This page helps and encourages new and inexperienced boaters to safely enjoy the
pleasures of motor boating on the Norfolk Broads and get you started into a relaxing
and fun recreation.
Typical picnic boat with front cabin and raised helm (steering)
A picnic boat more facilities but may not be as easy to move around in.
Typical day boat; level inside, steering at front.
So, It’s just like a car then? No!
So, why is it not like a car? Starting, stopping, steering and the rules of the
road (river) are all different. Starting the engine may be just like a car, but
pulling away is different. As a car steers from the front, and the back follows,
pulling away is just a question of turning the wheel and pressing the throttle. A
boat steers from the rudder at the back, so pulling away involves the back swinging
into the bank, while the front swings out; a bit like pivoting in the middle. If
the bank stops the stern from swinging the boat may simply rub along the bank. Therefore,
to overcome this problem it is often a good idea to push the back out from the bank
using the boat hook, and reverse out a little, or push the front out and move off
straight, away from the bank.
So now we’ve taken off, it’s plain sailing? Not quite!
Firstly, remember you have NO BRAKES! Therefore, there are two ways of stopping
(without ramming the bank or another boat). Firstly, you keep a controlled speed,
thinking ahead and bringing the boat to a gentle stop using the throttle to slow
down, with a little nudge forward if you do this too soon. Skilled, experienced
skippers can do this with ease and always look impressive, stopping exactly in place
without loads of revving. The second way is to use reverse as a brake. Unlike a
car “gripping” the road, a propeller does not grip the water so simply going into
neutral provides little resistance. Going into reverse creates a backward force
that drags the forward movement. Inexperienced “beginners” are always given away
by the need to suddenly rev the engine, opening the throttle in reverse at the last
second. Not recommended, but essential as your “emergency stop” brake.
I can start, stop, and steer, so going along is just a question of driving on the
Well yes, but not quite!
Roads use well-defined lanes, and drivers usually drive close to the kerb. Not so
with boating! It is very important to preserve the bank from erosion, protect wildlife,
and avoid flooding the top. All boats create a “wash” behind them that gets weaker
the further away from the boat. So you should not hug the bank, but stay in about
the centre of the river. As an oncoming boat approaches simply adjust your course
so that you pass close to each other and to the right (you pass left side to left
side (port to port). This is more easily done the wider the river. Most rivers
meander. Following the bank makes you go much further than if you are able to steer
a near straight course down the middle. Most rivers have a speed limit of 4 mph,
and most hire boats have limiters. This also reduces your wash. If you go to overtake
a slower vessel, make sure it’s clear on-coming and pull towards the middle of the
river as you speed up. The boat in front may move a little towards the bank to help
you. Again, overtaking this way helps protect the bank. Do not try to go through
the gap between the boat in front and the bank. In any case the boat in front may
have slowed down because it is about to turn into the bank to moor.
OK, so steering’s just like a car, right?
Not at all! You may have a steering wheel that turns in the conventional direction,
but that’s about it. Because of the grip on the road a car’s steering is immediate
and as extreme as you turn the wheel. In a boat you just turn the rudder and you
have to wait for the flow of water to change under the boat. A boat pivots, so turning
to the right sends the back to sideways to the left. Allow room for this. Steering
takes time to react, so is a little delayed and changes happen slowly. Be patient,
and allow time. Another clue giving away a beginner is over steering, leading to
opposite compensation and a boat that is snaking along, instead of going straight.
Because it relies on the rudder flowing through the water, the steering is more
positive when going faster. Don’t be tempted to cut corners at bends in the river;
what looks sharp for a road turns out to be a gradual curve at boating speeds. Strong
winds will also affect your steering.
Junctions and other encounters.
On an open broad there are no “lanes” and you can go anywhere. So, if you come to
a meeting of rivers, or another boat approaches you to cross your path, who gives
way to who? There are no white lines! The rule is really quite simple; the problem
is the other boat may not understand the rules. You must be prepared for anything.
The general rule for who gives way when the paths of two boats are going to cross
is decided like this. Imagine a straight line going straight ahead of your boat.
You give way to the right. That is if you are looking to the right of this line
to see the approaching boat you are the “give way” vessel and should not impede the
passage of the other boat. In this situation you will be able to see his port (left)
side, and if at night will see his red light. Now this only works if the other vessel
does not suddenly change course. This vessel is the “stand-on” vessel and should
maintain its course and speed. You will be the “stand-on” vessel if you are looking
to your left to see the approaching boat, and seeing its starboard (right) side,
showing green light at night. “Give way” means slowing down or altering course to
pass behind the stand-on boat.
Any boat in the green sector has right of way over you and you should slow down to
pass behind it. You have right of way over any boat in the red sector.
OK, so what about mooring?
You can moor in open water by dropping anchor (well, mud weight), or at a bank or
staithe. Staithe mooring is often stern on. Look for signs or go by other boats.
You can moor at the bank anywhere that is safe, deep enough, clear of underwater
obstructions (e.g. tree roots) and is not private, has official restriction signs,
or blocks the safe passage of other vessels. Suitable places can be found within
forest, open countryside, public staithes, and commercial moorings owned by pubs,
restaurants, boat yards etc. Many good “natural” mooring spots can be picked out
by simply looking at the bank, and are generally free, with very few places making
a charge (signposted). Most pubs etc are free to patrons, but there may be charges
for overnight stays at marinas, or municipal moorings but these are generally cheap
and can well be worth it for facilities offered, or available nearby.
OK, so how do we moor?
Mooring alongside a bank
This is another area that shows up the novices embarrassingly as there are often
people watching from the bank (and posting your misguided attempts on U-tube!). Remembering
still,that you are not a car, you don’t just run up to the kerb (bank) and brake.
You need to adjust your speed carefully, allowing for any tidal flow (none within
a day trip from Wroxham), and wind, (in strong wind aim to moor against the wind
as this gives you more control), aiming to bring the boat to a natural stop, with
may be a slight burst of reverse if needed. Aim to bring in the forward (front)
end first, leaving the propeller and rudder in deeper water and swing in, or even
slightly reverse in. Keep an eye out for very shallow water or tree roots etc. Preparation
is paramount. Unless on your own, have someone at the front end (bow) with a rope
(attached at one end to the boat). As the boat arrives within A STEP, (NEVER JUMP
A GAP as you might slip and the momentum of your boat may crush your leg between
boat and bank, step off and either tie up to a strong tree, or use a boat hook into
the ground, or tie to any provided mooring rings, stakes etc. Then tie the rear
(stern) in a similar way. Don’ t leave additional mooring rope loose for people
on the bank to trip over. If too long, return the rope onto the deck and tie there,
again not leaving rope for people on the boat to trip. THINK SAFETY!
Stern on mooring
Bring your boat close, but leave enough room for your back end to swing without hitting
other moored boats the turn sharply away until about aiming at the gap you are targeting
to moor. Reverse slowly, but steering is not good in reverse, and it sometimes helps
to give the throttle a sudden quick nudge to force a change of direction. Practice,
not theory needed here! Don’t worry about your prop and rudder on a hire boat; they
are well underneath and will not hit the quay, and stern-on mooring will always be
dug out at the edge.
Mooring in open water. One of the greatest features of the Norfolk Broads is that
even in the largest open broads the water is never really deep (see the “How were
they formed page on this web site). This makes them relatively safe, compared with
e.g. the Scottish lochs, or Lake District. Choose a suitable spot in an open broad
where you will not obstruct other vessels, and drop the mud anchor (if you have one).
Not all day boats do. Keep the rope tight and tie to a cleat on the deck, so that
the rope goes straight down. The broad is not tidal, so will not need allowance
(see tip, above, for tidal). The boat will swing round down wind from the anchor
so allow for this if fairly near a bank. If you allow too much rope the wind may
swing the boat in a large arc. In very strong winds you may drift a little if the
mud anchor gets dragged. One or two very shallow broads (e.g. Hickling and Barton)
have deeper navigation channels marked by a line of red and black (or green) posts.
When travelling keep in the channel between these and do not moor in the channel.
You may moor just outside the channel, but don’t stray too far as you may run aground.
So, what about fishing then?
Many boaters see fishing as an integral part of the trip. The water in this part
of the Broads and rivers is fresh water; so coarse fishing by float, ledger or spinning
is fine. You may fish from a boat, as long as it’s moored. Do not have a line in
the water (e.g. Spinning) from a moving boat. You may fish from the bank unless
it is signed e.g. a fishing club stretch, private property or where forbidden by
the Broads Authority e.g. near a restricted bridge etc. Remember, you must have
a National Rod Licence, and it must be in season. (Closed season is 15th March to
16th June). You can see and contribute to “fishing” on the main fishing section
of this site.
So, is that it then?
Well we can never say that!
Some other things you should know. As a motorboat you have good control, so you
must give way to all other river users: yacht under sail, sailing dinghy, rowing
boat, canoe, and swimmers. Watch out for these, slow down and take a wide birth.
Watch out for boats under sail, tacking, where they may change direction suddenly.
Watch their course and adjust your speed so you can get past at the right moment.
The skipper may signal to you his course, or may wave directions to you. The yacht
club on Wroxham Broad often has many sailing boats in the summer but they generally
keep to an area marked by buoys. Keep out of this area. There is also a yacht club
near the sharp bend at the Swan PH at Horning. Elsewhere, you may meet individual
Hire boats may not be operated after dark. You don’t have lights and in any case
will certainly not be insured. Private vessels are fitted with navigation lights,
and may travel at night. However, in high season it can be very light quite late
into the evening.
Remember, boating is not like driving! It is not about getting from A to B as quickly
as possible. It’s about the journey itself. Be leisurely; allow time; stop off
at places of interest. Be considerate and helpful to other river users. Not withstanding
“the rules” as a small day boat give way to larger craft and particularly the large
tourist ferries. These need a lot of room to manoeuvre on tight bends.
Within a day trip from Wroxham you will not encounter any tidal water, fast river
flows, or marked channels, but you may encounter strong winds particularly on the
open broad. Always be aware of the weather conditions and how they may affect steering
The tips on this page are not necessarily law, but simply our own suggestions gained
from a few years of boating.
It is still common practice for the skippers of craft to wave or acknowledge each
other as they pass, though less common in the High Season when there are simply too
many boats for this to be practical.
Bon Voyage !
P.S. The Broads are patrolled by river police (with a blue flashing light!), but
although they are law enforcement, they generally understand the ignorance and inexperience
of holiday makers and you will find that they are generally very helpful.
Tip for tidal waters.
If you moor for a long period, make sure you judge the direction of flow to find
if the tide is coming in or going out. The height of the water to the bank will
change during your stay. You may need to allow more rope to cope with changes in
height caused by the boat going up or down alongside the bank. This also applies
to “drop anchor” open mooring.
Boating tips and rules for motorboats on the Norfolk Broads
We are going to consider only motorboats, as a sailing boat does require some expert
training. In Wroxham there are many boat yards that can hire you a motor day boat
or picnic boat, by the hour, day, or even week. So what’s the best way to go about
this? If you’ve NEVER skippered a boat before we suggest you try just a couple of
hours first in good weather to find out if it’s really for you. Most day boats are
diesel engine and can take 6 to 8 people. Some boatyards do electric motors, which
are much quieter. Your preference! In busy summer times it may be necessary to
book in advance, unless you are prepared to just wait your turn at one of the large
riverfront yards? Otherwise you collect your boat from one of the boat yards just
behind the main river. See local map. When you collect your boat the boatyard operator
will ask you about experience, and they will show you the basic controls of engine
start, steering and throttle. They may take you for a short try out until you’re
happy to go it alone. They will provide you with life jackets and give you basic
safety instructions. They will usually give you a phone number so make sure you
remember to take a charged mobile phone, so you can call for help if you break down.
If you are booking for a longer period of time, they will charge you for a full
tank of fuel, and measure what’s left at the end, refunding the difference. Booking
for a few days or a week works out at a much cheaper rate, and of course means you
can choose good weather to go out and you don’t need to get back before their office
closes at the end of the day. See our map of the Broads.
Picnic or day boat?
A day boat usually has a straight through flat floor, and sliding soft top that allows
cover in the wet, or as open as you like, and steering at the front. A picnic boat
may be about the same size, but may be on two or three levels, with a closed cabin
below fitted with flush toilet and small gas rings for boiling water for tea and
heating a saucepan. Steering is usually on an open upper deck with canopy and more
visibility than a day boat. Look at a few different boat yards as they do vary slightly.
Some boat yards have a larger type too. Day boats can carry more people and are
easier to move about in; picnic boats are great for being out all day, or even camping
overnight; great for fishing trips.
Family boating on the Norfolk Broads is very safe and enjoyable if you have some
basic knowledge and the right information to get you started. Here are some tips
and rules aimed at the casual boat hirer in non-tidal water, but also useful for
private craft owners navigating the length and breadth of the Broads.
Visit our new sister boating web site for much more. Click here