Narrowboats in France

We considered bringing our narrowboat, Ebony No1, over to France – it seemed to make sense as we had lived on her for three years and were very used to the living space and idiosyncrasies of sailing her. Researching the web, it seemed that plenty of people have done so and there is an equal divide between those who say do and those who say don’t. We have seen several whilst over here – unusually one was owned by a French couple.

We decided to buy a barge over in France and have no regrets. Having been here now for almost three months navigating both rivers and canals (large and small) I thought I would add to the debate for those who are considering the options.

In reality, we have found that much of it is really down to how you want to live – if you are happy with a narrowboat and the restrictions it brings then it will do the job. We had a narrowboat mainly because it was the only way to cruise the whole of the waterways network in England – this of course is not an issue in France.

The main things to consider are:

  • There are some huge commercial boats – 38 metre long and sometimes pushing or pulling another vessel the same size. They create a lot of wash and it could be very unnerving in a narrowboat. The captains generally look out for pleasure craft and take care not to cause them a problem – although of course they are often in a hurry and inexperienced pleasure craft crew can often cause them a problem.
  • The locks can be huge (we have been through several which are 5 metres deep and one which was 20 metres deep) and require a much different approach from English locks. Everything is done from the boat and this needs long ropes and bollards on the boat to secure them. The standard narrowboat bollards are not really up to the job as you need a ‘T’’ bar to hold the boat securely against some fierce turbulence.
  • Generally, cruising is not much different from the rivers and broad canals in England but power could be an issue on the bigger rivers. Certainly the Rhone (main route down to the Canal du Midi) is a huge fast flowing river with lots of commercial traffic, Going down might be easier –but coming back could be challenge!
  • Getting to France – this seems to be fairly easy as long as you don’t consider crossing the Channel under your own steam. Some have done it but it seems a little ‘adventurous’! (read Narrowdog to Carcassone). We crossed the Wash from Boston to Wisbeach and I think this pushes a narrowboat to its limits.  Several companies will transport on a lorry via a ferry – the cost seems to be around £2,000 – £3,000 one way.
  • The climate might be an issue – we have experienced temperatures up in the 40’s and this could be very oppressive in a narrowboat.


  1. Really useful article – thank you. We live on a narrowboat in the summer in the UK and tour in warmer climates in the winter. We like the idea of taking our floating home with us, and you have clarified namy of the key questions I had. We don’t want to buy another boat that we have to spend time getting to know, and we don’t want to spend a fortune hiring a hire boat for months that will never feel like our home – so the shipping of our narrowboat to the continent is the way forward!
    All the best

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