Last updated on November 25, 2023
You want to go on a houseboat (or cruiserboat-) holiday in Ireland and now it’s about ordering a suitable boat. It’s simple – I’ll take the cheapest price…or the biggest boat…or…the most beautiful boat…right?
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What seems simple at first, ends up being more complicated than expected. But don’t worry, I will help you with some important practical tips to help you find the perfect boat for your Irish holiday.
I used to sail and have spent several holidays on sailboats and houseboats. I’ll summarise some of my experiences from these trips for you below.
By the way, I know Ireland very well, because I have travelled the island several times in all directions. My family and I have had our second home here for a good 10 years (we come from Germany) and have been running our motorbike rental business here (www.easycruiser.tours) for a good 5 years. At our location, south of Dublin, we also offer nice guest rooms (www.the-view-accommodation.ie).
There are some important things to consider when choosing your boat and price is not the only criterion:
The area or waterways
You can choose a rental company and ask for one of their boats. But you can also first think about where you would like to spend your houseboat holiday:
Do you prefer larger lakes or more secluded canals? Do you want to see certain sights or do you want to do other activities, are certain cities important to you?
This will help you decide whether you want to spend your holiday on the Shannon, the Erne, the Shannon-Erne Waterway, the Grand Canal and River Barrow or the Lower Bann.
I’ve already written an article about the areas, which I’ll link to you at the bottom of the text.
Rental stations and route
Once you have a rough idea of the region, the next question is whether you want to do a round trip, where you return your boat at the starting point, or whether you want to travel in one direction, i.e. the destination is not the starting point.
Why is this important now? There are some rental companies with several stations and others that only have one station.
So now you know your desired region and have a first idea of the route, then you can choose a houseboat rental company.
I have already written an article about houseboat rentals, which I will link to at the bottom of the text.
Length and width of the boat
During your holiday, you will probably pass under bridges, through locks and moor and cast off in various large and small marinas. How much experience do you have? Are you sailing in open water or on small canals?
Don’t worry, you can rent a houseboat without a licence and the owner will give you a thorough briefing and test drive – so no problem.
However, beginners find it easier to navigate smaller and narrower boats because they are easier to keep track of in tight situations. This is especially true if you are travelling on narrow canals.
Two boats may look very similar in the photo, but they can be very different in size. So take a look at the technical data of the rental boats and compare them with each other. The dimensions are usually given with the boats.
The steering position or the steering positions
There are boats with an outside steering position, there are boats with an inside steering position and there are boats with two steering positions, outside and inside. There are also outside steering positions that are completely open and outside steering positions that are well protected by glass panels and a roof.
Why is this important? You will probably be at the helm for many hours. That’s fine, with moderate temperatures, little wind and dry weather. But it can be very sunny, or wet, or even windy – where do you want to stand then? Exactly!
If there is only one outside steering position, then it should be quite sheltered. If there is an outside and an inside steering position, then the outside can also be built more openly – if it gets uncomfortable, you simply go inside and steer from the inside.
It’s also important to have a good overview: if you can see all sides of the boat, you’ll find it much easier to lock and berth. How can you find out? The boat owners usually have photo galleries of their boats on their website, sometimes even films – if you take your time to look at them, you will also see how the steering positions are built.
Accessibility of foredeck and aft deck
What? The deck in front is called the foredeck and the deck behind is called the quarterdeck. This refers to areas where you can sit or stand openly.
When locking and docking, one or two people will have to tie up the lines and will usually stand on the foredeck at the front and on the aft deck at the back. This is not a problem if you still have two suitable people on board for the lines.
But what if there are only two of you? Or if you are the only suitable person to handle the lines?
Then you have to be able to switch quickly between the helm and the decks yourself. Do you have to go up or down stairs? Do you have a clear passage? Some boats are very cleverly built and others less so. You can also find this out from the layout and the photos of the boats.
The sun deck
Yes, it can rain in Ireland – but the weather can also be very nice! In that case, your family is sure to enjoy an open area where you can sit outside.
And again, look at the photos and the layouts of the boats – which one fits?
Space required for bicycles or other accessories
With some rental companies you can rent bicycles or a small rowing boat with the houseboat. In most cases you tow the dinghy behind, but the bikes have to be on board. They are usually placed on the deck and attached to the railing – is there enough space? See pictures and layouts!
The number of cabins
If a boat is meant for people, then my family of 4 has enough room, right?
Maybe. Because usually the dining table in combination with the benches is converted into a double bed for the night and then counts as 2 beds. Would you like that?
What if it’s raining and you want to sit in the cabin for an hour with your wife, but you want to put the children to bed?
Would you prefer a separate cabin in the front and a separate cabin in the back?
Do you prefer double beds or single beds? Take another look at the layout, and maybe the boat for 6 people is more expensive, but still the better choice for family peace.
The number of beds
We have already dealt with the issue of sleeping on the dining table. But the luggage also has to be stowed somewhere. Houseboats are similar to motorhomes, the interior offers a lot of storage space, but often hidden in small cupboards that are not always easily accessible. How nice if there is a bunk (bed) left over where you can easily store some suitcases or bags.
Kitchen, dining area, living area
How does it look inside, is there enough space for the family, even if the weather is not so nice? Does everyone have somewhere to relax? Is the tiny kitchen (galley) enough to cook for the family, or can it be a bit bigger?
Can you still steer well inside in bad weather without it getting too crowded with all the passengers? Look again at the layout and the pictures of the boats!
Are the toilet, washbasin and shower in one room or spread over two? Is that important to you? Is the whole bathroom under water when you shower, or is there an enclosed shower cubicle? Is that important to you? Here, too, the boats sometimes differ considerably.
Style – modern or classic
Let’s move on to the feel-good factor: if there are several boats to choose from, you should definitely select the one that appeals to you more emotionally – a boat for the soul, so to speak. Personally, I like the boats that still look a bit like old cargo barges – round bow, round stern and high glass windows. But maybe you like modern designs – often the choice is yours!
Booking, travel time and rental price
Oh yes, almost forgot – the holiday budget plays a big role too, of course. The luxury boat is prohibitively expensive, the cheap boat is too small – what now?
Look at another time period, then there might be other prices and there might be other boats available that fit better into the budget. The travel period plays a big role in the prices and you can also have a wonderful holiday in Ireland in September!
Also important for pricing is that you book well in advance. If you don’t want to book until June for July, you have to take what’s left – and at corresponding prices. I therefore recommend booking several months in advance.
Let’s summarise: The boat should be as spacious as possible on the inside, as compact and clear as possible on the outside and it must not cost too much.
Impossible? No, not difficult at all. There are many boats that offer a good compromise and are affordable in the early or late season and if booked in good time.
Not all criteria will be equally important to you, but maybe I could give you some thoughts to help you choose the best boat for your holiday.
And maybe I could save you the disappointment of choosing an unsuitable boat, because now you know better what to look for.
In any case, I wish you a great boat for a great holiday on the beautiful Emerald Isle!
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Cover photo credits: Photo by chris robert on Unsplash