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October 2017 (DofE Only)

This course is scheduled for Duke of Edinburgh candidates only, who are working through their Gold Award, and are looking to complete their five-day residential section. As part of the pre-course administration, will may check with your DofE leader to validate with them that you are involved with the scheme.

  • Start date: Saturday, October 21st 2017 at 09.00
  • End date: Wednesday, October 25th 2017 at 17.00

You are, of course, welcome to join us on the Friday afternoon or evening  at whatever time suits you, and stay on one of our boats overnight to avoid an early morning journey. If you choose this option, there’s no additional charge, and there is a pub nearby (around ten minutes walk away) which serves food.

The cost of this course is £320 and includes:

  • Five days of instruction, both one-to-one and as a group.
  • Course manual.
  • All meals from breakfast on the Saturday morning, through to lunch on the Wednesday. There’s no evening meal on the Wednesday – the last day of the course –  as we would expect to have finished by late afternoon.
  • Accommodation on board.
  • Certification fees to NCBA BHC level.

During the course, you can expect to learn:

  • Steering, turning, and reversing a 70 foot narrowboat
  • Mooring up and setting off (including rope throwing, hitches and use)
  • Safe use of locks (and what to do in an emergency)
  • Working as part of a team and with others
  • Etiquette on the canal system
  • History and trivia on canals

Click here to pay £50 deposit and to reserve your place.

The course will see us doing some basic rope skills before leaving our boathouse in Harefield on the first day, and heading south through Uxbridge, into Hayes, and then turning to head into London via Southall, Greenford and Alperton (perhaps as far as Kensal Rise, depending on progress) where we’ll stop for the night. The following day, we’ll continue through Little Venice, taking some time to practice turning in Paddington, past London Zoo and into Camden, before moving on through Kings Cross, and round past Victoria Park where we’ll stop for the night. Next day, we move on to arrive in London’s Limehouse Basin for another some more boating skills (turning, mooring, etc) and an overnight stay. The following day, depending on tide times (high water London Bridge is at 1548), we’ll either take some time to practice in and around the Limehouse area, before heading onto the tidal Thames for our journey up the river, or we’ll do the river segment first, and add in some practice time at the other end. Our overnight stop will be around Brentford to Hayes area, before heading home to Harefield the last day.

london_ring1If you’d like to join us, sign up here and pay a deposit of £50 to reserve your place. Note that places are limited to 10 people, split across two boats. If you have any questions, please get in touch here by email and we’ll get back to you very shortly, however, these are the questions we usually get asked:

What is the minimum age to take part?

There are no exact age restrictions, although as mentioned above, you do need to be working on your DofE Gold, and within the age ranges set down for that.

Are there any health requirements?

You need to be able to climb a short ladder (as part of the lock fire evacuation training). To date, none of our trainees have had a problem with this. You should be averagely fit (ie: able to stand for 30-45 minutes at a time whilst steering), have normal vision (either with or without wearing glasses) and able to stand unassisted. If you have any medical conditions, which might affect your suitability (eg: diabetes, heart issues, dyslexia, fitting, etc) please discuss them with us first.

What’s the accommodation?

On board in a bunk. You’ll need to provide sleeping bag and pillow. Sleeping is segregated, so a cabin will be either all male or all female, with doors between.

What’s the catering arrangements?

Your course fee covers breakfast each morning (bacon rolls, egg rolls, toast, cereal, etc); lunch each day (sandwiches, salad and/or soup); dinner each night (previous courses have been a curry, chilli, roast lamb, etc); unlimited tea, coffee and squash. Meals are prepared by the group, under the guidance of a trainer, and we can cater for vegetarians or those with a food intolerance if advised in advance.

Who cooks?

As part of the course, all trainees are expected to help cook, wash-up and clear away after meals. Your trainers will help and assist where necessary in planning, quantities, timings, etc.

Tell me about the boats?

Each boat has two toilets, at least one shower, and sleeps 10-12 people. Kitchens are fully fitted, with domestic-sized cookers, fridges and sinks, and come with all cooking utensils needed for a weekend on the water.

What is the structure of the day?

Each day is different, but will start with breakfast, and briefing on the day’s activities, a day of boat handling, ropes, safety, locks, etc, as appropriate, and will finish with a end of day review, Q&A, and a formal end of training. Evenings are your own – although we often just talk, some play board games, others catch up on their Facebook, etc. Drinking alcohol during the training day, or on the boats at any time, is prohibited.

How much time will I get ‘on the tiller’?

We put a lot of effort into making this fair, yet still giving extra attention to those who need a little help. With six trainees per boat, you can expect between one hour and one-and-a-half hours (often broken into 20-30 minute chunks) of steering time each day.  You’ll also spend time watching another trainee, learning from his mistakes. On average, a trainee will themselves steer through 5-6 locks throughout the course. Other than this, there is lock work, safety lessons, rope handling, cooking, etc, going on, so it’s unlikely that you’ll be bored. You can also use the ‘downtime’ to rest, and the days can be hard! We don’t tend to get complaints that people get bored!

I’ve never steered a boat before – is that a problem?

No. Your trainers have taught six-year-old Beavers to do this. You’ll have a trainer with you at all times, to support you, whilst allowing you to make mistakes and learn from them. Sometimes, we’ll challenge you, and stand back to allow you to make mistakes or to struggle, but the aim of this is to force you to think and to solve problems. At no time will we expose you to any danger, or ask you to do anything which would pose a risk to you or anyone else.

Will I get sea-sick?

Unlikely. The canal is non-tidal, and moves at a very slow place.

What should I bring?

Overnight stuff as normal (but not hair-dryers!). Suitable clothing, depending on the weather. A spare pair of shoes, just in case you get a foot wet. Suncream and a hat if it’s hot. Waterproof jackets (and, if you have them, trousers) if it’s wet. A camera is always good to bring along, as there’s lot of photo opportunities. A torch is sometimes handy, and don’t forget your mobile phone charger – we have USB and 240v supply on board for plugging chargers into. Don’t forget any medication!

Is bad weather a problem?

Not usually. Just come prepared for whatever weather we might have! The course continues regardless of weather. If you have waterproof trousers, and the forecast is wet, do bring them.

Do I need life jackets? Can I have one?

We don’t generally use life jackets on the canal, but if you have a fear of water, you’re welcome to use one. However, we we reach the tidal Thames part of the course, the wearing of life jackets becomes mandatory for all on board, whether they’re inside the boat or outside. Life jackets are to be worn before we leave Limehouse Thames Lock and until after we’re inside Brentford Thames Lock, and your trainers will advise when they can be removed. We provide full training on the fitting and use of life jackets before we leave Limehouse.

What’s the route?

As above. During the last day, we’ll provide an end-of-course feedback session with you, and complete your DofE paperwork.

Getting here

We may be able to arrange to pick you up from a nearby station (Uxbridge or Rickmansworth on the tube network, or Denham on the Chiltern Railway line out of London Marylebone). You can also park outside the boathouse. If you’re travelling back by train, again, we can possibly get you back to a train station fairly easily. Just ask.

How do I pay?

Pay £50 to reserve your place. Then, two weeks before, you’ll be asked to pay the balance of £270. All payments are online via Paypal to minimise administration if possible, although you can pay cash or cheque when you arrive, or by bank transfer ahead of the start date. Deposits and payments are non-refundable, unless agreed by us on an individual basis in exceptional circumstances.


HNA reserve the right to terminate the course early, eject any trainee, modify the structure or duration of the course, or reroute where necessary in order to maintain the safety of the trainees, trainers, boats and/or other users of the waterways. This may happen when there is severe adverse weather or other conditions, unsafe behaviour by any participant, or where we believe it’s in the best interests of all concerned to make these changes.