An Unqualified Success

Good news – the French canal system will be much safer this season.

This is because I am finally – finally – preparing to get the appropriate qualifications to skipper a boat on the French inland waterways.

Those of you who’ve read Against The Current will know that our voyage was an unqualified success, literally; neither Liz nor I were qualified with any form of formal boat-handling training or certification. Despite that, we felt fully graduated by the end of the year’s voyage, and could probably have held classes in boatmanship as a result. Or boatwomanship, in Liz’s case.

But one of the issues we had trouble resolving during our year-long voyage was: what qualifications are truly needed to be in charge of a boat on France’s inland waterways? The responses from those we asked along the way varied hugely, from a shrug of the shoulders (i.e. none at all) to advice suggesting we really should have certificates in global navigation.

Well, I can now clarify the situation. It transpires that what we really should have had was evidence to show we’d done the CEVNI test (Code Européen des Voies de Navigation Intérieure), and the ICC test (International Certificate for Operators of Pleasure Craft – also known as the International Certificate of Competence).

The CEVNI is a prerequisite to the ICC – and seemingly you can’t have one without the other. But let’s be clear: this does not apply to hire boats. If you go to a hire boat operator in France you will usually find they welcomingly proclaim you can rent their boats sans permis, meaning without a permit or any qualifications. (Let’s not go into the wisdom of that here)

So now each evening before I fall asleep – and indeed helping me to do so – I read a few pages of the CEVNI handbook. This covers everything you’re ever likely to encounter on the rivers and canals of Europe, including prohibitory signs, mandatory signs, restrictive and recommendatory signs, buoyage and marking of: waterways, lakes and broad waterways, and – yawn – navigation lights. There’s more, but my eyes are drooping.

I can, apparently, sit as many online practice tests as I like for this, before sitting the test itself either at a Royal Yachting Association base, or online ‘anywhere in the world’. I’m thinking of going to Madagascar for mine.

The ICC is a bit more hands-on, and involves a course in boat-handling skills. I’m more confident of doing well in that, but in the meantime I’m struggling through identifying the difference between navigation lights for ‘Motorized small craft proceeding alone’ and, ‘Motorized small craft proceeding alone with side lights side by side or in the same lamp at or near the bow.’

The irony of this is that those of us skippering pleasure boats in France are not allowed to cruise after dark, and most of the canal locks close at 7pm anyway. But, them’s the rules.

Wish me luck.

For more information visit this RYA site

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