HNA run several training events each year, which are suitable for everyone from complete novices through to seasoned boaters wishing to refresh their skills. These start at our base in Harefield in West London, and over the course of four days, will take you from the green fields and open spaces of Middlesex and through the bustling metropolis of central London before a return journey via the tidal Thames.
Our courses focus on more than just boating. You’ll learn a lot about the history of the canal system, mixed in with trivia and stories, from trainers who are passionate about the country’s waterways. You’ll be part of a close-knit team for the four days, where you’ll make some firm friendships, and where you’ll learn to work together to safely steer and crew a 70 foot long narrowboat through some of the country’s busiest canals.
A typical course will begin on a Thursday evening, with dinner provided, and an introduction to boating on canals. For DofE courses, the course begins at midday Friday, as there is an element of charity organisation, operations and preparation to include.
After staying overnight onboard, we’ll head south on the Grand Union from Harefield into Uxbridge, Cowley and Hayes, before turning onto the Paddington Arm of the GU and past Northolt, Greenford, Alpterton and Wembley, before reaching our overnight stop at Kensal Green. Dinner will be on board.
Saturday morning will see us continue through Maida Vale and into Little Venice, with perhaps a trip into Paddington Basin, which comes with it’s own rich history, before we continue into Maida Hill tunnel, the first of the trip. As we go past London Zoo, you’ll see, perhaps, a tiger or two, as well as the aviary. We reach Camden Lock around lunchtime, and depending on the time of year we might have time to stop, or to let our trainees explore the market, whilst your trainers work the boats through the series of locks. Heading on, we pass St Pancras and Kings Cross, before reaching the second tunnel: the Islington Tunnel. By now, we’ll well into East London, and we’ll continue past Victoria Park, gently heading south now, and past Mile End before arriving at Limehouse Marina, during late afternoon. Dinner tonight will be either taken at the Cruising Association’s restaurant (at additional charge) or on board, depending on the course. For DofE courses, tonight’s meal will be provided on-board.
Sunday will depend very much on the tide timings, as we have a very small window during which we can join the tidal Thames. We’ll either head up to Bow Locks for some practice on turning the boat around, or head out onto the Thames and do the practice later on in the course. Before we enter the Thames via the huge Thames Lock, your trainers will brief you on what to expect, issue you with a life jacket, and test our VHF radios. The trip on the Thames takes around two and a half hours, and all trainees will get a chance to steer, under the guidance of a trainer. We’ll pass under some of London’s greatest bridges and past all kinds of sights – it’s definitely a moment to have a camera with you. As we head further up the Thames, the traffic lessens, and we eventually reach Brentford. If we’re on a late exit onto the Thames, this will be our overnight stop. Although we have showers on board all our boats, Brentford has a shower block available to us, so here’s a chance for a long hot shower! If we had an early exit onto the Thames, we’ll stop here for showers and to refill our water tanks, before heading onwards to the Hanwell flight, where we’ll stop for the night once we get to the top.
Monday, our final day, sees us on the long stretch home. If we didn’t do any turning practice at Limehouse, we’ll have time to do that today at Wind in the Willows. Our usual strategy here is to leave the trainees on board to turn the boat several times, working as a team, whilst your trainers watch from the bank. This is a small, but vital step in training, and really helps to build confidence in what you’ve learned. As we continue past Uxbridge, this can sometimes be a convenient place for trainees to leave us, given the better transport options, although you are, of course, welcome to stay with us for the final couple of hours. Towards the last few miles, your trainers will take over steering and locks, so that the trainees have a chance to pack their kit. We also find that these last few miles is the time when trainees become exhausted and mistakes are more likely. By the time we arrive back at Harefield, it’s just a case of unloading the boats, a quick post-course debrief, and then we all go our separate ways.
The map below shows our route, which starts and ends at the green marker, and goes clockwise through London:
No matter what your level of experience, HNA has a training course for you. Our instructors and crew are trained to deliver courses up to the NCBA’s (National Community Boat Association’s) CCBM (Certificate in Community Boat Management) level – a nationally recognised qualification – and are CRB/DBS checked.
The cost of this course is £250 and includes:
- Four days of instruction, both one-to-one and as a group.
- Course manual
- All meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner – with the possible exception of the Saturday evening, see above re: DofE courses) as well as teas/coffee/squash (and sometimes cake!) throughout the course.
- Accommodation on board.
- Certification fees to NCBA BHC level (those candidates wishing to obtain CCBM accreditation should note that there is an additional £30 cost direct to the NCBA)
During the course, you can expect to learn:
- Steering, turning, and reversing a 70 foot narrowboat
- Mooring up and setting off (including rope throwing and use)
- Safe use of locks (and what to do in an emergency)
- How to increase your communications skills, both verbally and non-verbally
- Working as part of a team and with others
- Etiquette on the canal system
- History and trivia on canals
Sound like something you’d like to do? Courses will have between 6-8 trainees and 1-2 trainers per boat, so you’ll get at least an hour per day with hands-on ’tiller time’ in 20-30 minute chunks, as well as plenty of lock experience. Your accommodation on board is in bunks, with separate male and female cabins. Boats have flushing toilets and hot showers, as well as full-sized kitchens and all cooking utensils – we usually manage to do a full Sunday roast on the Sunday trip!
We’ve put together a list of Frequently Asked Questions about the course, which you might like to have a read through. We’ve also got a blog entry on what goes on during a training weekend, which might be of interest. You can also download a copy of our DofE Programme.