What do you need for a boat B&B?

highland lassie cruises floating b&b

Looking at setting up a Bed & Breakfast that’s a little different? Take some inspiration from a well-known floating B&B close to Inverness – with Highland Lassie

If you want to set up a more unique B&B, then why not consider a floating B&B? We spoke to Gabrielle Glue, who co-owns Highland Lassie Cruises with her husband, Gus. She told us how it’s both similar and different to running a B&B on land.

Highland Lassie is listed on QuirkyAccom.com as well as their own website. This unique hospitality venue was converted to cruise the West Coast of Scotland. When the pandemic hit, Highland Lassie instead opened its doors as a luxury B&B, as well as offering an onboard dining experience until she could cruise again.

“We’re quite unique. In the winter we’re a bed and breakfast and in the summer, we take guests on six-night, all-inclusive cruises up and down the West Coast of Scotland,” said Gabrielle.

General Info for Running a Boat B&B

  1. Have the necessary safety equipment installed and ready to go e.g. life jackets, a lifebuoy, etc.
  2. 2. If you are planning on opening a boat B&B, do plenty of research beforehand e.g. learn about boat maintenance.
  3. If you can’t go out to sea then you need to think creatively to earn money.
  4. Read up on the requirements of owning a boat.
  5. Read through the Maritime and Coastguard Agency website thoroughly so you understand what you’re being graded on.
Highland lassie cruises caledonian canal
Highland Lassie Cruises

Maintenance

As you can imagine, running a floating hotel is, in some ways, quite different to owning a land based B&B.

“This has been 10 years in the making,” said Gaby.

One downside of owning a wooden boat is the cost of the maintenance, as Gaby explained.

“The thing with floating hotels is that it is costly to maintain.

“House maintenance isn’t quite as fierce and you don’t have as many regulations, but when you’re on a boat the most important thing is to ensure you’re MCA* graded so that you have all the safety measures in place.”

MCA* is short for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, who grade boats to make sure they meet certain standards.

“So if you’re building a house, you have the building inspectors come in to make sure it’s all up to standard, but for a boat it’s the MCA,” said Gabrielle.

“You have to get your MCA certificates to be able to take people on board if you are cruising, but not necessarily if you’re stationary.”

The Luxury BnB team suggests you take a look at the MCA website to check what you need.

bed and breakfast on Highland Lassie cruises with breakfast at the Captains Table
Breakfast at the Captain’s table

Visitor Experience

Gabrielle and her husband share out the roles to make sure that the needs of visitors are catered to.

“I’m a restaurateur by trade, almost by birth,” she explained, “my mother had a hotel, so I’ve always been in and about the trade which is why I’m the chef and my husband, Gus, ensures guests are served and well entertained.”

The scenery is something to consider for an excellent visitor experience, believes Gabrielle.

“We’ve had people from Inverness stay and when they leave in the morning, they say they could have stayed another week, it’s like being somewhere completely different and these are people that are just 15 minutes away in a car,” she said.

Gabrielle and her husband aim to appeal to a different audience in the summer when they operate as a cruise, compared to in the winter when they operate as a B&B.

“So, during a cruise, guests enjoy an all inclusive experience which includes food, drinks and excursions, but this tends to be an American market.

“During the winter, whilst moored on the Caledonian Canal, it’s very much a home market.”

So how do you ensure you provide a luxury experience on a boat?

“The customer may have a different expectation of a floating hotel on the water, but what they do want is comfort and good service,” said Gaby.

Highland Lassie Cruises are six nights long and they host a number of excursions in and around the West Coast of Scotland, to ensure their guests have the ultimate experience.

Gaby said: “The guests are always accompanied on their excursions by Gus, my husband, ensuring he is on hand if needed.”

“They could go off to a distillery, a castle, gardens, Fingal’s Caves. There are different itineraries available with different excursions for our cruises.”

If you are not sure where to start, think about how to structure an itinerary that will help guests understand what they will be doing during their trip.

Down the Hatch, a boatel based on the River Thames in London, has a brief itinerary on their homepage, which includes mealtimes, suggestions for site-seeing, and evening plans.

Alternatively, Fingal, a boatel in Edinburgh, offers an ‘abroad package,’ where guests are given tickets to the Royal Yacht Britannia, provided with a full cooked breakfast, and more.

Alsh cabin on highland Lassie Cruises
Alsh Cabin

The Set Up

Quite the opposite to what you may be thinking, Gabrielle says they don’t have anything ‘boaty’ within the boat’s interiors, having instead placed emphasis on luxury and comfort. She expressed her belief that the boat should speak for itself; you shouldn’t splurge on nautical, blue and white, beach themed interiors to make the guests feel like they are on a boat.

“It is very much a ‘gentleman’s yacht’ type of environment, so it’s leather chairs with tweed backing, and the whole boat was built for the customers’ comfort,” she said.

“So, for example, the cabins are very modern, with power showers, and comfortable beds.”

Gaby feels that having enough space for guests to stretch their legs out is incredibly important.

“Where most boats would have maybe six cabins, we just have the four because space is important,” she said.

“Space is a really important issue on a boat because it’s very limited and if people feel claustrophobic, they are not going to be relaxed.”

She admits that comfort was always considered when the boat was designed and built.

“It is beautiful I have to say. Everything about the boat is comfort, and when we designed and built it, that’s what we had in mind for the customers, absolute comfort.”

The wheelhouse of highland lassie cruises bed and breakfast
The Wheelhouse

Customer Service

Gabrielle believes that customer service is a priority when owning a Bed and Breakfast.

“The most important thing in hospitality is service,” she said.

“The customer is king, and you have to make sure that when they come on to the boat, they feel special. To be honest, it doesn’t matter whether you’ve got a bed and breakfast on the ground or on the water.

“When customers come here, they want to be special and they should be special.”

Gabrielle feels that a major benefit of running a floating hotel is that people are much calmer on the water, providing a more relaxed atmosphere.

“You’re floating, so you have an advantage straight away, and water calms people, so you’re already on a good footing.”

Besides this, she believes that, MCA regulations aside, having a boat B&B is not too different from being on land, although customers might have different expectations.

“The customer will have a different expectation of being on the water but what they do want is comfort and good service,” said Gaby.

Sunset highland lassie cruises
Sunset from Highland Lassie’s jetty

Marketing

Gaby and Gus hired someone to promote Highland Lassie on social media, but the pandemic meant they had to target a new, local audience for 2021.

“We have Facebook and Instagram but we’re a bit old fashioned so we hired a young lady called Claire, who manages that for us and that’s invaluable,” said Gaby.

“All of our marketing used to go to the US but the pandemic presented the challenge of having to remarket Highland Lassie from an international market, to a domestic market.”

She further explained the hardship faced by floating businesses across the UK during the pandemic: “A lot of floating businesses didn’t come in for any funding at all throughout the pandemic, so money has been a considerable issue.”

Despite the difficulties they encountered over the last year, Gaby and her husband, Gus found a way to survive.

“As a boat business being along the Caledonian Canal where people walk, we’ve had to think outside the box.

“We started doing takeaways and breakfast rolls for people who were walking along the Caledonian Canal and we placed tables outside on the decking and along the jetty to encourage people to dine,” she said, “we had to think outside the box and just try and stay afloat.”

Lastly, she advised that when it comes to running your own B&B, enjoy what you do.

“Just enjoy what you do. When you enjoy what you do, it shows.”

Sunart Cabin Highland Lassie Cruises
Sunart Cabin

Top Tips – Operating a boat B&B to perfection.

  1. Make sure you are MCA graded.
  2. Less is more e.g. it’s better to have four comfortable cabins rather than six uncomfortable ones
  3. Think outside of the box (especially during difficult times such as the pandemic)
  4. Make sure that you enjoy what you do (whether that’s running a floating B&B or one on land!)
  5. Service is the most important thing when it comes to hospitality. Treat the customer well and they will want to come back

MCA: MARITIME & COASTGUARD AGENCY

MCA* is short for the Maritime and Coastguard Agency, who grade boats to make sure they meet certain standards.

The MCA guidance for working at sea covers:

  1. Health & Safety
  2. Maritime Safety
  3. Medical Certification & Advice
  4. Training & Certification

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