Thursday, 26 March 2020

Cheap at half the cost

I wish to first point out that this blog was written about a month ago and not published initially and then the coronavirus really began to affect us in the UK and it's publication postponed again. 

Now we're all at home and looking for something to pass the time, it seems the right point to let it loose. 

Cheap at half the cost

If I read another comment online that moans about boat hire on the Broads being expensive and that you can get cheaper holidays elsewhere, I think my blood will boil dry.

A quick look at some Norfolk Broads Facebook groups and Broads forums will quickly unearth people moaning about the cost of hiring a boat. The very same people might revel in a £4 take-away coffee, but when comparing the cost of a Broads Boating Holiday with, say Orlando and they’ll blow a gasket.

Let’s first put a few things straight. The Broads is the cheapest 125 mile stretch of navigable waterway to hire a boat on in the UK. It might even be one of the cheapest in western Europe. For sure, a boating holiday is more expensive than some other holidays, but it can also be a whole lot cheaper too; never forget, when you hire a Broads Cruiser for, say, six people, you are paying, perhaps £1200 in high season (more if you want) and you get accommodation and travel for six people; the price is not per-person which travel-package-hotel stay holidays inevitably are.  Look at it per person and it’s £200 per person per week or just £28.57 a night per person; less than a B&B.
The Broads is the largest inland river network in the UK on which to take a boating holiday. There is no competition in terms of navigable distance without entering the canal network. And if you begin to look at narrowboat costs, you’ll quickly find that the Broads compares very favourably. If you have not already read my blog last week, I would recommend taking a look, as the Toll for Puddle Marchers will give you a bit of background into the taxes charged for using the river (a bit like road tax).

A statement of fact

So, my statement is “The Broads is the cheapest waterway in the UK on which to hire a boat for a holiday”.  There is no need to take my word for this, you can do this look up online for yourself.
It is fair to say, though, that direct comparisons are becoming more difficult these days as the availability of cabin cruisers on other navigations is dwindling. There are lots of narrowboats for hire, but only The Thames, Caledonian Canal, Cambridge Ouse and Broads seem to offer cruisers now. Of these navigations, the Ouse is limited to two holiday hire operators; Bridge Boats in Ely and Purvis Marine in Huntingdon which has only one narrowboat and one Broads DC30 cruiser. There are a few day boat operators too which I will come to shortly. There are just two cruiser hire bases on the Caledonian Canal and four or five on the Thames.

Direct comparisons can be made with two boats from Reading; chosen only because both Freedom and Caversham boat operate similarly sized fleets with a couple of identical boats.

So, let’s take a look at the smaller one first; Lady of Freedom and Caversham Monarch.
Lady of Freedom for a week from Saturday 25th July 2020 will cost £1042
Caversham Monarch for the same week will cost £1445.
That is £403 more expensive. Expressed another way, that’s almost 39% or over a third more expensive. Whichever way you view this, it’s significantly cheaper in Norfolk and, remember, this is a  direct like-with-like comparison: same boat model, same dates, including fuel deposit, including damage waiver.

Let’s try comparing Caversham Emperor with Absolute Freedom. Again, the same boat with exactly the same layout; the only key difference is the soft furnishings and galley finish: £2379 against £1499 for Absolute (and anybody following our facebook page will know that Absolute is having new upholstery right now among lots of other work). 

Even parking is substantially more: £15 at Freedom for the week and £35 in Reading. That’s over double. 

I take absolutely nothing away from Caversham Cruisers here; I selected this operator because both fleets are similarly sized and have direct like-for-like vessels to compare.

Why the cost difference?

Last week’s blog, Toll for Puddle Marchers, examined the river tolls for the Broads and discussed the differences between Norfolk and other navigations. The point I made was that the Broads river tolls are much lower than elsewhere and the toll for Caversham Monarch is on the Thames is eye-watering in comparison. I have little doubt too that rent and rates in Reading are painful compared with the Broads and I would anticipate wages are higher too. All these fixed overheads play a key role in the prices operators have to charge. 

Peaks and Troughs

Remember too that holiday demand for boats is entirely seasonal and the season is quite short.  Tourism’s problems are exacerbated by the government policy of fining parents who take children out of school during term. This makes all such businesses very dependent on school holiday periods of peak demand which always leads to parents and grandparents blaming holiday operators for the higher costs during school vacation periods. However, you need to stop a minute and analyse this. Let’s start with a joke: 
“Not sure when the school holidays start? Just take a look at the Centre Parc’s price list for clarification”.
Now, let’s set this joke in a different scenario,

“Not sure when the morning rush hour is? Compare train prices before and after 9:30am”.
This illustrates the issue rather better; it can help focus on the real reason holidays are more expensive during school holiday times: demand.

Back to trains and the biggest demand for travel is to get people to work (note that it is not to get home). Most workplaces begin between 7 and 9am so the greatest demand on the travel network is to ensure that people are able to travel with the aim to arrive in time for work. This is when the rail network has the heaviest demand; when it needs to run longer trains, more frequent trains and ensure uninterrupted service. In short, this is the most expensive time of day for a rail operator and hence the most expensive time to travel.

After 10am, demand drops significantly and trains are less frequent, probably shorter too and the fares are considerably lower.

If demand for the rail network was roughly even throughout the day, then the supply of trains would be even and the costs would be evened out too. We can say this with almost 100% certainty because if travel before 9:30 cost 50% more than travel after and nobody actually needed to travel earlier, who in their right mind would travel early? It would be too expensive and those trains would be comparatively empty and maybe not cover their costs. 
Leaving the rail analogy in the sidings of explanation, a large number of traditional holiday destinations have suffered from the government’s school policy which serves to exaggerate peaks and troughs in tourism businesses throughout England.

Day boating

But it’s not just crusier hire; day boats are cheaper here than elsewhere too. We’ll start with Stratford Upon Avon. I take this example as I visited the town last year and noticed the costs of a dinghy with an outboard being £35 for an hour for up to five people. In Norwich, £35 will put five people on an electric Bishy Barney Boat for two hours. So, Stratford is not only 100% more expensive but you get much less a vessel, a very small cruising area, and you’re also burning petrol whereas the Bishy is pure electric drive and comes with a canopy. In Windermere where the Bishy boats were purchased from, 2 hours will cost £70 for five people. Again, this is 100% more expensive than in Norwich.

Over the pond

Comparing a boating holiday with travelling to Orlando is hardly reasonable either; unless you are going to Orlando for a boating holiday; though I am entirely unaware that any such thing exists. Is it even possible to hire a live-aboard river boat in America like you can on the Broads or Thames? I’ve looked today and found nothing that seems remotely similar.
You might say “yeah, but it’s still cheaper to fly out to Orlando for a week in a hotel than hire a boat”. It might be. It’s cheaper too to buy cox apples than blueberries; they are both fruits but where else is the correlation? I did a quick search here: I got the headline
Now, I am not sure I know anybody gullible enough to believe the headline price, so I clicked. The best price I could find quickly was £1295 which was for two people sharing a self-catering room in a hotel (along with over 700 other rooms), flights and car hire in June. Add a teenager and the price jumps to nearly £2000. Add another and you’re on the wrong side of two and a half thousand pounds. That will get you one of the most expensive boats on the Broads and have money left for a carvery or two.

Take a long hard look.

It might be that if somebody looks hard enough, they might be able to find boat hire in the UK cheaper than the Norfolk Broads. I’d truly like to know as I have looked and compared quite a lot as this is my line of work. If someone finds it, please comment below.

For now, I am happy that my assertion that Boating Holidays on the Broads not only remain extremely good value, they are positively cheap. Maybe not quite half the price of similar boats elsewhere, but so much more affordable to make me comfortable about the title of this blog.

Thursday, 19 March 2020

Extraordinary times

It’s hard to believe that just a few months ago the impending situation that we are racing towards was not even a news story. We were looking forward to 2020 with a new booking agent, a new web site and renewed vigour. Bookings were strong, probably the best we had seen.

Fast forward to March and bookings have flatlined and we can’t buy soap or toilet rolls and even the chiller aisles of Sainsburys are regularly bare as people strip the shelves in their own self-interest.  

Understandably, many people are worried and anyone who isn’t probably doesn’t have a decent grasp of the reality that is unfolding across Europe and the rest of the world. One look at the crisis in Italy should tell you everything you need to know about how Covid-19 is turning families and society inside out. I often invite comment on this blog (rarely get much), but in this instance, if you are living in some kind of fantasy land where the sign on the gates says “It’s just flu, why panic?”, please keep your opinions to yourselves.

Certainly, our own government has been positively pedestrian in its reactions in both health and economic sectors, though as this blog has been written over a few days, new measures are emerging that begin to address the worries that normal people have rather than focusing on big businesses which is what Westminster started out doing.

There is a great deal of chatter about holidays right now and, naturally, people are wondering what is happening. Here’s the truth; we don’t know. We are asking as many questions as you and we are not being given any more information than you; we are watching the same news channels.  The situation in London is unfolding rapidly and the city looks as though it will be on lockdown very soon. A terrible situation that may well spread throughout the country.

As a small business having seen our bookings fall off a cliff-edge in the last two weeks, we are stuck for decent compromises. March is usually the month that we see bookings really take off. Instead, they have dropped to virtually nothing and our cashflow has become outbound as though it were November or December. As the pandemic ramps up in the UK, I doubt that we will see bookings return until the peak weeks of infection are behind us and, frankly, I can’t blame people.


You will read words like “following current government guidelines” so much over the coming weeks that you will be wishing the news was all about Brexit again; perhaps you already do.
We remain open at the moment and, obviously, will close if told to.  

We are following government guidelines because we can’t not, but we are really overdoing it in some areas because, frankly, some of the guidelines are so woolly and open to interpretation that they could be useless if implemented wrong.

In case you have missed the guidelines, there’s a list of web sites to visit at the end of this blog. I could have included them in the body but I would hate to think anybody would be tempted away from my ramblings just yet.

In addition to the usual spiel you can read in thousands of business’ responses to the coronavirus, most of which repeat Government guidelines, here’s what we are doing over and above to protect you and us at this time.

  • All lifejackets are sprayed with an anti-bacterial spray once they are returned to us and then hung to dry, and where possible, jackets are rotated out of use for 72 hours.
  • We have obtained cleaning products (due for delivery by 21st March 2020) that are proven to be effective against the novel coronavirus. All boats will be protected using this spray which is not a cleaning agent but a specific product to be used after normal cleaning has taken place. The protection that this product offers can remain active for up to seven days, if treated properly. All holidaymakers will be advised of how to keep the protection alive. Our biggest problem is that supplies of this product are limited for obvious reasons and being rationed.  
  • All laundry will be washed at higher temperatures. However, for everyone’s protection, we would prefer you to bring your own bedding during these extraordinary times. We are sorry, but we will no longer be offering towel hire and refunds will be given as necessary.
  • We are frequently wiping down commonly touched surfaces with suitable products and this includes door handles and commonly used areas of doors (both around the boatyard and on boats that have bookings), our reception desk, clipboards etc.
  • Social distancing is clearly an issue and we will be asking groups of people to not enter reception all at once. Boat tuition will also be affected for the same reason. We will continue to give people the highest possible level of tuition, but may have to limit the number of people that receive this in larger groups in the most practical ways achievable at the time.


Some of our protection measures are likely to cause delays at reception and during handovers. As one of us falls within the “at risk” category from coronavirus, we will also be short-staffed in reception and hand-over duties. Your patience will be appreciated. But you can help with the smooth flow at reception. Here’s a few pointers:
  • Where boat availability permits, we will prepare them earlier and call people some days before their arrival to see if we can create a schedule for arrivals that keeps different groups apart and allows a smother flow of people in and out on boats. We appreciate that this may be difficult with unknowns like traffic delays, but it's one option available to us. You will need to tell us if you are delayed. 
  • If there is a queue, please exercise social distancing or perhaps wait in your car.
  • Make sure you have got any deposits you need to pay ready. Remember, all our deposits are cash. As much as we would prefer not to handle cash right now, our card processing supplier will not allow us to take and refund deposits and so this remains a non-negotiable point.  If you are a group of people each having to pay a security deposit, please ensure you know how much the total of deposits is and ensure you have this as one sum before coming into reception. Waiting for “Dave” to arrive with his deposit will delay you.
  • Make sure you have your food and drink supplies with you. Please don’t arrive and expect to pop into Sainsburys to stock up on provisions; this will delay the reception and handover/induction process which we may defer to the next day if you are late. Also, be aware that our local supermarkets have been subject to panic buying, just like yours; the shelves have been quite empty.
  • We will try to be as accommodating as possible, but please do not expect us to open the boatyard earlier or later than our advised opening times, especially if you are late yourselves. Any arrival after 5pm must expect to have their boat induction delayed until the next day, especially if you have not informed us you will be late. Remember, you are not legally allowed to pilot the boat after sunset, so late arrivals at the yard will likely delay your departure until the next morning after a full hand-over.
  • Bring enough provisions for the entirety of your stay. As people are advised to not visit pubs, you may find them closing their doors and there aren’t many easily accessible convenience stores (and that’s not because of the current virus situation, more because of the economic situation of the last decade). I am sure that many pubs will be happy to cook dinner for you and deliver it to your boat, but please confirm this directly with your chosen hostelries. Bring predominantly non-perishable goods; some boat fridges are a good size, but most are quite small.
  • Bring plenty of bottled water as the water on the boat is stored in tanks and you are advised not to drink it without boiling first.
  • Bring your own soap. We are struggling to obtain it just like you.
  • Toilet Rolls. Well what can we say? We have a small stock and will continue to provide one roll per boat toilet whilst we can. Please bring your own. Once you are down to just the Izal, it’s time for handstands in the shower rather than block your boat loos…..
  • Prepare any questions before you arrive; ideally email them to us with a couple of days’ notice if you cannot find the answers on our web site.


  • has developed a new, persistent cough
  • has a fever

Please let us know if anybody on board the boat or back at home develops symptons during your holiday or in the 14 days after your holiday so we can take necessary steps and precautions to help prevent the spread of the virus.

Government travel advice 

As of 18th March 2020, government advice is against travel on public transport and engaging in foreign travel.

Mr Johnson also said that “non-essential travel” should be avoided. Sorry, but I really am not sure what this means any more than the next person; it is as woolly as many other messages from Westminster at this time. Your guess is as good as ours as to whether this means anything or is just waffle. Some would suggest that holidays are non-essential, others would argue strongly the other way. As we might all be facing a significant period of going nowhere, I would argue that some kind of break was pretty essential but I won’t debate this point as you are entitled to your opinions.

Changes around the Broads

The following is accurate as at 19th March 2020. 

Pubs: Most pubs appear to be open currently with the exception of The Locks at Geldeston where Grain Brewery has stated it is closing all its pubs for the time being. 

Yacht Stations: The Broads Authority is opening Reedham and Great Yarmouth Yacht Stations due to safety concerns. Norwich Yacht Station will not be open or staffed. Beccles and Oulton Broads yacht stations are open. 


Monday, 2 March 2020

Craig Slawson

I have never net Craig.

Actually, I know very little about Craig.

To me, Craig is just the name of a man who devised and managed an online database for Broads registered boats and that, Craig is a bit of a household name on the Norfolk Broads.

There are many people who are "household names" in these parts that I have never met. I tend to keep myself to myself, being rather shy in gatherings (avoiding them if I can), anxious around groups of people and, despite having run a boatyard for 12 years now, I am still very-much the new-boy around these parts.

To me, Craig is just the name of someone who had spent his own time devising, populating and managing an on-line database of Broads boats. His creation provides genuinely useful information about the history of Broads boat without getting into data protection issues. For instance, you can look at any boat and find out, roughly or accurately, when it moved between hire fleets, into private hands (though clearly not who owns it) and so on.

The database helps boat buyers check out some of the history of their new vessel, find out what previous names it may have been known by and maybe even be a source of photos going back over the years. The database has been useful too for the Broads Authority to check boat's history and the Tolls office, I understand, were also keen to help keep the database populated with accurate details; all without stepping into the realms of the Data Protection laws.

I logged on to the Norfolk Broads Network forum today for the first time in a month or so and stumbled upon a thread from the beginning of February. Entitled, Sad News, the thread delivers the news that Craig has passed away.

I say to Craig, thank you for all of your efforts to build and maintain this valuable resource. Your time in this endeavour has been hugely useful to thousands of people. A true Broadsman.

My thoughts are with your family and friends.

To a man who I never knew but perhaps should have, Rest in Peace. Your contribution to the wonderful Norfolk Broads deserves to live on.

You can access the database here:

Sunday, 1 March 2020

The Toll for Puddle Marchers

The Broads Authority delivered its toll requests this week with more than 3000 emails being sent and some 7000 letters covering around 12,000 boats on the Broads.

As anyone would expect, the annual cost increased across the board again in 2020, with some boats commanding an eye-watering toll. Our flagship vessel has a bounty of almost £1300 as an example.

The delivery of this annual A4 envelope is never welcomed of course. The five-figure sum at the bottom of the totals column is a uncomfortable read. And it is at this time of year more than any other that I take a look at the Broads Authority and wonder what we get for all this money. Now, I use the word “we” in an all-encompassing way here; by no means do I mean just Freedom.

The BA takes a lot of stick for its activities and a great deal of it is wholesomely deserved; the waste within the authority is epic, its draconian approach to planning borders on self-harm for the area, and its cronyism is perhaps only topped by Downing Street: I don’t have a lot of time for BA policy and politics. However, I do feel that its River Tolls, whilst seemingly high, are very reasonable and I fully expect (and hope) to see a level of disagreement in the comments as I write these regular blogs in a way that should strike a chord with people, whether major or minor.

I should state at this point that I tend to write these blogs within an hour or two of them being published. In this case, I have absolutely no figures to back up any of my comments other than the well-known 1% rise in unpowered and hybrid tolls and 2.9% rise in powered craft. I don’t know what the BA budget is, I don’t know what money it receives from government. I do know what I have been told by BA workers and volunteers who see with their own eyes what goes on.    

Why are the BA tolls OK?

Let’s first start with a comparison between other waterways; it’s anecdotal but let’s not stop the lack of hard facts from being the basis of an argument.

A year or two back, I called a boatyard on another river system to see whether they could do me a cheap couple of days away as a kind of “trade discount”; obviously, I would not require a huge amount of their time in handovers and so on. I spoke to them about a boat they had that was the same as one of mine (mine has a more modern fit-out) but they are essentially the same. They were happy to move a little on the price for me but their absolute bottom line was still considerably higher that our advertised price for the same boat for the same weekend. I explained this and they told me what their annual toll alone was for that boat and I was taken aback. If I call our tolls eye-watering, theirs would be like having Ridley Scott’s Alien burst out of your chest.

And it’s the same on most (perhaps all) other navigations; the BA tolls are low when you work in comparison terms. There are 125 miles of navigable river here on the Broads. That’s a lot of water to manage and, of course, the BA is responsible for rather more than just the navigable elements. The tolls give unrestricted use of the Free 24 hour moorings (65 at current count, so as an average, one collection of free moorings for every 1.93 miles of river), does dredging (though not as much as many would like), maintains banks, recovers abandoned and sunken vessels, and a whole heap of other stuff.

Toll Trols

I don’t want anybody to start thinking that I am a fan of the BA; I am not, but I am fair with my criticism. There are many things that the BA is justly criticised of and being a virtually unregulated, unelected quango that appears unanswerable to anybody is the root of most of this criticism. But then again, we elect town and county councils and then sit back and do nothing but moan about their conduct for four years and then re-elect the very same people that we’ve just spent the last 48 months moaning about. Considering this, I have a complete lack of expectation that actually having the BA become an elected bunch of officials would change anything deep down. If there’s one thing the UK electorate needs to learn is that few things vilify politicians more than re-election.

I happen to think that the BA Tolls provide the best value for money of any navigation in the UK. And whilst I know there is much waste within the BA and that this undoubtedly inflates the costs which are already high, I appreciate too that the costs of maintenance do nothing but rise also. However, the enjoyment offered by the Broads each year is immeasurable whether you own or hire boats or even just cycle, walk or drive around.

Boat ownership 'ain't cheap

If you own a boat, you will appreciate that it’s rarely something that a low-earner can afford. It’s a privilege and privileges have a cost attached.  If you hire boats, you’re quite possibly better off than some of us who own them as they are often seen as floating holes that you drop £50 notes into; indeed, there is a phrase that was told to me by a director of a large tobacco company a few years ago. It was told to him by an Arab Prince, “if it flies, floats or fornicates, rent it”. (NB, he didn’t use the word, “fornicate”). I am told by people I know who fly that planes are even more expensive to own; there is no way that you will be seeing Freedom Flights Ltd any time soon.

Back to the BA tolls which I don’t like paying but accept we all have to for the privilege of using the rivers. The dropping of that tolls demand each March on your doormat (or Ping in your inbox if you have gone green) is never welcomed, but you know it’s coming and you know it will be at least as expensive as last year and you have had 12 months to prepare for it.

If it’s happening to you, don’t go crazy over it; get mad over all the “burning injustices” in our country and around the world long before you let a bill from the Broads Authority ruin your day.

Visit to book your broads boating holiday. 


Sunday, 16 February 2020

Wild Weather

As we begin to recover from another stormy weekend, I am led to think about how to make the best of a bad weather weekend away from home. Indeed, it’s a hard one for me as I tend to shy away from venturing out in unsettled weather, but there are plenty of people who are more than prepared to do so.

Bad weather whilst being holed up in a boat, caravan or motor home is something you sometimes have to get used to or simply be prepared for. Last year, I wasn’t remotely prepared for two days of rain whilst at a festival and simply spent most of my time in the motorhome rather than getting out and enjoying the music. I moped about and had a thoroughly miserable time. It was mid-summer for crying out loud!

First Boats of 2020

This weekend sees the first holiday cruisers of 2020 on hire for us at Freedom Boats. Of course, with gale-force winds, the instructions to all those on boats was to moor-up safely away from trees and wait-out the storm; if there’s a pub and other facilities nearby, all the better!

But what do you do all day?

There’s the TV of course, but in bad weather, putting a TV aerial up on the roof is inviting trouble. But also, the chances of signal interruption increases too. At home, we couldn’t watch BBC1 last night as the signal quality was awful. DVDs then. A good few films will while away the time faster than you could appreciate.

Of course, most people have phones and tablets for entertainment these days, but these tend to be  more isolating rather than inclusive (though, to my mind, it’s not always so different to watching a group of people in a library just reading and interacting only when someone coughs and then only with a tut or an icy stare).

Card games are always good for inclusion and there are hundreds of options with a standard pack of cards alone. Other generic games like UNO and Dobble are favourites amongst our children; particularly our eldest who’s ability to see the contents of a Dobble card almost instantly is legendary; how she does it I have no idea but she usually clears up at least twice as fast as anybody else. If you haven’t see Dobble, they are circular cards with icons in various sizes; the idea is to match the card you are holding with the card face up on the pack; sounds easy but it seems, at least to this father, it is a game for young people or at least those who have retained all their faculties.

Jigsaws are another option, but the size of them makes it harder on a boat as there is restricted room. Perhaps one of those mats that allows you to roll the jigsaw up would help. Books are an obvious one and why not have a good read?

You could, of course, just roll into the pub and enjoy the hospitality and each-other’s company for the afternoon. Teas and coffees are on offer along with beers, wines and spirits and many pubs also have real fires to enjoy too.

Just Explore

A rainy day doesn’t stop you exploring either. Head out in decent wet-weather gear and go for a walk. If you’re near a bus stop or railway station, get a ticket to Norwich or Great Yarmouth and explore here too. Norwich is a great place to visit with its fabulous undercover market which has been held on the same site for over 900 years and is thought to be one of the oldest in Europe. The Norwich Lanes hide a wealth of independent shops and one of the retail operators in the country, way surpassing the likes of M&S and Sainsburys. Jarrolds, is celebrating 250 years in business in 2020. Of course, there’s also museums, cinemas, cathedrals and an incredible Norman castle sitting high on a mound looking over the city. Sadly, Norwich is often ignored by boaters; it absolutely should not be.

Great Yarmouth is the second largest seaside resort in the UK (Blackpool being the bigger). Its promenade offers the usual seaside fayre, there’s a pier, great beaches (though probably not so great in the rain), decent shopping, cinemas, a circus (I kid you not, the Hippodrome is a real jewel) and a few very good museums with the Time and Tide charting the town’s history, especially as a major fishing port and is housed in one of the few remaining herring smoke houses that used to litter the town. There’s Anna Sewell's house (the author of Black Beauty) which is currently a "Cakery", a historic museum ship in the Lydia Eva and a Theatre too. Incidentally, Black Beauty was first published by John Jarrold Printing in Norwich in 1877.


Very windy days will prevent navigation on safety grounds, but rain shouldn’t so why not just make a rainy day part of your journey and head off to another location; maybe another pub stop for the night.

Really, like any other situation, bad weather just takes a bit of preparation and planning. If you’re like me at a festival and see only the downsides of the situation, you’re probably destined to be bored, maybe even a killjoy. Watch the forecasts, pack accordingly and just go with the flow.

Your turn

What ideas to you have for enjoying rainy days on a boating holiday?

Sunday, 9 February 2020

Winter Boat Hire on the Norfolk Broads

Why would anybody want to have a Norfolk boating holiday in winter? 

It’s a curious question and not unlike others, such as, why do some people like Marmite or why is it always only the Toffee Coins left in a box of Quality Street.

Not everybody is the same. As I write this, Storm Ciara is battering my home on one of the few hills on the Norfolk Broads and being three storeys up also makes me very happy for our central heating. I toyed with the idea of doing a video blog earlier. I thought about going down by the river with the camera but I just couldn’t muster the enthusiasm to get dressed up in warm clothes, lace up the walking boots and drag my sorry backside out of the door; it’s just too uninviting outside today.

However, I have heard plenty of people passing the house and have even seen videos from Robin Shepard on Facebook down at Gorleston Pier at 8am showing me moving pictures of why I prefer to be indoors today.

Whilst Robin and many others are quite happy to get out there, I am not and this simply serves to highlight how different we all are.

Our winters have certainly become milder over the last few years and, apart from a blip two years ago when the Beast from the East left snowdrifts for three or more weeks, we have seen very little very cold weather recently (though it doesn’t stop my teenage children from moaning how cold it is outside despite the mercury reading eight or more degrees). 

A question of demand

Thurne Mill at Sunset - Feb 7th 2020
The actual dates of winter (and other seasons, I guess) often confuse people. Around these parts, Winter begins on the 22nd December and ends on the 20th March, or there abouts depending on the year. So, February is technically mid-winter (in astronomical terms) but it is generally this month that sees the demand for winter holidays pick up. By way of illustration, I was at Thurne Mill just a couple of sunsets ago and there were three hire boats moored up when I arrived and a further two cruised in before I left. If you think about it, that’s quite busy for an out-of-season mid-week.

Freedom’s cruiser bookings start this year at the end of next week with four boats booked and we have already sent our first day hire boats of 2020 out yesterday. I believe I am right in saying that we are the only yard on the Southern Broads to offer Winter Boating Holidays. I am sure someone will correct me if I am wrong, but with so few of us left down south, it’s quite easy to keep up. 

But what’s the attraction of Winter?

Leaving today aside (which has turned into a monsoon, let me tell you),  there are a few key features to an out-of-season Broads Boating Holiday:

In no particular order:
  • Cost. February and March are typically the cheapest time you can have a boating break on the Broads
  • Wildlife. The Broads is the UK’s largest wetland area and attracts many migrants that you simply can’t see during the Summer as they simply aren’t here. Other species also appear that are more hidden during times of more human activity.
  • Weather. As already explored, not everybody is put off by the fact that the temperature isn’t in double figures. And, it’s not always cold either.
  • Solitude: you just can’t beat. Whilst there might have been five hire boats in Thurne dyke one evening this week, that’s a fraction of the actual capacity of that inlet which is usually heaving in summer, so much so that spaces are rarely available after 3pm.

Waking up at a mooring with absolutely nobody else about is wonderful. It is truly magical if there’s fresh snowfall too; the only footprints being those of animals. The header image of this blog really conveys this, I think. This was a February morning in 2019 with a stunning sunrise. The absolute peace and quiet of a winter on the river with nobody else around is unbeatable and virtually unattainable during Spring, Summer and Autumn when there’s always someone around.

Winter considerations

Winter holidays do pose more problems to a hire boatyard. The key one is power; as the days are shorter and colder, there is a bigger demand for power for lighting and heating and so the risks of customers running batteries down increases. There’s also the possibility that people will want to cruise after sunset as the days are short; this, if you didn’t know, is illegal.   

Our main restriction is that during Greenwich Mean Time, we don’t allow boats to turn north at Reedham or St Olaves to gain access to Burgh Castle, Berney Arms, Yarmouth and so on. We are often asked why this is and the answer is quite simple; Safety and Access. If you run into any kind of problem around in these hard-to-get-at places, our ability to get to you is significantly decreased as there are just so few boats out there to help.  Also, we are typically subjected to stronger tides with bigger highs and lower lows.

What about a Christmas holiday?

Each year, we have to fend off a number of enquiries for Christmas and New Year boat hire. I guess we could probably have half the fleet out if we were prepared to open; which we are not. For a small boat hire business, the main boating season is a full-on work-fest of cleaning, repairs, maintenance and other related tasks. We simply have to stop some time so that we can carry out big repairs, paint boats and so on. And, crucially, we also need get a decent holiday of our own. Sorry folks, but we will not hire holiday cruisers in December or January though we may offer day boats depending on the situation at the boatyard.

Oh, and the Quality Street Toffee Coins? Traditionally, we left them for my Grandad who loved them and made us all laugh when they stuck to his false teeth.

You can reserve a holiday directly off our web site:

Sunday, 2 February 2020

Ready for a rut - the role of stag and hen parties on the Norfolk Broads

Why Stag and Hen Parties are important to the hireboat industry.

Stag Each year you will see people moaning on social media about a group of men on a boat having fun. Sometimes that fun is at the cost of someone else’s enjoyment, probably by bad behaviour and occasionally through being drunk in charge of a vessel.

You rarely read the stories about the 20 or more groups of people that go out most spring and summer weekends from the likes of Herbert Woods, Richardsons, Barnes and ourselves at Freedom who cause no problems whatsoever and who are thoroughly nice, normal people. The fact is that nobody wants to hear about normal; abnormal is what makes us get on our soap-boxes 

In fact, reading some facebook groups, forums and such might have you believe that the Broads is awash with badly behaved people hiring boats and getting up the hooters of others. This isn’t the case at all and, in the grand scheme of things, it’s fair to say that Stag and Hen groups cause relatively few problems on the waterways and in the pubs.
I would argue that rather than malign these groups, we need to embrace them. My experience of hiring boats to these groups for over a decade is that they are generally courteous, decent people looking to create a memorable celebration for a friend. They are rarely yobs but more commonly respectable people and the Broads needs them just as much as it needs family groups.

The boat yards need parties of people to hire their larger boats and these groups are typically away with friends for a weekend away; rarely are they particularly large family groups. Stags and Hens generally keep our larger boats in regular use and are responsible for a not insignificant amount of revenue.

The pubs and restaurants need them too. A round of drinks for 10 people will come to at least £40 and a sit-down meal will produce vital revenue that a seasonal business needs to survive and be there for seasons to come.

The Broads needs them too. A huge number of people visiting the Broads in a group have been before – as children. Their memories of childhood holidays on a boat are brought to the fore and the likelihood of them coming back with their families increases.

We are all guilty

It is easy to sit back and have a moan about a rowdy crowd; we have all done it. But how many times have you done the same about a couple of children who are running around without any parental guidance? What’s the difference?

You might say that the children don’t know any better and are just being children; you might be right. However, the parents should know a lot better and for whatever reason aren’t properly looking after their offspring. But here’s the crux of the argument; you don’t see people making a point on Facebook about this or local newspaper headlines like “twins, aged 11 and 13, run amok at the Saddlers Arms” (that’s the kind of journalism we have come to know in these parts, by the way). 

I think people choose to malign Stag and Hen parties because they are easy targets. Some of us have forgotten how to have fun (and I think some of us never really learned). Some of us are always looking for peace and quiet and don’t want to be disturbed. Some of us want to have a good time and are vocal about doing so. In this world, we can’t please everybody all of the time and as much as many of us try, letting our hair down occasionally is always likely to have a negative effect on someone. That is a fact of life and just because you are on holiday, it doesn’t give you a right as such. Life is about a bit of give and take, surely.  

There are, of course, lines that shouldn’t be crossed and when they are, steps need to be taken to curb bad behaviour and they are. Did you know that Broads Beat asks all boatyards to inform them of stag, hen and single-sex parties arriving for boats? Or that most boatyards take a significant deposit from such groups? These measures are mostly precautionary but give the law enforcers a head’s up should anything go wrong.

What’s more, as a company, we want to know about bad behaviour. There have been many cases where we have intervened and re-read the rule book to people that have strayed into areas of unacceptable behaviour and do you know what? Most of these cases involve family groups or others that you would not necessarily expect, rather than Stags and Hens.

If you are organising a Hen or Stag party, we have some Hen and Stag Party guidelines on our web site that you should take a look at.

Your views and comments are welcome as ever. 

Stag image credit:  Tj Holowaychuk