Norfolk Broads is where I lived on a boat for over five years full time. I am responsible for over 180 boating videos filmed on the rivers and lakes, a Norfolk Broads Forum, Blog and classifieds website. I do not regard myself as an expert in this field by any means but having spent so much time on the water, I do regard myself as having a sense of affinity, familiarity and respect for these wonderful waterways.
In my opinion, the Norfolk Broads is an incorrect description and title for these English inland waterways.
What makes up the Norfolk Broads is far more extensive and it could or should be named more appropriately as a whole.
The Norfolk Broads consists of many rivers, ancient man-made lakes, locks and canals and is, in fact, an ancient highway.
Norwich was during medieval times second only to London and the waterways now know as the Broads was the highway for commuting.
The same basically as seaside villages.
It is from this necessity to travel by water that originates an ancient right to navigate tidal waters within the United Kingdom.
This is often denied as many private Broads have access made impossible by gates. This effectively violates this ancient right of man within this country. As the necessity to use the waterways as a highway is no longer a vital requirement.
However, authorities turn a blind eye to it which raises other issues such as whether the water is indeed navigable.
Norfolk Broads Mills.
The most obvious feature of the Norfolk Broads is the abundance of what appears to be watermills. Although watermills are indeed prevalent in Norfolk, most Norfolk mills by the water are water pumps.
They were made to drain the surrounding land and this enabled it to be used for grazing cattle.
Initially, the mills were powered by the wind, then steam, then diesel and finally by electricity.
Most mills are derelict although there is now a push to restore many of these beautiful landmarks.
In their heyday, they must have been quite a beautiful sight in the background scenery.
Norfolk Broads Canals.
Contrary to popular belief, there do exist canals on the Norfolk Broads waterways.
The most known is the North Walsham & Dilham canal which featured 6 locks, many now in a state of ruin, however, some are restored to their former glory by the https://youtu.be/0rxXI3XtkPINorth Walsham & Dilham Canal Trust.
Also, there is a series of small canals called, ‘Little Switzerland’, which were made so wherries could access chalk pits. It is now on a private estate so access for the public does not exist, however, there is an interesting video available to watch. Click Here To view Little Switzerland video!
Also, a lock was created between Geldestone to Bungay on the southern rivers.
On the northern rivers, particularly the River Bure, there are many locks built into the once navigable Coltishall to Aylsham river. A great flood in 1912 effectively destroyed this stretch of river, locks and bridges and ever since has been unnavigable other than for canoes, kayaks and small craft.
So Who Dug Out The Broads?
Put it this way, the Broads were dug out such a long time ago that when the sea levels rose, this water then flooded the man-made lakes and rivers together. This happened so long ago that it, in turn, helped the indigenous people to forget over time the origins of such waterways.
The truth was only to be rediscovered very recently. Joyce Lambert was a British botanist and ecologist and she concluded that the broads were in fact of man-made origin and a result of extensive peat-digging.
Who Manages The Rivers & Broads?
The Norfolk Broads is not managed by the Environment Agency but by the Broads Authority. Although the rivers and Norfolk Broads have a specialised Police unit known as the Broads Beat, they are responsible for regulating the waterways too not just from a crime perspective but also work alongside the Broads Authority and Environment Agency.
The navigation side of the Norfolk Broads is down to the Broads Authority along with Broads tolls, planning permission, conservation and education etc.
It is a common sight to see the E.A. out on patrol with the Broads Beat for checking fishing licences.
When there is a serious accident, fatalities or antisocial behaviour, then both authority groups work together
Boating On The North & South Rivers.
Boating on the Norfolk Broads is aimed at enabling a large percentage of people to have access to the waterways.
It is not just private boaters. The Norfolk Broads is full of every boat from sailboats to 45 foot fully fitted out luxury hire boats.
You will, however, be hard-pressed to see jet skis, hovercraft etc as this place is all about travelling at between 3-6 miles per hour.
There are some designated ski areas on the southern rivers. These are regulated.
The private boats are bountiful and you will see large Brooms with flying bridges on the South Broads and more smaller vessels on the North Broads. The rivers on the North are full of low bridges and this creates the divide. The rivers on the south are wider, tidal and go out to sea.
The hire boat industry is varied. You can hire a simple dayboat, a sailboat with or without an engine, a large hire boat that can sleep over ten people in some cases.
Many hire boats are very large and thorough preliminary tuition is recommended.
Richardson’s have the largest fleet with hundreds of boats and anyone can hire from them. They will hire a boat to just about anyone even if they have never been on a boat in their lives. Many hire companies operate this way including Herbert Woods and Barnes Brinkcraft. This is a concern for many boaters on the Norfolk Broads. The condition of their hire fleet is representative of what their boats go through in the busy boating season.
They do offer a higher quality boating experience in many cases however at the end of the boating season many hire boats look like they have been in a warzone. In most cases they have and damage to other vessels is in the stellar regions.
The Waters Get Crowded At Times.
The reality of this is that boating for many private boaters during the high season is more like a fight for survival.
Hit and runs, boat damage and aggressive confrontations are indeed growing more and more common on the Norfolk Broads as the hire boats get bigger and bigger.
The irony of the hire boat industry is that so many hire boats are getting too large to get under the majority of bridges.
Too many oversized hire crafts are being made available to inexperienced hirers and the consequences are very negative for many private boaters. This has caused many to avoid the Norfolk Broads now or at the least come up more out of season.
Profit appears to come before safety and the oversized hire boat industry has sadly got out of control.
Despite this dark side to the hire industry, there are hire companies that will insist on their customers getting the right level of competence first before being given the keys.
Yet again the condition of their hire fleet reflects this as their vessels are often immaculate.
There is no point tiptoeing around the subject of the hire boat industry as it is what it is and to describe it any other way would be false.
The day boats rarely run into trouble on the waterways most likely because of their size.
Advice For First Time Hirers On The Norfolk Broads.
On reading this article I could understand readers mistaking the article as being anti-hire boats.
This could not be further from the truth. In addition to this article, blog, and forum, I have created over 180 Norfolk Broads videos posted online which has promoted the Norfolk Broads to an audience over 2 million viewers. It is all about boats and boating from private boats to hire boats, both of which I have personally skippered.
The problem with the hire boats is down to several reasons.
- Many vessels are too large for the waterways.
- Tuition is often inadequate in cases of inexperienced boaters.
- Offers of a Collision Damage Waiver creates a lack of responsibility way of thinking for those helming the hire vessels. In other words, it does not matter to the hirer if they crash into another boat, they will not be held responsible.
- Drinking and intoxication are permitted by skippers of hire boats.
So if you are going to hire a boat on the Norfolk Broads, what advice can we give you?
- Large hire boat companies don’t have the time to give you proper tuition.
- Their budget boats are often abused and interiors are dated in design and features.
- Don’t feel pressured to take the boat out of the yard until you can do the following.
- Moor up. Side on and stern on.
- Turn the boat around and be familiar with its reversing capability, or lack of it.
- Stop the vessel.
- Know how to tie your mooring ropes.
- Know the speed limits and how to maintain them.
- Kow the procedures for boating accidents and collisions.
- Read the Norfolk Broads byelaws.
- Book in advance as you will get cheaper deals.
- Go with the smaller hire boat company, as you will get a more one to one service. Your boat will be better maintained and you will get more thorough tuition.