France – Inland Waterways

Inland Waterways

We only covered 2 of the numerous French waterways: the French section of the Mosel river and the east portion of the Marne-Rhine canal from Nancy to Strasbourg.

Note: Comments are based on 2013 passages with very high water levels due to extreme rainfall.

We had Navionics charts which covered all of the waterway but not with much detail. As with the German waterways we had trouble finding information on available water draft, available air draft and lists of harbours. We used the Manfred Fnzl book  Die Mosel as our main source of information, like his other volumes it was out of date in numerous areas.

We needed 2m of draft (allowing 20cm clearance over our listed draft of 1.80m). We passed through the canal during massive floods which were so severe they closed the canals. In those conditions we never had less than 2.1m. We did touch bottom  but each time was when trying to get into harbours.

Below we have notes on the two canals we went through. After crossing Germany by canal and becoming used to their standard way of providing waterway services, our route through France took us through four different organizations, each of who had their own “system” and way of providing services.

The north part of French Mosel has operated locks which are used by commercial barges. The locks must be contacted in French on the assigned VHF channel which is usually posted somewhere near the lock entrance. We used the following form for requesting entrance to the lock:

Les ecluses lock-name, les ecluses lock-name.
C’est le bateaux plaisance boat-name.
-wait for reply from lock-
Nous tennons a entrer dans les ecluses voyageant a destination-harbour, s’il vous plait

Note: substitute for lock-name, boat-name and destination-harbour

The above always worked for us with controlled locks although the replies were sometimes so fast that we couldn’t understand them. If in doubt wait for the lights, if they go to green or a combination of green and red after a couple of minutes then you have been acknowledged. Many people have written about rude lock keepers in France but with the exception of one ours were always courteous and occasionally even came out to talk to us.

Mosel River on wikipedia

Terminus Points: The north end is located at the French border, the south end is at Ecluse de Clevant (north of Nancy)
Connections to:
Portion Covered: Covered from Ecluse Apach at the French border to Ecluse Clevant – 103 km.
Locks enroute:
Description: A commercial barge waterway with operator controlled locks.
Problems or Issues:  none
Thionville km 268
Depth: 2+m
Air Draft: unlimited in harbour
Facilities: garbage, food shopping nearby
Description: There are floating pontoons in the river, they may be used by passenger boats in season but there are yacht sized fingers closer to shore.
Problems or Issues: none

Metz km 298
Depth: 2m during spring flood waters
Air Draft: unlimited in harbour
Facilities: water, garbage, electricity, toilets, showers, food shopping nearby, internet in capitainerie
Description: A Port de Plaisance operated by the town, the facilities were excellent.
Problems or Issues: The approach from the river may fall below 2m depth during dry season.

Pont-a-Mousson km 328.5
Depth: 3+m
Air Draft: unlimited in harbour
Facilities: water, garbage, electricity, toilets, showers, food shopping nearby
Description: This harbour had one of the most endearing harbour masters who couldn’t do enough for us. She had various publications on the French waterways in French, German and English.
Problems or Issues: none

Marne-Rhine Canal on wikipedia

Terminus Points: The west end is located in France, the east end is at Strasbourg where it joins the Rhine.
Connections to:
Portion Covered: Covered from the Ecluse Clevent (north of Nancy) to Strasbourg – ??km.
Locks enroute: about 57, most are about 2-3m while the lock in Saverne is about 5m. The lock Ecluse #2 is 19m and the boat lift at Incline d’Arzviller is 44m – both have operators.
Description: The locks are very old, originally 1853 although many were rebuilt circa 1910. The lock gates have been replaced recently and are automatic.
Problems or Issues: The control mechanisms are unreliable and service personel have to be called out repeatedly.

At the Clevant lock we were given our “telecommande” which is a remote control for operating the locks. We were given no instructions either printed or verbal. There is a small wooden stand to the right of the lock with brochures in 3 languages on the canal facilities. The telecommande system for operating the locks will continue until you reach the 19m locks at “Ecluse 2” where you will turn it back in.

What we deduced was the following for operating the locks in this section was:

  • there will be a post with a remote control sensor about 100m prior to the locks which will have a sign “Here Ici Hier”, this is a receptor for your remote control to let the lock system you are approaching. Once the receptor receives your telecommande signal it will start flashing an amber light
  • the red and green traffic control lights will operate as for other locks, the addition is that there is a flashing amber light which will flash as you approach the lock to confirm that your presence has been recognised.
  • once in the lock there will be control rods that extend from above the top of the lock to down towards the lowest water level, they were usually in the middle of the lock on one side only. The control rods are operated by lifting them about 5 cm. The red one is presumably an emergency halt function although we never used it. The blue one initiates the closing of the lock gate and the emptying or filling of the lock. After you lift it a blue light will start flashing and you will have about 20 seconds to return to your boat.
  • From this point on the operation is automatic and once filled or emptied the lock gate for exiting will open.

It is at this point that the caveat must be made, these automatic locks don’t work reliably – or at least they didn’t when we went through. The main points of failure seem to be the lock gates, they either won’t open or won’t close. This brings up the other essential piece of equipment at each lock, the speaker phone to the central office. We had to call in at about 10 locks out of 55, the response each time was “man comes”. After 10 to 20 minutes a small white VNF van will pull up, the guy will open up the lock control building, push the Reset button and everything will work properly.

Some locks have many bollards, others fewer, there seems to be a variety of placements which can make it slower to tie up as you need to be positioned somewhere near the control rods so you can get back to the boat after initiating the locking.

We have only listed formal Port de Plaisance facilities below, due to the unreliable nature of the locks it is hard to plan where you will spend nights. We travelled through empty canals in the off season, during high season oncoming traffic and queues for locks would also make planning overnight spots erratic. We spent all our nights outside locks as the Port de Plaisance facilities were either passed in the middle of the day or some are taken over and operated by the commercial charter companies.

Nancy km 163.5
Depth: <2m during spring flood waters
Air Draft: unlimited in harbour
Facilities: water, garbage, electricity, toilets, showers, food shopping nearby
Description: This was the worst harbour we encountered in France with fouled moorages, no visitor berths, every pontoon hammerhead filled up with a “project” boat with a dinghy moored on the outside to prevent rafting up. On top of that the port capitaine was lazy – he shut up his office and left after watching us try to moor. Boats that had wintered there described him as a problem to deal with.
Problems or Issues: Could not moor and could not locate any assistance from the marina staff.
Saint-Louis-Arzviller inclined plane km 255
Depth: 2+m
Air Draft: unlimited in harbour
Facilities: garbage, toilets in the visitor facilities of the boat lift
Description: There is a large mooring area at the bottom of the boat lift, it is surrounded by park land with picnic tables. A nice place to moor up and watch the “bath tub” go up and down.
Problems or Issues: You are in side a fenced area although it is large. There is a paved path to the top at the right of the boat lift when faced from the bottom.

After the boat incline the locks are centrally controlled as far as Saverne. You use the speaker phone at the lock and they “program you”. From that point to Saverne the locks would open for us as we approached (based on a speed of 8 kph). If they were in use then we would be delayed until the lock was free and then we would continue forward at 8 kph again.

The lock at Servande was the exception to the others and had a lock keeper who could only be described as miserable. It has a 5m rise as opposed to the others and also is twice the length of the other locks. In our case the lock keeper started the water dropping before the boats were tied up, opened the gate at the bottom, did not put on the green light to exit the lock and then closed the gate and started refilling the locks with the boats still inside. Not the best display for tourism.

After leaving Servande the locks are controlled by a signaling rope hanging over the canal which is pulled down as you approach the lock. This will then signal the system as the telecommande did on the other side. There is one lock on the outskirts of Strasbourg which was operated when we went through as it is immediately next to a swing bridge for road traffic and the operator controlled both. At the end of the canal the north lock onto the Rhine was closed when we went through, it appeared that the railway bridge before it was being rebuilt but there was no signage of any sort so we had to exit by the south lock onto the Rhine.

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