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I've been boating on the Broads several times over the years. On each occasion, boat yard personnel gave us a very brief introduction to handling the boat, together with a file that explained some of the details of operating the craft and navigating the waterways.
I've always thought that this information was a bit lacking, so for my latest trip, I bought a copy of "The Inland Waterways Manual". The book's subtitle is "The complete guide to boating on rivers, lakes and canals", and boasts that this is the only book you will need for your first trips afloat.
Upon reading the book, it was immediately apparent that this was no idle boast. The book is extremely comprehensive and covers buying a boat, navigation, boat handling repair and maintenance; far more information than I needed for my week on the Broads, but lots of information that I did need to know.
Piloting a boat is a bit like driving a car; a car with no brakes, steering that depends on which direction you're travelling in and how fast you're going, and one that turns around its centre!
The finer points of steering, turning, and mooring, taking into account tide or flow are all explained clearly and simply with the aid of excellent diagrams. Turning a boat around on its own length is easy once shown how, with the aid of this book.
Navigating locks, bridges or tunnels can be the highlight (or lowlight!) of a boating trip and how to do this safely is clearly explained. Reading this chapter can be a bit scary, as it explains exactly what can go wrong, but following the instructions should enable problems to be avoided.
If problems do arise, the book has valuable advice to help. I was glad of the section on what to do if you run aground, because we did just that! Thankfully, the advice in the book allowed us to get free quickly and without any expensive, embarrassing phone calls to the boat yard!
Just like driving a car on the road, there are rules to follow when piloting a boat. The nautical equivalent of the Highway Code requires boats to, for example, 'drive' on the right hand side of the waterway. The rules for boats are well explained and techniques for getting the most out of your boat, shared by the author.
Safety is paramount when onboard. There are many potential hazards, both on and off the boat, such as moving around, getting ashore, gas cookers, hazardous clutter, and accidents can and do happen. How to organise and clean the boat, as well as rules for moving about can reduce the risk of incident considerably; the safety aspects are highlighted in The Inland Waterways Manual and readers will benefit greatly from reading it.
Reading this book helped me to prepare for my trip; knowing my 'port' from 'starboard', how best to handle the boat, and what to do in an emergency was very reassuring. Knowing what could go wrong was quite sobering, too. This made me think about safety more than I perhaps would have done.
I took the book with me too, of course, and referred to it in quiet moments before tackling strong tides, low bridges, and the like. Having the book to hand was extremely useful as I felt I had an expert 'companion' to refer to.
There is no substitute for experience and we finished our week's holiday more capable than when we started, but there's no doubt that The Inland Waterway's Manual helped us get the most out of our boat and our holiday.
If you're taking a trip on a narrowboat or cruiser, this book may provide all the help and advice you need to enjoy your trip, have a safe time, and ensure that, if any problems develop, you'll know what to do.
The book is available from Amazon for £9.93 in paperback, containing 224 pages.