can be hard to know exactly where we’ll be that evening. Please make sure you email us with a phone number, so we can find you!

If you’re not doing the full four days, our payment systems have difficulty with that, so we can’t offer online payment – sorry. You can, however, pay by Paypal by sending the balance to through Paypal.

Where will we go?

First night onboard at HNA. From Harefield, south towards Hayes on the Grand Union. Head into West London via Greenford, Alperton, Park Royal, Kensal Rise, Paddington (overnight stop somewhere between Park Royal, Kensal Rise or Paddington). Continue through Camden, St Pancras, Islington, the Olympic Park and Limehouse (overnight stop). Play around Limehouse basin until low tide, then out onto the Thames inbound to Brentford (overnight stop). Up through Hanwell, Hayes and back to Harefield. We should be back in Harefield around 16.00 – 18.00 on Monday evening. Note: depending on time times, we might forego the practice around Limehouse, but instead do it around Hayes or Wind in the Willows on Monday.


Your course fee includes all meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner) plus accommodation. If you have any allergies, please make sure we know about it (you would normally do this as part of the pre-registration form we’ll send you to complete).

Training Materials

A training manual and other material are included as part of your course fee, and you’re welcome to keep this after the course. You can download this in advance if you wish, and, of course, access free updates from our downloads page.

Course Format

We continually adjust the course depending on timings, weather, progress, etc, etc, generally, this is the plan:

  • Thursday: meet your fellow trainees, dinner, a short introduction, maybe a short movie on canal history.
  • Friday: safety briefing, lock briefing, boat handling theory and practice
  • Saturday: boat handling practice, dinner out in Limehouse
  • Sunday: boat handling practice
  • Monday: mostly theory, paperwork, tests


You’ll be asked to complete a very short health declaration, to say you’re generally fit and well, and provide us next of kin information. You’ll also be asked to complete a more detailed form, which you’ll seal into an envelope and hand to your trainer. In the event of a medical emergency, this envelope may be opened and passed to paramedics or other medical personnel. It will be returned to you, unopened, at the end of the course.

What to bring?

Good weather, if you can! You’ll need a sleeping bag, pillow (if you wish), and normal overnight stuff, plus enough clothes for a few days. Most trainees bring far too much! A spare pair of shoes is recommended in case your foot dips in the canal – it happens, and a wet shoe for four days isn’t pleasant! Good footwear is trainers, or other flat shoe. If it looks like being wet, bring a waterproof jacket. The course will continue whatever the weather.

You can also bring mobile phones and chargers – we do have 240v power on board for recharging. A camera is also a good idea, and, if you have one, a torch will always be useful at night. Remember any medications. Please don’t bring hairdryers or curling tongs – the boat’s power won’t support those.

Life on board

All our boats have showers and flushing toilets on board, a full-size kitchen with normal-sized cooker, oven, sink and fridge, and can sleep 12. During the course, we will eat as a group, and we’ll all take turns in helping to cook and prepare food as well as cleaning up.

Sleeping is in bunks: bring your own sleeping bag. Cabins will be either all-male or all-female. Please be aware (feedback from a previous course) that sometimes, people around you may snore, so if this is likely to keep you awake, it’s probably worth buying some ear plugs before you get here!

Each day will start around 8.00 for breakfast (normally bacon rolls, cereal, toast) with everyone out on the towpath at 9.00 for a morning briefing.

Your trainers

The training team are very experienced at running this course, and are certificated by the NCBA to deliver this course. You can read more about them here.

Where to meet?

The full four-day course starts and ends at HNA’s boathouse in Summerhouse Lane, Harefield:


There is limited parking on site for 3-4 cars, and a layby adjacent to the boathouse for another 2-3. If you want to travel by tube/bus, the U9 bus from Uxbridge is the only way to do it, jumping off at Belfry Avenue and walking the last 500 yards.

If you’re coming by train, Denham Golf Course on the Chiltern line is nearby, or Rickmansworth on the Met Line – for both these, we can always pick you up, but again, do let us know in advance with a phone number, and then call when you get there. We can also normally find you a lift back to a station at the end of the course.

If you’re joining part way through, we’ll arrange that. We can also find a good place to drop you off on the Sunday evening if you have to get back to work on the Monday.


At the end of the course, you should be confident enough to steer a boat by yourself, to operate locks, use ropes, and to handle an emergency situation, and there are a number of certifications you could end up with: competent crew, boat handling certificate or certificate in community boat management. The latter is a nationally-recognised certification, and shows you have a good control of the boat, it’s crew and passengers, and are considered safe to take groups out, without requiring an HNA steerer with you. A fair number of people do achieve that level, but don’t quite have the confidence, so if you’re asked to come back for a day to take a boat out for a bit of practice, free of charge, just to get you over that final hurdle, don’t worry – it’s quite common. There is an additional cost for accreditation with the NCBA of £30, payable once you ask us to obtain the certificates for you.


Smoking is only permitted at the rear of the boat, and with agreement from the trainer. We have a no-alcohol rule during training. Lifejackets are optional during most of the course, except the tidal Thames segment on the Sunday, at which point they are mandatory. Refusal to follow a trainer’s safety instructions may result in you being asked to leave the course early, for the safety of yourself or others on the course.


The course is fun, and you’ll learn a lot, and make new friends. Apart from boating, it’s a great experience in teamwork, and working or looking out for each other. It can be very tiring, so whilst there will be opportunities for beer or two in the evenings, it would be wise not to overdo it! Too many times, we find that trainees waste valuable time the following day recovering from the night before.