The French inland waterways are an attractive route to the Med. Duncan Kent shares his pick of sub-40ft sail and power boats

Travelling south through the inland waterways of France is highly recommended.

There are numerous routes, many of which include quite fast-flowing rivers such as the Seine and Rhone, which not only require careful navigation but also the right type of boat.

The most important considerations when planning to navigate inland waterways are hull and air draught.

Depending on the route and how far south you wish to go, the theoretical maximum hull draught should be no more than 1.5m.

However, there are places where this often reduces to 1.0m in summer, when there is less water, plus there are channels to keep to and sandbanks to avoid.

Sailing yachts obviously have to drop their masts to clear bridges and tunnels, and motor yachts with fixed flybridges are a definite no-no for cruising the canals and waterways of France.

A boat with the mast strapped to the deck for cruising on the waterways of France

Masts have to be dropped for cruising on the waterways of France

Heading south to the Med with our 4ft/1.2m draught we hit the bottom numerous times, despite our chosen route supposedly having a minimum 1.5m depth, so it’s worth planning your route and times very carefully, whatever your draught.

The ideal boat would have a flattish bottom and variable draught, such as a centreboard.

Bilge keels are better than fin keels most of the time but can still be problematic when tying up alongside a riverbank.

If you plan to return back up the inland waterways of France make sure you have a powerful enough engine to overcome the strong river currents, which can run at up to five knots in places.

Although we just managed it with a 15hp outboard (after our inboard died in the Med), the noise was excessive, as was the fuel consumption.

In the canals, however, all you need is a small motor capable of pushing you along at four knots.

Another consideration is accessibility on deck.

We passed through 176 locks on our way, at least half unmanned, so you need to be able to move about your boat smartly, particularly when coming into a lock with other vessels.

Best boats for cruising the waterways of France: 20-25ft LOA

Sailing yachts

A yacht with a multicoloured sail

The Westerly Pageant is directionally stable, responsive and has roomy accommodation, making her ideal for cruising the waterways of France. Credit: David Harding

Few sub-25ft sailing boats are really suitable for Channel crossing and subsequent canal and river touring, although the Westerly Pageant 23 certainly is.

Designed in 1970 for offshore cruising, she has a surprising 1.83m/6ft of headroom and ample volume in the saloon for a liveaboard couple.

Boasting a 49% ballast ratio, the Pageant quickly earned a good reputation for reliability and safety in most open sea conditions.

Yet her bilge keels give her a mere 0.86m/2ft 10in draught. She has a tall coachroof with large windows that lend a bright and spacious air to the interior.

She can even sleep five with the dinette table converted into a double and is one of only a few boats of this size with a separate forecabin and heads compartment, complete with a proper toilet.

While her decks are balsa-cored, her topsides are a solid 8oz GRP laminate.

Underwater the thickness increases to 20oz and woven roving reinforcement across the keel stub makes her exceptionally tough. I once sailed with a fairly typical Pageant owner who told me he regularly cruises to the Channel Islands, French coast and the West Country with his family and considers the Pageant to be more seaworthy than many larger modern production boats.

In the waterways of France the shallow draught is perfect and the sheer strength of her hull would easily enable her to take a bump or two in the locks.

She was built originally with a 13hp Volvo MD7A diesel inboard, which should easily provide enough power to fight an adverse river current, although many will have upgraded to a more modern diesel by now.

A yacht with a red hull and white sails sailing along the coast

The Jaguar 25 has a well-planned cockpit and is spacious, thanks to the transom-hung rudder. Credit: David Harding

Derived from the American Catalina 25 and built in Canvey Island, Essex, the popular Jaguar 25 has been around since 1978. It is a surprisingly spacious boat inside, in fact, there’s little difference between the interior of the 25 and the larger 27.

They were available with either a fin- or bilge-keeled hull, the latter being more suitable for the canals drawing just 1.14m/3ft 9in.

Headroom is reasonable at nearly 6ft and the layout roomy.

The forecabin isn’t massive, but there’s an L-shaped dinette with a table that folds up against the bulkhead, allowing the settee to be converted into an adult-sized double berth.

The other settee is very long and makes a great sea berth with a lee cloth. Some could join both together to create a massive 6ft x 8ft transverse berth and the outboard models had a wider (narrow double) quarter berth.

The heads can be enclosed with two doors, making it the full width of the boat and entirely private.

The galley is L-shaped and large for a 25ft boat, as well as being safe to use at sea, and the huge main hatch is great when cooking at anchor, letting light in and cooking smells out.

On deck, the Jaguar 25 is easy to get around safely and her cockpit is large enough to have six for evening drinks or four to supper.

Her sail area is generous, and she is fairly nifty around the marks.

She stands up well to her sail plan without heeling too severely, although her basic transom-hung rudder can load the helm a touch in strong gusts.

Jaguar offered the 25 with either an inboard diesel engine or a petrol outboard.

The inboards were commonly the Bukh DV8 or a Volvo MD5B, both with saildrives.


A motor boat on the waterways of France

The Seamaster 725 is worth considering for a getaway along the waterways of France. The boat came with a choice of single or twin, petrol or diesel engines. Credit: Jones Boatyard

One of its later models, the 24ft Seamaster 725 sports a medium V-hull and a shallow keel that draws just 0.8m/2ft 9in.

Though built primarily as a river/estuary cruiser, the 725 is a solid little motorboat with powerful engine options and an easily handled hull, so is more than capable of open sea passages on a reasonable day.

Below, she has a bright, spacious open-plan layout with large windows all around, a good-sized V-berth forward and a convertible double dinette.

Plus there’s a well-appointed galley and a compact heads compartment.

Her cockpit is uncluttered and ideal for eating/lounging outside with the canvas cockpit tent removed in the summer.

On deck, she’s easy to get around with plenty of solid handholds and a clear foredeck with stout pulpit and handrails.

With various engine choices, including single or twin, petrol or diesel, she was capable of speeds up to 25-knots in open water.

Best boats for cruising the waterways of France: 26-30ft LOA

Sailing yachts

a boat with a white hull

The Leisure 27. The 27SL came with a fin keel option. Credit: David Harding

The later model Leisure 27SL is a popular family cruiser that came with a fin keel option, although most were ordered with the shallower (1.06m/3ft 6in draught) bilge keels.

The hull layup is solid GRP with foam ribs and stringers for additional rigidity, while the deck is a balsa core sandwich for insulation and weight reduction.

The 27SL has enough space below for 5/6 berths, a dedicated chart table, a private heads compartment and a not unreasonable galley.

Headroom, at 1.83m/6ft, is a real boon for a small cruiser.

Designed for an inboard engine, choices ex-yard were between the 9hp Volvo 2001, or the 18hp Volvo 2002, both with saildrives.

A moulded skeg, transom-hung rudder and tiller steering were standard, making her well-balanced and easy to sail single-handed, although slightly heavy on the helm in gusty conditions.

She sports a conventional masthead rig and under sail, she remains stiff, even in strong winds, thanks to her above-average ballast ratio.

This, plus the increased sail area over the original L27, results in a fast yet safe offshore passage maker.

Quite a few 27SLs were ordered in kit form and home completed, so not all internal arrangements are the same or of the same quality fit-out.

The SL was also marketed by Thames Marine as the Mirage 2700, and later models, built by Jaguar Yachts, were known as the Lynx 29, although the latter was simply a stretched 27, with identical accommodation.

A yacht sailing at sea

The bluff-bow and canoe-stern means the Scanyacht 290 can drive through nearly any sea state

A development of the ever-popular Danish-built LM27, the robust and compact Scanyacht 290 is a supremely seaworthy, semi-custom motorsailer ideal for pootling down the inland waterways of France.

A considerable number of modifications were carried out to the original LM27 design to ensure she complied with the RCD category A (Ocean) rating, a rare attribution for a sub-30ft yacht and despite her long shoal keel drawing a mere 0.95m/3ft 1in.

Her hull is hand laid-up E-glass using isophthalic resins, and she features fully bonded-in floor beams, stringers and bulkheads.

A rounded stern means the 290 has reduced cockpit space, but it’s perfectly comfortable for two couples socialising and feels very safe and protected at sea thanks to her high coamings.

The full cockpit canvas canopy also extends the living space in port.

The S290’s rig is fractionally taller than the LM27, but any rise in the centre of effort has been counterbalanced by replacing the encapsulated ballast with lead rather than steel.

Her 40% ballast ratio makes her a stiff and seaworthy yacht, even in more extreme conditions.

Engine options were 18hp or 27hp shaft drive Yanmar diesels, either of which would provide enough punch to combat the French river currents.

Below, headroom is a very healthy 1.93m/6ft 4in and there’s a comfortable indoor helm seat for dodging the weather, together with a decent chart table ahead of the wheel and a smart wooden instrument console.

The all-round view is excellent, with wipers on the large windscreen to clear any spray. One step down leads into the saloon area, where the fully moulded heads compartment is surprisingly spacious and boasts a sea toilet, deep sink and shower.

Sleeping areas comprise a forecabin V-berth, a large, U-shaped dinette with table infill, and a short settee opposite with a trotter box.

The galley facilities are rudimentary, especially stowage and worktop, but it’s fine for a couple.


Designed by Andrew Wolstenholme, the Broom Ocean 29 is a displacement motor cruiser designed primarily for river use but more than capable of coastal sailing with the occasional Channel crossing in reasonable weather.

It was offered in hard-, or soft-top guise, the latter with a drop-down windscreen and mast for clearing low bridges and tunnels.

Outside, there are unrestricted decks with stout, stainless steel handrails all around for safety.

A walk-through gate takes you to a full-width moulded transom platform that offers excellent access to the sea, tender or ashore.

There’s a surprising amount of interior space for living in comfort over long periods.

Continues below…

The large, well-equipped, L-shaped galley could provide meals for six easily, while the roomy heads compartment is fully moulded for easy cleaning. The saloon itself isn’t massive but features a comfy settee and a dining table suitable for four at least.

Sleeping accommodation includes a large, offset double berth in the spacious main cabin forward with ample stowage provided by numerous lockers, drawers and shelves.

Further berths can be arranged on the saloon settee, which converts to a wide double berth.

Extra lounging or sleeping space can also be added by fitting a proper canopy over the roomy aft cockpit, where there is extensive wrap-around seating.

The Ocean 29 came with a single 35hp Nanni diesel on a shaft drive, but more powerful engine options were available.

Though only single screw, her large rudder ensures maximum manoeuvring ability on narrow rivers and canals.

Best boats for cruising the waterways of France: 31-35ft LOA

Sailing yachts

A boat sailing at sea

The Colvic Countess 33 is a solidly built, heavy-displacement cruiser with a comfortable motion. Credit: Colin Work

The Colvic Countess 33 was a 1980s Ian Anderson design moulded by Colvic Craft, one of the largest GRP production boatyards in the UK at that time.

The hulls were then sold on, either to professional boatbuilders or to owners for DIY completion. For this reason, their interiors vary enormously in layout and quality.

The 33 is a full-bodied, heavy displacement, centre-cockpit cruising yacht that was available with a long fin keel or twin keels, both containing encapsulated lead ballast, and with sloop or ketch sail plans.

A half skeg supports her large rudder and allows some balance to be put onto the rudder to relieve weather helm.

Despite having a fairly high freeboard, her sweeping decks and traditional, overhanging bow make her easy on the eye.

Headroom is a healthy 1.83m/6ft in the saloon, where the long settees make excellent sea berths. Stowage overall is excellent.

Being quite beamy from well forward of amidships, there’s room behind the seating for deep cave lockers, as well as lockers above.

There’s more stowage beneath the settees, as the 275lt/60gal water tank is under the saloon sole, above the keel.

Her forecabin is a good size with a roomy V-berth, although there’s no floor space with the infill in place.

Moving aft you need to duck down to enter the corridor to the aft cabin, where there’s usually a large, transverse berth.

Her U-shaped galley is well-equipped, and every inch of space has been utilised.

The 33 is a steady, rather than brisk performer, but is pretty stiff under sail thanks to her generous 40% ballast ratio.

They are also well known for their seaworthiness and comfortable motion in adverse sea conditions, resulting in many of them cruising over long distances.

An aerial view of a yacht heeling while sailing at sea

The wide cockpit of the Jeanneau SO 35 provides plenty of space in-harbour, but does mean she needs more hands on deck for sailing. Credit: Jeanneau

Those preferring something more modern might be interested in the Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 35.

Designed by Marc Lombard, a specialist in performance cruisers, the hull has a long waterline and shallow undersections giving her an impressive turn of speed.

Jeanneau also offered the Sun Odyssey 35 in lifting keel form, the reduced 0.95m/3ft 1in draught allowing creek crawling and drying out in some delightfully secluded spots, as well as making them ideal for inland waterways.

On the lifting keel hull is a winged stub keel which, when combined with the reinforced twin rudders, makes a stable platform on which to dry out without damage.

In addition to the ballasted centreplate, the stub adds important ballast to enable the righting moment to remain the same as the fixed keelers, thereby keeping her in RCD Category A (Ocean).

On deck, all versions are the same, well organised, easy to sail and comfortable to lounge aboard at anchor.

Below, the accommodation is spacious and thoughtfully appointed and the joinery is better than many, with a classier feel to the finish.

There were two layout options, with either one master suite or two double cabins aft.

The two-cabin version has a substantial berth in the aft cabin, with a good-sized dressing area plus a large hanging locker.

The three-cabin boat has two slightly smaller cabins aft and the heads is moved forward a couple of feet to behind the navigation station.

She has a sizeable, L-shaped galley, while the height of the expanding dining table is adjustable.

The chart table also slides along a track to the bulkhead giving more room in port.

She is a delight to sail and, once the sails are trimmed, you can take your hands off the wheel and leave her to it.

She points well and whips through a tack in no time, accelerating away on the new course in seconds.


A boat with a blue hull sailing through the waterways of France

The Hardy Goring 940’s raised wheelhouse gives good visibility, ideal for motoring along the waterways of France. Hazel is currently available at Tingdene Boat Sales. Credit: Tingdene Boat Sales

Though some are now considered a little long in the tooth, Hardy boats were built to last and still represent excellent value for money for those on a restricted boating budget.

One of the classics, the Dutch-built aft cabin Hardy Goring 940, is an old school, rugged, heavily-built motor cruiser primarily intended for river and estuary use but more than capable of crossing the Channel given a decent spell of weather.

Her tall, raised wheelhouse provides excellent views all around and seating beside the windows aft for those just wanting to watch the world go by.

Two steps down aft take you into the cosy aft cabin, which has two wide single berths with a wooden locker/table unit between them.

In the saloon, a raised U-shaped dinette allows views outside while sitting at the table and converts to a reasonably large double guest berth if required by simply dropping the table down into the gap.

Opposite the dinette is a surprisingly well-appointed, U-shaped galley with a full-size boat cooker, sink, fridge and ample stowage for longer trips away.

The forepeak could either have a roomy V-berth or in some it is given over to a huge heads occupying the entire forepeak.

Engines will vary widely now as many will have been replaced at least once.

Originally, they had 4-cylinder diesels, often Fords, with a regular shaft drive.

Best boats for cruising the waterways of France: 36-40ft LOA

Sailing yachts

A yacht with an aluminium hull before being motored through the waterways of France

The double chine gives the Ovni 365 lift and drive. Credit: North Sea Maritime Ltd

The quirky-looking, French-built aluminium Ovni 365 packs a punch in the rough. Her sheer ruggedness and minuscule 0.77m/2ft 6in draught make her an ideal candidate for the French canals and onward.

Designer Marc Lombard set out to create a true, sub-40ft, go-anywhere cruiser.

Hull plates of different thicknesses were welded to form the hull, which is then reinforced by frames, stringers and floor beams.

Lead ingots, sealed in GRP and bonded around the keel casing, plus a heavy cast-iron centreboard, provide ballast.

Aluminium is a popular material for cruising yachts because of its impressive strength-to-weight ratio, and because the hulls can be easily customised thanks to the lack of structural bulkheads.

The generous beam permits a spacious layout below.

Headroom is an impressive 2.00m/6ft 6in and the long, straight settees make good sea berths.

Six crew can eat together at the table, which is skillfully constructed around the keel box.

She was available with two or three cabins, the former having one large aft cabin.

Some used the whole area aft for accommodation, others had a small machinery room alongside.

The forecabin is identical in both models and has a roomy V-berth and ample stowage.

In the two-cabin boat, the galley and forward-facing nav station are impressively large.

The latter shrinks down into a smaller, aft-facing unit in the three-cabin model, however.

On deck, the customary raked cockpit arch provides a gantry for davits, a mounting platform for antennae and support for a Bimini or cockpit tent.

Her 9/10ths fractional rig sports a well-supported, deck-stepped, twin spreader mast.

She sails well in all sea conditions, her deep centreboard helping her to point upwind.

A Island Packet yacht being sailed

The Island Packet 370 was offered with either a Bermudan sloop or cutter rig. Credit: Graham Snook/YM

Some lifting keelers can be a little tender, but the broadness of the Ovni’s hull, the wide chines and the thicker, heavier bottom plates stiffen her up considerably.

The Florida-built Island Packet 370 is solidly built and comes with a high-spec inventory.

The construction combines vinylester resins and a tri-axial laminate, via a pressure-fed infusion system, to create an immensely strong, durable hull.

The hull and deck are through-bolted and glued, and the decks incorporate PolyCore foam for lightness and insulation.

The Island Packet 370 has a long keel with a deep, flush rudder attached at the bottom.

Lead and iron ballast is encapsulated between the keel and a structural interior moulding, keeping the draught to a modest 1.29m/4ft 3in while providing a healthy 40% ballast ratio.

Entering the Island Packet 370 it’s hard to believe it’s a 37-footer.

The Americans recognise that six people on a 37ft boat need a decent galley, fridge and water tanks, room to lounge around in or play with the kids, and proper bathroom facilities.

A huge 600lt freshwater tank is housed beneath the saloon sole, right above the keel.

The quality of the cabinetry is superb and the wood is bright and modern. Options included Corian worktops, satin varnish and solid teak/oak flooring.

The settees both make sensible berths, with one of them converting to a comfy double by sliding out a board from beneath the cushion.

Natural light and ventilation are plentiful, and stowage is excellent, including a large, ventilated wet locker.

On deck, the cockpit is well organised with wide coamings that house the rope lockers as well as creating a safe step.

The Whitlock rack and pinion wheel steering is simple and reliable, and the pedestal supports a table and a hefty grab bar.

Bermudan sloop or cutter rig were offered, the latter having a self-tacking staysail on a Hoyt jib boom.

Both are conservative in terms of sail area, so don’t expect hair-raising performance. That said, she’s dogged in the rough and extremely sea-kindly in all weathers.


A motoryacht cruising

Nimbus 365 Coupe’s wheelhouse and wide side deck makes it ideal for short-handed cruising along the waterways of France. Credit: Peter Poland

The Swedish-built Nimbus 365 Coupe is typical of a high-quality Scandinavian motoryacht – tough and practical but not without a decent level of comfort.

There were two shaft-drive engine options: twin 260hp Volvo D4s or a single, 435hp Volvo D6.

Despite having a semi-displacement hull with chines, even the D6 is easily capable of speeds up to 28-knots in flat water, although cruising at 20-knots is more her thing.

Twin rudders ensure she remains easy to control at speed but, with a single screw, you do lose the handy effects of propwash when manoeuvring into tight spaces so thrusters are a must.

Inside the hard-top cabin, the helmsman is well positioned for a good all-round view through the large saloon windows.

Opening glass hatches above allows plenty of natural light and air into the wheelhouse saloon.

The galley is well equipped with plenty of easily accessible stowage, and there’s a big fridge beneath the helm seat.

The L-shaped dinette will seat six around the table, including two extra seats created by reversing the double navigator’s bench.

The sumptuous owner’s cabin in the forepeak features a sizeable island berth with sliding drawers beneath and hanging lockers nearby.

The smart heads compartment is ensuite and has a separate shower stall with full-standing headroom.

The midships guest cabin is partly under the saloon sole and has a roomy transverse double berth, along with a seat and hanging locker.

Large glass doors lead out into the semi-covered, teak-laid cockpit, where there’s plenty of room for lounging on the L-shaped cushioned seating.

A gate leads aft to a substantial, teak-covered swimming/boarding platform aft, and there’s level access along a protected side deck forward, past the wheelhouse helmsman’s side door.

Enjoy reading Best boats for cruising the waterways of France?

A subscription to Practical Boat Owner magazine costs around 40% less than the cover price.

Print and digital editions are available through Magazines Direct – where you can also find the latest deals.

PBO is packed with information to help you get the most from boat ownership – whether sail or power.

        • Take your DIY skills to the next level with trusted advice on boat maintenance and repairs
        • Impartial in-depth gear reviews
        • Practical cruising tips for making the most of your time afloat

Follow us on Facebook, Instagram, TikTok and Twitter