If You Want To Go

Copyright © 1989-2004,2007 by Martin and Marcia Reff


The dream of getting away to a foreign land and living on a boat where there is more freedom remains but a dream for most people. But there are people, ordinary people, who made the dream a reality. It takes a certain amount of courage, but mostly it takes just "doing it."

This section is for those folks who might want to make the dream come true - buy a boat and cruise the canals of Europe. It still can be done, even now with the world the way it is. Here you will find enough information to give you an idea what you'll need to do.

The information herein is presented in the belief that it is both useful and accurate; however, no warranty is given for its accuracy. Please report any inaccuracies you find to me, Martin Reff.

Table of Contents


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As I indicated in "Opperdan and Us," we had very few language problems. In The Netherlands almost everyone speaks English. As for the French language, you will need to learn a little.... Nowadays there are all kinds of tools that make learning a language a snap. The most important thing to remember is ALWAYS approach a person with a smile and your first words should ALWAYS be in French. Then you can explain in French how little you know and when you're in the midst of struggling with the language, many Frenchmen will break in with English (but only after you've struggled with the French language). And even if they don't know English, they will try to help as long as you smile.

BUYING A BOAT - sail, power, where, price

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Buying the boat is perhaps the most frustrating part of realizing the dream because there are so many options and variables: the cost, the size, type, age, engine, equipment, and the boat's location, just to name some.

Let's eliminate a few immediately. If you're thinking of using a sailboat as a liveaboard on the canals, forget that option. Storing the mast is the least of your problems all of which I will discuss and then forget about. If you're thinking of using rivers and canals to go from Le Havre to Marseille, it can be done by sail but not easily.

The variable I would reduce is length. The critical number is 15 meters. In The Netherlands, for example, although boats under 15 meters (about 49 feet) do not require a license to operate, you must take a test to run a boat that is 15 meters or more and the test is in Dutch. In France, a vessel over 15 meters requires a special license to operate. With a boat over 15 meters you should be an experienced Captain and know the rudiments of one language.


Europe, including England, has tens of thousands of kilometers of inland waterways, particularly canals and rivers, most of which are interconnected. As a result, boats are available both on the coast and on the canals. Most of the sailboats found on the canals are small, from 25 to 35 feet, and most of these are slipped near lakes because it's impractical to sail on the rivers or canals due to the number of bridges. In addition the rivers may rise ten to twenty feet during a flood stage. (In The Netherlands the large number of bridges that open increases the availability of sail boats on inland lakes.) Small sailboats, however, can be found most anywhere, particularly in England on the coast where sailing is a way of life.

Surprisingly, many of the boats are wooden. In The Netherlands where sailing is very popular, particularly in and around the Isjlmeer (an inland sea) wooden boats are traditional, particularly the wooden sailing boats (tjhalks) engaged in fishing. These are usually large boats. Some of these are available but tend to be expensive because they are usually antique. Smaller boats, in the 25-30 foot range, made of light wood, plywood or plank, are rare. They just would not last a Dutch winter with its ice or the rough handling in the locks. Nor are fiberglass boats very popular, although these can be seen. Steel boats are the thing in The Netherlands, particularly in the canals where the water is not salt.

In England both wood and glass are popular and in France you can find almost anything.

With the exception of the large boats, most of the ones you will see on the canal are sloops, with inboard diesel engines, or small outboards. In many cases the mast has been stored in a yard.

Advantages of Sail

Usually a sailboat is less expensive than power. But more important it is usually smaller than power. As a result, when you do slip the boat, it's cheaper when you pay for a slip, it will be easier to find a space on a crowded quai, and the boat will not be shut out of a lock as often as large powerboats Finally, it is easier to heat during the winter.

Disadvantages of Sail


As you can imagine, most of the boats that ply the canals are power boats and they vary from the large peniche to the small runabout. You'll find one hundred year old Dutch freighters converted to nice pleasure boats, small houseboats, motor caravans or recreation vehicles on pontoons, regular cruisers, and double cabin cruisers. You'll find loads of narrow canal boats either privately owned or rented.

Our boat was 60 feet long and very narrow but you'll find lots of liveaboards living on much smaller boats and enjoying it.

Practically all the power boats are diesel powered. The exceptions are the modern single or twin engined inboard/outboard cruiser models that are so popular in the States. In fact, many of the boats of that type are "made" in the United States. Bayliner, Larson, Chriscraft, Wellcraft, Regal are just a few of the manufacturers that are represented.

Double cabin boats are very popular and, by the way, practically all boats have dinghies. It's the law! (although not strictly enforced).

Wooden boats still can be found. (There was an old Chris Craft at our marina that was for sale for almost three years.) But steel is the most popular, except for the inexpensive new boats like Bayliners, etc. Many of the converted old Dutch boats and all of the large French barges are steel. In England you'll find more fiberglass and wood than you will on the continent. Even some of the canal boats in England are glass but there, too, steel is the preferred hull.

Advantages of Power

Disadvantages of Power


Establishing price range for what you want to spend on the boat is the first order in the business of buying a boat. In your estimate assume the following:

  1. You must do some refurbishing if the boat is used.
  2. Although it may not be the case, you will probably have to pay a tax of about 20% (more to say about taxes later on).
  3. You will want a survey of the engine; you will also want the boat to be hauled out for a hull survey; the vessel's specs must conform to the standards of the country in which it is registered.
  4. You will need insurance. Insurance is very important because everyone, particularly harbormasters at marinas, will require that you provide insurance information.

Narrow your choice to power or sail and if possible buy a steel hull for canal cruising and living.

Where to look?

Unlike the situation in the States, finding inexpensive boats in Europe is not easy. For one thing, newspapers generally do not carry ads for boats and, if they do, very few are apparently available. We lived in Paris and not one daily newspaper carried any ads for boats. Special magazines, however, carry ads not only from private individuals but also from brokers. When we first visited the boat show in Paris in l987, no broker had a booth at the show. Indeed, finding a used boat in Paris was like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack. (Later we learned of at least a half dozen brokers nearby.)

The situation in France is much the same as it is in The Netherlands. There, too, a magazine is the key. In The Netherlands, however, it appears that there are more brokers, that is, professionals who specialize in selling used boats for people, and not professionals who specialize in new boat sales and sell used boats on the side. In England, too, magazines devoted to canal boats are available as are brokers.

In both England and France, where there is a big business in rentals, discarded rental boats are sometimes available. They need work however. In our search we found one in Brittany, quite far from the sea. In fact the boat was located in an ancient iron foundry where a very warm, friendly Frenchman was refurbishing a boat which he had purchased from a rental company.. We would have bought it but it was too small.

Once you find the ads, you contact the owner or the broker. You must then make a visit to the boat . This might sound a bit crazy - going to The Netherlands, France, or England but you must remember that these countries are very close together and getting around is easy and relatively cheap. We hired a car for six weeks but having one didn't help us one bit. If I had a copy of this document, it would have been worth $500. Select boats on or near a waterway that will be convenient.

Make sure you have the boat surveyed by an officially registered professional that you select and that the surveyor provides a written report of the condition of the vessel. Make sure that the owner or broker takes you on a sea trial. If the vessel is a single engine ( which it probably is), test how the boat handles in a turn and in reverse to determine the thrust of the prop.

Ordinarily you'd put down a deposit with your offer subject to acceptance, a satisfactory survey which you pay for, a satisfactory sea trial, and the availablility of insurance. The final cost will include the broker's fee - up to 10 % (check that before) and the VAT (Value Added Tax) of about 16-18 %.

Finally, new boats are available. Indeed, a friend of ours designs liveaboards that can be used in England (narrowboats) and wider vessels for France. Links to these resources and other are in the "Links section.


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You will need to prepare a dossier which is a file that will consist of the following: the bill of sale, an insurance certificate, a document that attests to boat's seaworthiness, the vessel's registration, and a permit in the form of a sticker that specifies when you can use your boat in France during the year. In addition, you, the pilot, must have a license. We'll deal with each of the documents separately below. Other than your passport, this file is the most important pile of paper that you will have.

In order for you not to be confused with words and terms as they appear in English and French, I will be using the following English words as defined below:

You should carry originals as well as certified and ordinary copies separately. Translations help but don't offer them unless necessary. Be prepared to leave a copy of anything with whomever asks but never give up the original. I write this not to denigrate the requirements but to emphasize their importance and the need of the foreign visitor to "play the game."


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Just as in the United States, a Bill of Sale is a key document. You will want it to specify the price you paid including itemized taxes. You will need this document for insurance purposes, to register the boat, and to sell it.

Have the Bill of Sale notarized at the time of sale. The notarization process is a much more formal one in Europe, particularly in The Netherlands, than it is the States. In The Netherlands, for example, the Notary is one of the most important persons in a town. Insist that your purchase transaction take place in the office of the notary. The notary will verify the legality of the transaction and the legitimacy of the ownership documents. As a matter of record, I recommend that you make a copy of the seller's national identity card.

>Finally, have all of the documents translated into French or another language. You might need the translation but don't offer it unless required.


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The Europeans use a VAT (value added tax) on practically everything. The rate varies from country to country but if you estimate about 18% you can't go wrong. If you have an option, pay the tax in the country in which you will spend most of your time. But do pay the tax. The documentation of taxes paid is necessary when you sell your boat. It may also be important on other occasions. For us the documentation was required when we renewed our slip rental.


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The insurance document is essential to have. Securing insurance may not be easy and so make it a condition of sale. In other words, arrange to continue the insurance that is already on the boat. If the boat you want to buy is not insured do whatever needs to be done BEFORE you turn over any money to buy the boat.


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In The Netherlands the key document, a "Meetbrief", is a little booklet, similar to the document issued by the U. S. Coast Guard. It contains all the measurements of the vessel and the history of the vessel to the extent that it is known. In addition, it contains two numbers, the hull number and the number of the document. From my Meetbrief I learned that my boat was made in l9l5 rather than l925 in a town called Alkmaar. I learned more precise information about its dimensions, and when and where it had been previously "documented." In order to secure a Meetbrief I had to arrange to have an inspector come out to the boat. He measured it, found the other numbers that had been struck in the hull, put new numbers on the hull and put the number of the document on the cabin top.

An interesting note: In The Netherlands the hull numbers that are placed on the fore and aft section of both port and starboard side of the hull represent lines that mark the limit of loading. My number was l8 cm (about 7 in.) above the water line. This means that I could load my boat with a lot more junk than I did.

The Meetbrief is apparently a widely recognized document because it is used by the barges that move through the canals and rivers. The Certificaat, on the other hand, is the kind of document a pleasure boat would have if it cruised within the country. Both documents were important because they complimented each other. The Meetbrief had information about the boat, specifically its numbers and dimensions while the Certificaat had such an important item as my name.

Because ours was a Dutch boat (with our Meetbrief) we flew the Dutch flag throughout our trip in The Netherlands, Belgium, and in France to Paris. In addition, at our mast, we flew the American flag on the port side, indicating our nationality, and on the starboard side, we flew the flag of the country we were visiting, i. e. in Belgium, its flag, and in France, the French tricolor. In Paris we continued to fly the Dutch flag until we noticed that only the Dutch boaters said hello (our American flag and our French flag at the mast are small). After that we bought a large American flag and now fly it on Sunday's, together with the French flag at the mast, and during the week we fly the American and French flags at the mast and nothing at the stern.


The registration document in The Netherlands is called a "Certificaat". The Certificaat is merely a folded sheet of paper which contains the basic information about the boat: name, Meetbrief number, name of owner, its home port, a brief description of the type of boat, material, date and place of manufacture, description of its engine and the date and place of issue. It's like a registration that is issued by a state in the United States except that it doesn't have to be renewed.

Operator's License

In The Netherlands no license is required unless your boat is greater than 15 meters in length or it goes faster than 20/km an hour. The same requirements obtain in Belgium; a license may be required, however, if you stay longer than two months.

A document that may be useful in Holland and Belgium is one that attests to the fact that you can handle a boat, e.g. Power Squadron Certificate or U.S. Coast Guard "six-pack" operator's license. At the time I held Coast Guard License to operate vessels under 25 tons. (Our boat was 38 tons. )


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In France the process of gathering all the necessary papers to operate a large boat on the canals has taken more than decade to refine but it is no less difficult to fathom or to navigate than most other transactions that always seem to require reams of paper. Securing all the documents that you will need to cruise the French canals takes patience.

Note: As I indicated earlier, I will generally be dealing with what is needed for a vessel of considerable length but under 15 meters on which you can live aboard comfortably.

Throughout France - but mostly on its borders - are offices of the VNF Voie de navigation fluvial - Inland Waterways Authority), called Commission de surveillance territorialement compétente (Commission surveillance) that processes all the paperwork having to do with boating ( boat documentation, operator licenses, and cruising permits) and is in charge of surveillance on the inland waterways. The addresses of these commissions are listed in the LINKS section.


Boats in France need a titre de navigation du bateau. If the vessel was sold new after June 1998, the manufacturer's specifications are outlined in a standard EU document which attests to the vessels seaworthiness and safety. This document provides the basis for issuing the titre de navigation du bateau. If there was an interim owner, I assume that the VNF would require a professional survey or Commission's own personnel would inspect the vessel.

Even if the vessel was built and sold before that date, the manufacturer's specifications may be available and could be used in conjunction with survey that you ordered at purchase or/and with an inspection made by the Commission de Surveillance.

Registration L'inscription

Registration is required of two groups of pleasure boats:

The first group consists of those vessels with a motor equal to or greater than 4.5 km (6 hp) or are longer than 5 meters; they also have a displacement of less than 10 cubic meters. A Commission assigns a number that is also placed on the vessels documentation papers.

The second group consists of vessels that have a displacement equal to, or greater than, 10 cubic meters. The registration must take place at a registry office located on the sites of the surveillance commissions in Bordeaux, Lille, Lyon, Nantes, Nevers, Nancy, Paris and Strasbourg.

Operator's License

Assuming you know how to handle a boat, in order to operate the kind of boat we're talking about on canal waters, the French require a Certificat de compétence or a document recognized by the French as its equivalent.

The only American document that might suffice is a U.S. Coast Guard license, e. g. the 6-Pack, or the 25 ton. You would need a certified copy and a translation made by a recognized authority. The other document that is accepted is the International Certificate of Competence (ICC) which you can earn by taking a course at one of the locations of the firm France Afloat in France or at the Royal Yachting Association in Great Britain. The course is practical and also covers the rules of the road which in Europe is CEVNI (Code européen des voies de navigation intérieure). The latter has been translated as: European Inland Waterways Collision Regulations. (See Links to both under LINKS )

In lieu of the above you will need to prove you are competent. to operate a boat or barge used for pleasure. The French require a Certificat de compétence to operate a boat on canal waters. There are temporary certificates and permanent ones. I will deal with the permanent ones for three categories of vessels: a "C" couche de plaisance certificat for houseboats, a "S" sport de plaisance certificat for sport boats, and a "PP" peniche de plaisance certificat for barges used for pleasure) . The following formula based on the power and length of your boat determines which license is required: 2.6 x engine power in kilowatts (.736 watts per horsepower) / length (in meters) squared.

If the formula gives a result of one or less than one, you are merely required to take the theoretical exam for the couche de plaisance license. If the formula gives a result greater than one, you must have the sport de plaisance license and are required to take both theoretical and practical exams. If you have a boat whose length is greater than 15 meters, more rigorous tests are required for the peniche de plaisance license. Both the theoretical and practical exams are conducted in French by a Commission de Surveillance office of VNF. See LINKS.

Cruising Permits

When my wife and I cruised the French canals, they were free. Nowadays, a fee is charged for various periods of time. You must plan ahead and buy a sticker that covers the days and months during which you want to cruise. There are five defined periods:

And five classes of powerboats:

Naturally the fees vary. Euros on the Continent (Europe) are expressed with a comma rather than a decimal point: for example, fifty six dollars and thirty cents would be expressed in euros as 56,30.

For a boat like ours, say about 18 by 3.5 meters, the fees (excluding VAT) for 2007 would be as follows:

Based on the cheap dollar now, for every euro you'd have to pay about $1.30. For the year it would about $600 for our boat. That's not bad when you consider that our slip would be about $8,000 for the year. Besides, the French canals are magnificent.

How you can order the sticker, prices, etc. can be found on web. See my section below on LINKs.

When you pay you're given a certificate and a sticker, the latter of which must be displayed on the front starboard side in such a way as to be visible from the exterior in all circumstances.


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A document that could be useful is a certified copy of an official statement from the FCC that indicates a radio operator's license is not required in the United States for people who use a VHF radio. Such a statement could be useful in The Netherlands where you must have a license. A license from your own country is acceptable and so the copy of the official statement. We had no trouble.

Whenever possible it is a good idea to have all your documents translated into the language of the countries you are visiting. This is advisable just as back up. My advice, however, is to present the original documents to officials and do not volunteer translations. I have used Dutch documents throughout our trips; indeed, our insurance papers are also in Dutch (which I cannot understand) and we have had no trouble.

Before we got our Meetbrief we were advised by someone to go to the American Embassy to secure an affidavit of ownership. What this means is that you complete an affidavit that you are the owner of the vessel so named as a result of the sale consummated pursuant to the enclosed copy of the attached bill of sale. Such an affidavit is sworn before the U. S. Consul who signs his name with a great seal on the stationary of the U. S. Embassy. Quite official and very impressive. This is another document that I secured, displayed for the idle eye, but never used. Others included copies in French and in Dutch, made by a professional with appropriate seals, etc., of my Coast Guard's license to operate a boat of 25 tons with passengers, my International Driver's License which I got from the American Automobile Association in the States before I left (I found no use for this.) In fact I have a long list of documents I have which I have never used but I have them just in case some bureaucrat wants them.


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Electrical Systems

Like many "liveaboard" types of boats in the United States, boats in Europe are equipped with both a boat system, l2 or 24 volt DC used when underway, and a system used while at a dock which is in Europe 220-240 volts AC 50Hz.

The l2 volt system is powered by a service battery which is charged by your engine's alternator while underway or by a battery charger at the dock. This system usually powers your lights and your fresh water system pump, and may be used to start your engine in an emergency situation if your engine battery is run down.

The 220-240 AC dockside system differs from its equivalent in the States in that the voltage in Europe is double and the Hz is 50 rather than 60 (common in U.S. ). With the use of a transformer that changes 220-240 volts AC to 110-120 volts AC, most American appliances can be used . The notable exception is American television which requires 60Hz not 50Hz.

Your AC power is supplied by means of a cord plugged into a dockside receptacle. Breakers and a ground fault system should be part of your electrical panel on your boat. AC electricity may also be supplied by an on-board generator which is a luxury. The former owner of our boat left one for us but I could never get it to work. I'm glad I didn't because using it regularly would have meant having gasoline and keeping the generator outside....both of which would have been an invitation to trouble. I finally gave it away. Never did find out if it worked.

Alternating current may be used for a battery charger, lights, appliances, and refrigerator. It can also be used to supply power to freshwater pumps by means of a transformer, and rectifier, that changes 220-240 volt AC to l2 volt or 24 volt DC.

Our boat had been equipped with a 12 volt system to which I added outlets and light fixtures. I also wired the boat for a 220-240 volt dockside connection. We brought with us a video camera and a small TV powered by a Heart Interface which transformed 12 volt power to 110 with 60 hz, perfect for TV. Unfortunately, once we were settled, we did not use the camera often and, therefore didn't use the Heart Interface or the TV. Both died of humidity. The camera survived.

During a two week visit to the States, we bought a computer (worked on 110-120 volts). Used it onboard by getting power from a simple transformer.

Finally, a box of electric male plugs for different European systems and a small transformer was very useful. A Dual Converter/Adaptor Plug Set manufactured by a firm called Sanye, purchased in 1987, is still in use 1997.

Fresh Water System

The fresh water system consists of a tank, an accumulator, filters, hoses, water pump, and hot water heater.

The tank for the water should be large as you can get it. Water is available everywhere: at all marinas, naturally, at fuel docks, in cities and at most locks. You should have sufficient capacity to last, with care, for l5 days, l0 days at the least. Our tank capacity was 750 liters.

The fresh water pump pumps your water so that, when you open a faucet, the water comes out automatically (You should not have to turn on the electricity each time you want to use the sink.). In order to facilitate that, you install an accumulator. It is usually placed between the pump and the faucets. It is a simple device that reduces the wear and tear on the pump; it provides a cushion of air so that when you open the faucet, water comes out without the pump turning on; the pressure is provided from the cushion of air in the accumulator tank.

A hot water heater is essential. Almost always the heater will be powered by propane and it will provide instant hot water, once more on demand (once you have lighted the pilot light in the heater which is done without a match). Appropriate hoses with valves complete the system which should be professionally installed.

Waste System

A traditional toilet system had already been installed. Parts were available and I maintained it. It worked well - always. Waste was pumped overboard. The situation today remains the same. Overboard discharge is acceptable both in France and in The Netherlands.

Propane System

Here in Europe Propane is a very common fuel for recreation vehicles, homes, and boats. As a result it is available everywhere and rather inexpensive. Also there are parts to propane systems available in most every city. A propane system should be installed by a professional.

The propane comes in a large metal container which is kept outside. The propane, under pressure, leaves the tank through a regulator, which determines the pressure. For example, if the propane doesn't have to travel very far to the place where it will be used, a galley for instance, the regulator is set accordingly. If, on the other hand, the propane has to travel a considerable distance, the regulator is set differently. Please note that a gas called Butane is sometimes sold instead of propane. During the summer it will work well - although we've found its flame leaves a carbon stain on the bottom of our pots; during the winter, however, butane freezes up and generally is useless if it is stored outdoors, which it must always be, in below freezing weather (Even propane can be sluggish at times.). We recommend that you use propane.

Propane powers the hot water heater on the boat and the stove. While underway the propane can power the refrigerator (which runs on electricity at the dock). Because the propane gas is heavier than air, if there is a leak it will sink to the bottom of a cabin or into the bilge. That is dangerous because the gas is invisible and has little, if any, odor. One must take care in the installation but more important one must use a sensor system....that is an electronic gadget that will sense propane and let you know by emitting a piercing signal. It's an excellent piece of equipment, and uses practically no electricity. Also a danger with propane is the need for ventilation. You must vent the exhaust from the burning propane under the refrigerator. There should be a vent outboard as well as plenty of air around the bottom of the refrigerator


Having a VHF radio is necessary in order to communicate with lockkeepers on large locks in The Netherlands, Belgium, and France. Having a short wave radio is convenient for access to English language programs.


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Equipment for providing heat during the winter or even in the late fall or early spring is important not only for your comfort and well being but also for the comfort of the boat and all the equipment. After living aboard for four winters, we become somewhat knowledgeable, certainly we knew more than we did before and our conclusion was that winter makes little difference in the general routine as long as you have the necessary equipment and make suitable preparations.

Reliable, clean, efficient, and inexpensive heat is desirable. Four power options are available: electricity, diesel, gas, wood. Let's deal with the last two first because they should be eliminated.

Wood for a wood burning stove is not practical unless you have a very large boat, some blower system to spread the heat around, and a good supply of wood. We have never seen a pleasure boat heated for the winter with a wood burning fireplace, although I'm sure they exist. Gas heat, that is, propane can be provided by an open heat grill. It is device that is used most often outdoors when people who work outdoors at markets need heat. We do not recommend it for use in a boat.

In a liveaboard situation electric heat is perhaps the most convenient. The electricity is provided at the dock or by means of a generator. Electricity is clean, generally safe, but somewhat more expensive than other fuels. It can be used to power small portable heaters (not to be left on overnight) or more sophisticated radiators. Its only disadvantage is that if you are without electric power, you will be without heat.

When you are underway, however, and even when you are not, diesel heat is a practical alternative. A good diesel heater provides a tremendous amount of heat and diesel fuel is inexpensive and always available. Besides, one is usually carrying it anyway in a tank for use as a fuel for an engine. You should be aware that there is diesel for home heating which is less expensive that the diesel for cars, truck, and boats. The former is colored and should not be used to fuel your engine. If colored (home heating fuel) diesel is found in regular fuel tanks, you will be heavily fined.

Diesel heaters are of two types: one, the diesel burner which consists of one unit with its own tank. We used such a diesel heater. One lights it and lets it burn. Heat spreads normally and is very effective. Exhaust fans set in bulkheads between compartments or rooms adds considerably to its effectiveness. Unless you have a separate diesel tank for your heater which is a good idea, fuel is stored in 30 liter plastic containers from which you fill your heater's tank. This is somewhat inconvenient but one gets used to it. Carrying the 30 liter jug indoors to the heater should be done by two people. Instead of pouring the fuel into a smaller utensil from which you could fill the tank, I suggest you use a siphon or a pump (an attachment to a power drill).

A diesel powered blower hot air system is also effective but it is a central heating system and must be installed by professionals. Knowing how hot the single diesel heating unit becomes I'd be worried about the amount of heat generated by a central system. Hot air would bother me, too. The same system, however, can provide heat through a hot water/radiator system. Perhaps this would be ideal. I just didn't have the experience.


Whatever diesel system you use, you must make sure that there is sufficient ventilation. This is particularly true during the winter when most windows are closed. You must have ventilation in order to supply oxygen so that the fire can burn, and you must have ventilation so that if there is a small leak in the exhaust system, you will not be asphyxiated. Without proper ventilation, you will die.

Our system - which was very effective - consisted of a combination of electricity and diesel. We had a large diesel heater in the main saloon which was below and forward. We used this when it was very cold - below l0 degrees centigrade (50 degrees F. ), We sometimes closed off the forward saloon before we went to bed so that the heat remained in the cabin. We had, in addition, two electric oil filled radiators, one in the aft cabin and one in the forward cabin. Finally we had two small portable electric heaters, one of which we used in the wheelhouse before the heat from the forward cabin rose, and one in the head which we used before we took a shower. The combination of diesel and electricity worked out well. When we came down from The Netherlands and were traveling without electricity on the canals in September and October, the diesel proved very effective.

Insulation is important on any boat as anyone who has spent a winter aboard knows. You might buy a boat, however, that is not fully or properly insulated. Sometimes you can do the job yourself or have it done but sometimes its construction makes insulating the boat too costly. In any event minor jobs of insulation can help. Naturally weather stripping for doors and windows is a must, particularly for those that will open and close often. In addition, windows can be insulated by using transparent plastic. The plastic can be purchased at any large hardware store and comes with double sticking tape. Before we installed it, Marcia placed on the sill a small container with a chemical that absorbed moisture. During the course of the winter months the container filled with water and once a winter she removed the water and replaced the chemical. The plastic worked very well. Naturally we kept one large window free to open in the wheelhouse, as well as all ports in the galley and head; in addition we had a very small solar vent in the galley on a heavy plastic hatch cover.

During the winter make sure heat or just warm air circulates around the pipes that go outside, i.e. pipes that carry waste out and bring water in. In addition the circulation of air in general is important. Air should circulate in lockers, and other storage areas. Containers holding the same chemical that is used on the window sills can be placed in strategic storage areas. Plastic containers should be used for the storage of paper and tools, etc. Indeed, if the expense were not prohibitive, we would have used plastic containers for everything.

The engine and its associated equipment must also be winterized.


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The value of the dollar has a new meaning when you live abroad. In the USA a dollar was a dollar was a dollar. You almost always knew what it bought. Surely prices went up and after a while your needed more dollars to buy a particular item, but that didn't change every month or even every day.

When you live abroad you have a different appreciation. When I first lived abroad in l950 the dollar's official rate of exchange was 350 francs; on the black market or free market the dollar brought anywhere up to 420 francs. I cashed money on the black market and the difference between that rate and the official rate equaled my rent for the month. Now the "black" or free market is the only market. The official rate between the euro (not the franc anymore) and the dollar changes every day and although the difference between days is not great, the difference between months can be significant.

In addition to the change in rate as a function of the market, the rate changes as a function of the instrument you use. In cashing a hundred dollar traveler's check you will get a better rate than if you used one hundred dollars in twenty dollar bills. Furthermore, if you purchase your traveler's checks in foreign currency you've guaranteed the rate of exchange that was in effect at the time you bought the checks.

The situation of rates is made more complex when you introduce other vehicles of exchange such as the personal check, credit cards, debit cards, advances on such cards as VISA, or wire transfers. The best rate is given on a wire transfer because there is no paper moving at all; the worst rate is on the dollar bill. All of the other instruments lie in between.

In order to more easily negotiate funds, particularly large sums of money, and money that is transferred regularly, we recommend getting a checking account from the branch of the largest bank in the country where you will be needing the money. This is important because a large bank will have the "know how" for transferring funds internationally. A checking account will provide checks which you then can use more conveniently than cash, particularly when you are paying yard bills, surveyors, etc. You may even want a credit card from that bank. Finally, we recommend that you wire large sums of money; you will get the best rate and your money will be safe. Once in your bank you can draw on it, in euros, as easily as you would draw on dollars from a bank back home.

Part of an article that I wrote in 1997, is inserted below:

Managing and Exchanging Money in England

We used four different instruments in managing our funds:


  1. Use a Visa credit card for everything you can; the cost is less than 1%.
  2. If you do carry travelers checks for emergencies buy them in 20 pound denominations. You will usually need your passport to cash them; remember to spend them before you leave England.
  3. Use a Bank Check Card at an ATM to buy 200 pounds at a time for ordinary currency needs.

Our experience in Europe has led us to this conclusion: Use VISA credit card if you must carry one. We found on too many occasions that the American Express card was not accepted. Indeed, I was embarrassed so often, I returned the card and discontinued our relationship.

A bit about fees: Be prepared to pay fees all over. Remember you're dealing with banks and bankers and these institutions and people know all about fees. The bank that wires the money to you in Europe charges you a fee as does the bank that receives it here; in addition to the fee collected here, there may also be a value added tax on the fee. At any place that will give you change expect to pay a fee. If you pay no fee overtly, the change bureau will collect its fee by giving you a lower rate. Remember that no one works for nothing.

What To Carry: Generally, we did not carry our passports because we carried French identification, that is a Carte de Sejour. We did carry my driver's license and my VISA card.

The driver's license I secured from Florida where we set up a "permanent" residence where we voted. The license was good for six years. It had a picture of me. If we had stayed in France longer, I would have tried to make arrangements to have it renewed in France. If that were not possible, I would have secured a French driving license. I used the Florida driver's license for identification many times.


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France, like most countries including the United States, doesn't like the idea of a foreigner working, especially in a job that could be filled by one of its own citizens. Remember if you are living in France rather than just visiting, you are a resident alien and guest.

With that in mind what skill you have is important. I knew of five Americans working in Paris. One is a knowledgeable computer specialist who can handle graphics. He had a good job with an international (not French) organization. The second person edited English translations of French books and also did some art work on the side. Two Americans taught English. One had been an English teacher in the States; the other became a tutor in English then a teacher. The fifth person worked unofficially. He was a handyman - an entrepreneur in the best sense of the word. When we visited France im 2001, we met an American couple who worked as tour guides, one in France and the other in Spain.

It is not easy to get regular employment. If you are resourceful, however, you will be successful but it will take some time and ingenuity. Have money in the bank for a year at least.


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A visa is an imprint in your passport made by the embassy of a foreign government that gives you permission to enter that country. Generally Americans traveling in Europe don't need visas. Always check with our government before you go just to be sure.

As a visitor you usually can stay about three months. After such a "visiting" period you are supposed to apply for permission to remain. In France the permission is a "Carte Sejour".

Before we left the States we applied for a long term visa. We were told that if we wanted to stay for more than three months we would not only need such a visa but we needed to apply for it in the United States before we left. I won't give you all the details of the effort but among the documents provided were the following:

Perhaps there were more items but I think that's it. We submitted 6 copies of the application and accompanying papers to the French Embassy in Washington, D.C. Pleased with ourselves we arrived in France and went to the visa office. There we were given the same application that we had filled out and submitted to the French Embassy in Washington. Obviously, one hand didn't know what the other was doing. Lucky for us we had kept the originals of everything.

Each year we reapplied for a renewal and fortunately the process was simpler each time.

I understand that there are student visas but I don't know anything about them.


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In transit we received mail addressed to us in care of general delivery at the central post office of a city that we expected to stop at. We did it a few times and it worked well.

Mail delivery in a foreign country is not as reliable as it is in the United States. The idiosyncrasies of local officials, concierges, and labor strikes can play havoc with you mail. If at all possible arrange to have a good address in the States. The person forwarding your mail should have the time and knowledge to deal with junk mail.

While we lived in Paris, most US mail was sent to our daughter's home. It didn't work out to our satisfaction nor to hers. The most serious problem was the inordinate amount of junk mail. It seems that as soon as you change your address, a dog sniffs you out and begins to send you everything. In addition to the new stuff you have the old stuff being forwarded.

With hindsight I recommend you explore another method. Have certain material sent to your US address and other sent to you abroad.


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Of the three to four categories of goods you will be bringing with you from the States, perhaps the most important will be your box of tools and equipment. I would not recommend that you spend very much on new purchases; the old tools will suffice but do bring the following:

Since tools and equipment are very expensive in Europe, if you have any doubt, bring it with you. I even brought an electric drill which I used for some time before it failed; I used it with my small transformer.

Boat equipment that you should bring includes the following:

Personal appliances should include an electric razor (Braun), a hair dryer (Sears ll0/220 volt model), a very good short wave radio (digital, with memory tuning), binoculars, flashlights, and whatever music equipment you prefer.

Cooking equipment is personal. If you have any doubt, bring it.

Clothing should emphasize: shoes (particularly if you take a large size), sweaters, trousers, belts, rain wear.

Books are very personal but the following volumes are recommended strongly: Dictionaries - American English and French-English and others that might come in handy, like Dutch English; General medical reference - one or two books on general maladies; a current almanac; a good atlas.

Technical books are a must. Books on electricity and engines. Best book, so far is Boatowner's Mechanical and Electrical Manual by Nigel Calder and published by International Marine in Camden, Maine.

The US flag and flags of the countries you will be visiting.


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If you are bring a lot with you the best method is to have it shipped via the sea rather than by air. This means you will pack up your belongings - minus what you will bring with you by air - in cartons. The shipper will pick them up, bring them to his warehouse where he will build a crate, place your cartons in the crate and then ship the crate overseas. When you a have an address, just call the shipper and he will deliver the crate to your door in Europe. The shipper will insure it all for you for an extra charge, but you will be surprised how inexpensive moving by crate is. Note: Unload the crate while the shipper's delivery truck is at your door because the crate will be difficult to dispose of if it is not removed.

Generally you can bring in stuff with you when you fly. Our experience and the experience of our friends has been good. No one really wants to be bothered, particularly early in the morning.


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The French Waterway System

In France the most important link is to VNF which is the government department that oversees the French waterways system, that is rivers and canals. VNF in an acronym for Voie de navigation fluvial. Fluvial in English means "river." When you get to the site, notice in the upper right hand corner a link to an English version. This is a good version, though not the whole site is available in English. Two points: You can get the cost of cruising by clicking the second link down on the right - Pleasure Boat Toll, All you need to know. From Site Plan page, go to Navigation Code for excellent material on the rules of the road, and then explore the others for additional information. Click on VNF.

A variety of other links

This particular link from "cruising.org.uk" provides up-to-date information on French Canals. Click on Around French Canals for a wealth of invaluable information.

The RYA (Royal Yachting Association) provides information about operator's licenses and courses. Click on RYA.

If you need a surveyor in France, CEF (Chambre des Experts Fluviaux) is the best place to find one. Surveyors are arranged by location and by expertise. Go to the Plan du Site.Click on CEF.

George's Canal and Boating site, a super site in England with loads of links, mostly about canaling there, but more recently with connections in Europe. Click on George.

If you want to buy a great new boat for the canals that has all the charm and tradition of the old ones, get in touch with Hal Stufft who designs them. In 2001 my wife and I cruised the canals in England, aboard his Allegheny I, a custom built narrowboat that he and his wife built themselves. Great boat! Soon after he designed another for use in France. You can find a photo of it by clicking on Allegheny II or by visiting a page devoted to him on Bruce Roberts site. Hal sells the designs and can recommend builders or you can do it yourself as he did. Email Hal Stufft for further information

For an account of living aboard in Paris, click Day to Day Living in Paris

This page was originally erected on November 29, 1997 and last updated on April 27, 2007.