While Canada’s capital city of Ottawa has many outstanding tourist attractions, fine dining, and comfortable hotel accommodations, a perfect summer family getaway on a luxury houseboat on the Rideau Canal awaits — just a 1-hour drive from Ottawa in Smiths Falls.
The Rideau Canal, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, is a signature destination best known for being transformed into the world’s largest skating rink in the winter months. During the summer, however, it is a boater’s paradise with the ability to stop at quaint towns, wineries, micro-breweries, lakes, rivers, small islands, and a series of historic locks along its route between Ottawa and Kingston.
Renting and self-captaining a houseboat with family is an ideal vacation to immerse in the beauty and history of the Rideau Canal.
Captain Your Own Boat
Le Boat Vacations has 30 boats at its Smiths Falls Canadian headquarters on the Rideau Canal and a fleet of over 900 houseboats in 8 countries in Europe. Le Boat offers 5 different premium class models, ranging from 2 to 5 cabins, each with its own bathroom and private shower. The houseboats sleep between two and 12 people to accommodate every family’s needs.
Our family rented a Horizon 2 boat, with 2 bedrooms and 2 bathrooms, perfect for my husband and our daughter and her rather large dog for a 3-night staycation in 2021. We wanted to stay away from the crowds and be close to home.
Le Boat does not require a boating license to rent or operate their houseboats, nor did we need any boating experience. Le Boat staff at the base provided all the necessary training on boat operations, emergency procedures, reading navigational maps, and lock operations. My daughter and husband were designated captain and co-captain, and after our 90-minute training session, they started the engine.
Our instructor stayed on board to help us cruise through the first lock and tie the ropes on the dock alongside the canal. Satisfied with our demonstrated skills, he wished us a safe journey, jumped onto the dock, untied the ropes, and threw them back to us on the boat.
That’s when the real fun started for the three of us: captaining our 38-foot luxury houseboat, climbing up and down the ladder to work the ropes as we cruised through the locks and docked. It is handy to have one or two fully mobile crew members to help the captain and assist with the ropes. The Parks Canada lockmasters and staff, who manually operated the locks, were always available to provide assistance and even jump on the boat if necessary.
We traveled south on the Rideau Canal passing through several locks and crossing large lakes, docking overnight at Beveridges Locks, Westport, and Colonel By Island, before returning the boat to Smiths Falls. We found ourselves wandering in small towns, tasting fudge and butter tarts, and exploring the parks and forests around the lock stations.
In the town of Westport, we made a dinner reservation at the family-owned Scheuermann Winery, which is also a working farm. We enjoyed our delicious wood-grilled steak, fish, and pizza in their outdoor garden with a panoramic view of the vineyard. They welcome children of all ages. While we brought our dog in 2021, pets are no longer allowed on the property. If you are traveling with a pet, do check the restaurant websites for current pet restrictions.
We returned in 2022 for a 3-day Father’s Day weekend cruise, renting a larger, 44-foot Horizon 3-Plus boat, with 3 cabins and 3 bathrooms to accommodate our now larger family of 4. With a fully equipped kitchen again, complete with a full-size refrigerator and a barbecue hot plate/griddle on the top deck, we prepared most of our meals onboard. We traveled north towards Ottawa overnighting in Smiths Falls, Merrickville, and Kilmarnock Island.
Where To Rent A Houseboat
Houseboats can be booked with your travel agent or directly with Le Boat through their website or by phone. The minimum rental is 3 nights, creating a perfect long weekend getaway. In Canada, Le Boat operates their fleet of 30 boats on the Rideau Canal. They also offer houseboats in Scotland, England, France, Netherlands, Belgium, Ireland, Germany, and Italy should you have a great experience in Canada and want to take a houseboat vacation overseas in the future.
How To Prepare For A Houseboat Vacation
Preparing for a houseboat vacation required a number of steps. Reviewing Le Boat’s materials on what is included, like bedding, towels, and kitchen utensils, and making a list of additional items we needed, like beach towels, lawn chairs, dishwashing detergent, garbage bags, Saran wrap, and food containers for leftovers was helpful. Bicycles, kayaks, and paddle boards could be rented from Le Boat at the time of booking if desired. Le Boat provided a schedule for planning our itinerary and menu for each day, which allowed us to shop accordingly beforehand. Depending on the route, it was possible to have meals in restaurants in the towns along the way as well.
Le Boat provided useful information to help us prepare for our getaway. They also provided a Complete Guide to Boating Vacations along the Rideau Canal.
Tips For Renting A Houseboat
- Book in advance to choose one of the various models that best suits the needs of your family. It is also possible to call Le Boat reservations for any last-minute opportunities or availability.
- Similar to a car rental, Le Boat charges a daily rate for Collision Damage Waiver Insurance with a deductible of $1,500. If you choose to waive the daily insurance, you can choose to leave a larger credit deposit at the time of pickup ($5,000) and your liability for loss or damage to the boat is limited to the amount collected if there is damage to the boat.
- Read over the contract carefully to fully understand the compulsory costs and the optional holiday extras available.
- Read Le Boat’s step-by-step guide to getting ready and watch the mandatory safety video.
- Le Boat recommends, for safety reasons, that children be at least 8 years of age and that lifejackets sized to the child be worn when cruising. Infants are not permitted due to the possibility of sudden water movements.
- Pack light and with layers. There is not much storage in the cabins.
- Bring rubber-soled shoes to wear on the boat.
- Bring sunscreen, hats, insect repellant, and beach towels.
- Access to mobile data networks is available, and an ample number of ports to charge phones, iPads, and computers can be found inside and on the top deck.
- Check the website for flash sales.
Reasons A Houseboat Vacation Is Perfect For Families
All The Comforts Of Home On A Houseboat
A houseboat vacation was much like a luxury camper van that floats on water, with all the comforts of home and just about everything a family would need, except the groceries. Food and staples can be purchased in Ottawa before driving to pick up your boat, or in the many grocery and drug stores, bakeries, and ice cream shops in Smiths Falls and ports along the way.
An Active Learning Experience For All
Captaining our own houseboat was an amazing opportunity to learn the importance of working as a team with assigned tasks to support your captain while navigating the waterways in the canal system and the historic locks. As boating rookies, we all felt a strong sense of accomplishment that came with learning new skills and being free to set our own itinerary and pace.
Going for hikes, walks, and bike rides to explore the areas around the locks allows families to learn about the rich history of the Rideau Canal. The Parks Canada staff were super-friendly and always happy to explain the operations of the historic locks along the way.
We each chose the level of activity we wanted once docked. A swim deck with a ladder on the stern was ideal for dipping into the clear calm waters. We took advantage of the picnic tables conveniently located around the dock areas. On Colonel By Island, where we docked one night, we gathered with some other boating families around a fire pit and gazed up at the stars.
Our family enjoyed both of our houseboat getaways on the Rideau Canal. We are looking forward to another adventure with Le Boat — maybe somewhere in Europe — now that we have the hang of captaining! We may even go back to the Rideau Canal in September or early October, which is the best time to see the spectacular autumn colors on display as the leaves change.