Friday,  June 18, 2021  8:58 am

On location: Le Boat’s self-drive charter on the Rideau Canal is a safe, fun staycation

On location: Le Boat’s self-drive charter on the Rideau Canal is a safe, fun staycation
Ming Tappin

Ming Tappin is a cruise industry expert and is the owner of Your Cruise Coach.

As Canada slowly emerges from lockdown, your clients are most likely searching for a getaway after spending months cooped up at home. And with out-of-country travel being a write-off for many this summer, many will be looking to stay closer to home.

Staycation options such as renting a cottage or camping exist, but after being housebound for three months, clients may not want to stay in another house, or risk sharing common space and bathroom facilities at a campground.

This is why a Le Boat self-drive charter can be an appealing option.

A Le Boat self-drive charter can be an appealing option for an Ontario staycation. (Ming Tappin)

The launch of Le Boat’s 2020 season coincided with the opening of the Rideau Canal by Parks Canada on June 1st. With modern and fully-equipped Horizon cruisers that sleep up to 12, Le Boat promises a relaxing, self-paced, but most importantly, a self-contained boating vacation for a family bubble – as I discovered firsthand last month.

No boating license required

Despite arguments from boaters insisting that you need a boating license, the truth is you only need one if you own the boat you are driving. Chartering a Le Boat is like renting a houseboat or a speedboat. No license is required.

No boating experience required...really?

This may be a second, more legitimate concern that clients have. Having done the trip as a first-time boater, I can attest to the fact that it is entirely possible.

On the day of pick-up in Smiths Falls, ON, a base manager will walk your clients through everything about their boat and its operation. It may seem daunting to remember how everything works, but it is all documented in a photo-filled operations manual which clients can refer to later.

Chartering a Le Boat is like renting a houseboat or a speedboat. No license is required. (Ming Tappin)

Your clients will then be taught (and execute) several maneuvers in Smiths Falls’ harbour – pulling out, steering, turning, and docking. If required, the base manager will also accompany them to transit the first Rideau Canal lock which is located nearby (which I highly suggest).

Learning the boat’s reaction time is probably the trickiest. Knowing how much to turn the wheel and when to turn it back so not to over-steer is the key. But just like driving a car or any other piece of machinery, once you figure out the handling, you will be in control. As each day progresses, so will your confidence in docking, turning, and maneuvering.

Onboard each boat is a book of comprehensive, easy-to-read marine charts, and the base manager will teach your clients how to follow the charts and will also point out specific information relevant to their itinerary. We also had an option to download a free GPS app for our mobile devices.

The launch of Le Boat’s 2020 season coincided with the opening of the Rideau Canal by Parks Canada on June 1st. (Ming Tappin)

Rideau Canal locks made easy

Passing through the locks is also not as intimidating as one imagines.

Once the boat is inside the lock chamber, loop the bow and stern lines around the cables on the lock wall. After the lock gates reopen, unloop the lines and drive out. Easy as that, and every lock works the same way. Parks Canada staff at each lock station can assist wherever possible.

We found them to be extremely friendly and showed genuine interest in us and our travels.

Boating during COVID-19

As we are still not out of the woods yet, Le Boat has implemented The COVID Safety Charter to protect the health and safety of their clients and crew.

Following Ontario’s new Health and Safety Guidelines, strict protocols include staggered check-in, social distancing, complimentary reusable masks, deep-cleaning of all touchpoints on the boat, linens washed at high temperatures, and demos conducted by staff wearing PPE.

Le Boat also introduced the Go Boating with Confidence initiative which allows travellers to cancel up to 48 hours prior to departure and receive a booking credit, redeemable up to 2021.
As Canada slowly emerges from lockdown, travellers may opt for a vacation closer to home. (Ming Tappin)

DOs and DONTs

Here are a few tips to help your clients get the best out of their Le Boat holiday.

DO ask about the specific amenities on the boat, especially if your clients plan to prepare most of their meals. All utensils, cookware, and dishware are supplied onboard, extras such as coffee makers, toasters, and plug-in coolers must be requested in advance. Verify the fridge size on the boat and advise your clients to pack accordingly.

DO wear lots of sunscreen, a hat, and polarized sunglasses. Depending on the direction of travel and time of day, the captain and co-captain may be entirely in the sun.

DO arrive at each overnight moorage point by mid-afternoon to secure a spot for the evening, as docking space is first-come, first-serve.

DON’T try to do too much in a day. Plan on 3-4 hours of cruising plus locking time. In addition to cruising on the water, the pleasure also continues while relaxing dockside afterwards! Le Boat will provide itinerary suggestions based on the charter period.

DO suggest clients travel with three or four persons. Although boats can be safely operated by two people, having extra bodies makes it easier for locking and tying up the lines since the captain must always remain at the helm.

DO encourage your clients to book early as there will be more people looking for staycations this year. The 2020 season will operate until October 12th.

Le Boat pays 10 percent commission and overrides are available for multiple charters.

For more information and to book a charter, click here or contact Le Boat at 1-800-734-5491.

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