Boating Handling for Beginners

The idea of starting boating holidays without any prior knowledge of how to  control a vessel on water can be intimidating for some, whilst for others won’t be a problem at all. There’s no need to worry though as it doesn’t take long to pick up. Having a basic idea of the mechanics before you get started will make everything that bit easier.

Watch the Broads Authority Video on Basic Boat Handling


Before you set off

Have a look at our list of things you should bring to make sure you pack appropriately for your boating holiday. Shoes in particular can make a big difference, you’ll need to bring non-slip footwear for the deck, and you’ll also find wellies come in handy for muddy walks and river banks.

Everyone in your party will need to be wearing a lifejacket on and around the Broads. Even when you get off the boat in order to cast off, you shouldn’t remove your jacket just in case. It is likely to be wet around the mooring and therefore there is the potential of slipping.

If you’re bringing your dog with you, it is a good idea for them to have a life jacket too. Herbert Woods have a limited number of Dog Life Jackets in a variety of sizes, available on a first come first served basis. However, if you are holidaying with us in peak season we recommend you bring your own to avoid disappointment.


Boating Terms

While you won’t need to know all of the different boating terminology, a few phrases won’t hurt!

There are the four nautical directions which can be helpful to learn:

Bow The front of the ship

Stern The back of the ship

Port The left side of the ship whilst facing the bow

Starboard The right of the ship whilst facing the bow


Other useful terms:

Moorings These are places where you can secure your boat, either at night or when you’ve stopped in the day

Casting off This is when you leave your mooring, unsecure the boat and set off on new adventures!


Signalling to other boaters

Be aware of other Broads users, listen out for horn blasts while you’re on your boating holiday. There are always to alert you to something, so you will need to pay attention:

One short blast I am turning right

Two short blasts I am turning left

Three short blasts I am reversing

You might need to use them yourself, so make sure you’re familiar with what means what.


Driving Your Boat

Starting the Engine

Always make sure you start the engine before casting off. Check that the throttle lever is in neutral. Pull out the choke to disengage the gearbox and put then move the throttle lever to half power.

If the engine is cold, turn the ignition key to the ‘pre-heat’ position for 35-40 seconds, you will here a high pitched beeping sound and then on to start. If the engine is already warm just turn the key to the start position. Once the engine is started release the key so it can return to the run position. You must then return the throttle lever to neutral before engaging gear.


Casting Off

When you come aboard bring all ropes and anchors with you, make sure you do not throw anchors aboard as they may incur someone or damage the boat. Make sure any mooring ropes are coiled safely on deck and not trailing in the water as they could become caught in the propeller. When you are ready to leave, check that all crew are aboard and make sure the river is clear of boats before moving off.


How to Slow and Stop

Always allow plenty of time, you cannot simply brake as you do in a car. To slow down or stop , ease off the throttle and put the lever into neutral, your boat will gradually slow down. Engage reverse gear and gradually increase throttle to stop the boat, once the boat has stopped return the lever to neutral. Remember to keep an eye on the back end of your boat as it will swing out.



A boat doesn’t steer like a car, they are much slower to respond and as you tern the wheel the back end will swing out. You should always be aware of what the stern is doing. A boat is effected by the winds and tide so can drift in any direction, so even when you are going straight you will find that you need to adjust your steering to compensate for this.



Begin by taking the boat out of gear. The most important thing with reversing is to remember that unlike cars, boats steer from the back, so when you reverse you’ll need to turn counter intuitively. You want to turn starboard, so put the helm hard port, and vice versa. Then you’ll just need to put the boat into reverse. The wind is a major factor, so be especially cautious on breezy days.


Passing Boats

Remember to drive on the right, and always pass other boats coming the other way on the right hand side of the waterways.


Should you meet a yacht while cruising, your first action should be to slow down considerably. Power always gives way to sail boats. You should also never pass in front of a sail boat, pass from behind and alter your course if necessary. You might be directed as to which side you should pass them, so keep an eye out for hand signals. Follow this direction but do so slowly and carefully.



Some moorings are ‘alongside’ whilst other are ‘stern on’. Evaluate the mooring, because you will need to approach both differently. Once you’ve perfected your reversing, you shouldn’t find either a problem, but alongside moorings tend to be the most common. Read more detailed information on how and where to moor here.

Watch the Broads Authority Video on Mooring Your Boat


Other Things To Know

Cruisers are not fitted with the necessary navigational lights to cruise at night, and therefore you should aim to moor at least one hour before sunset. You are uninsured for cruising at night, and the poor visibility and lack of navigation lights will make this very dangerous.  Estimate how long your journey might take using our simple guide, but remember that these are only estimates so don’t rely on them entirely.

There are speed limits on the Broads which are between 3 and 6 mph. You’ll need to stick to them on your boating holidays. This is to prevent bank erosion, protect wildlife, and for the safety of people on moored boats.

Most importantly, enjoy yourself. The pace of life is slow and luxurious, and people around are often more than happy to help if you’re not quite sure how to do something!


Are you looking for a Norfolk Broads boating holiday? If so, have a look at our entire fleet of hire cruisers.