Germany – Inland Waterways

Inland Waterways

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

We had a lot of problems finding adequate and definitive information for passing along the German inland waterways. We used Navionics digital charts which were fine but had absolutely no information about what lay alongside the waterway. The word “Sportboothafen” (pleasure boat harbour) would appear occasionally but there didn’t seem a strong correlation between facilities available and the label on the chart. Tall chimneys were marked on the Navionics charts but in an industrial area such as the outskirts of Berlin these marking are not as helpful as they are on a sea chart when there is only one or two chimneys ashore. To be fair to Navionics they suggested we buy a road map to accompany the digital charts for the inland waterways and this is good advice. We bought a spiral bound atlas of Germany which helped put a context outside of the waterways and also bought an overview chart of the German waterways which gave us the length of the canals, how they joined and where the locks lay. But neither of these helped us know when the next facilities (e.g. fuel, food shopping, moorage) would be available. As of Berlin we were unable to find a list of harbour descriptions with facilities listed. We had assumed we would be able to find a publication whose primary language would be German but which would use symbols to denote facilities (e.g. diesel, slipway, showers, electricity). We failed in this search. We had tried over the internet before we arrived in Germany with no success, then once in Berlin we tried through the boat suppliers with the same results.

We found charts in spiral bound form which had the same waterway information as our digital charts as well as maps of the land surrounding. Together they equated to our digital charts and the road atlas. But we never found a list of harbous with details and facilities.

Another  document we failed to find was an overview chart of the inland waterways of Germany which listed depth and air draft. We purchased an <link> overview chart which showed us the routes but not the depths and the minimum bridge height on that route. In the Netherlands there is the Standemaast Route chart produced by ANWB which supplies this for the country.

Note: The German language pilot books we used for the Mitteland Canal, the Rhine, the Mosel and the Main, all of which are published by Delius Klassing, are woefully out of date. As we got further into the trip we realised that the books were consistently out of date and had not been updated either via new edition or via online addendum documents. Harbours listed didn’t exist, harbours we used were not listed, depths were often imaginary, descriptions of facilities were like old pictures and had not been updated. For the price charged the Delius Klassing publications were poor value but we didn’t find much alternative.

With masts down and stored aboard Maringret had the following dimensions:
Air Draft: 3m
Depth:      2m
Length:     18m (due to length of main mast)

We were “happy” with these dimensions as we figured that we easily fit within the envelope of a commercial barge. So we were comfortable to go anywhere they would. We’re not sure what the maximum dimensions are for the different classes of barges but they were always bigger than us. If there was a choice between a “sportboot” route and the commercial bouyed route we would take the commercial route, confident that we would pass through safely. On the inland waterways the majority of “sportboot” are motorboats with sailing boats being confined to the lakes (or “see” in German). Consequently we were not sure what dimensions were assumed for “sportboot”. All the canal descriptions that follow are based on the assumption of being sufficient for those dimensions to pass through for us with our 2m depth and 3m air draft.

Below we have described the canals we went through. We found various sources for the dimensions and naming of the canals – these did not always agree with each other. We have used what was on our Navionics charts along with what was in Wikipedia articles for the following descriptions. We have listed the rises or drops we experienced as a guideline but obviously these depend on water levels at the time of passing through and so may be quite different at another time. All canals in Germany seem to be assigned standard 3-letter abbreviations which we have listed below.

Telephony
Our notes on mobile telephony in Germany are here.

Hohensaaten-Friedrichsthaler Wasserstrasse (HFW) (Canal)

Terminus Points: The north end is located at approximately 53° 10′ N 14° 22′ E, the south end is at the Hohensaat locks.
Connections to: West branch of Oder river at north end. Oder-Havel Kanal through west lock at Hohensaat (2m rise).
Portion Covered: Covered complete length – ??km.
Locks enroute: Hohensaat locks at the southern end – our rise was about 1m.
Description: Canal is predominantly through forested areas with occasional farmland summer houses. Very few villages or towns.
Problems or Issues: Some barges pass through after dark without even running lights on, luckily we were moored as they roared by in the dark.

Oder-Havel Kanal (OHK) (Canal) on wikipedia

Terminus Points: The north end is located at the Hohensaat locks (2m rise). The south end is either:
a) where it joins the Havel River (just below the Lenitz locks;
b) where the Havel Canal branches off to the west;
c) at the Spandau locks on the west side of Berlin.
Connections to: Hohensaaten-Friedrichsthaler Wasserstrasse through west lock at Hohensaat. Main branch of Oder river through east lock at Hohensaat. Havel Kanal to the west at km 10.4 (north of Berlin). Berlin-Spandauer Schiffahrts Canal through Berlin at km 3.4 north of lock at Spandau. Spree River through Berlin immediately south of lock at Spandau.
Locks enroute: Lenitz locks at km 28.5, approx – our drop was about 5m. A boat lift of 18m. at location 52° 51′ N 13° 56′ E (near the village of Niederfinow, our chart doesn’t list the km markers for that area)
Portion Covered: Covered complete length – ??km.
Description: Slowly changing from wilderness at the north to big city Berlin at the south. Numerous moorings, some close to villages, some selling diesel (although possibly only in season). Diesel facility on west side of Hohensaat lock does not sell fuel for spoortboot.
Problems or Issues: none

One of the most impressive pieces of engineering we encountered on the German waterways was the Schiffshebewerk (boat lift) at Niederfinow which lifted us along with a barge and a waterways works tug 18m up in about 10 minutes. Construction was started in 1927 and completed in 1934. A second larger boat lift is being constructed alongside and is planned for opening in 2014.

The Spandau locks were closed for repair when we passed through which necessitated a detour through Berlin on the Berlin-Spandauer Schiffahrts Canal and then the Spree River. There are 2 obvious routes for the detour:

  • the first goes as far east as the Becken docks in Westhafen (just south of the Plozensee locks) and then follows the Westhafen Canal to the Spree River and back to Spandau for a distance of 20 km;
  • the second continuing east after the Plozensee locks and following the Berlin-Spandauer Schiffahrts Canal to where it joins the Spree River and returning to Spandau on the Spree River for a distance of 30 km. Less than 1 km from where the Berlin-Spandauer Schiffahrts Canal joins the Spree River is the Reichstag.

Either route will return you south of the Spandau locks in the west, less than 3 km from where you started. As the canals wind through Berlin it is worth considering the detour for purely scenic reasons. The longer route almost takes you past the Reichstag (it is less than 1km away) and for the extra 10km is probably worth considering.

Note: when we crossed through Berlin we intended to take the longer route but were turned back by the water police and told that sport boats were not permitted on that waterway east of the Plozensee locks. There was nothing on charts or signs on the shore to indicate this. Perhaps it was temporarily closed as other websites have described taking this route.

Berlin-Spandauer Schiffahrts Kanal (canal) on wikipedia

Terminus Points: The northwest end is located north of the Spandau locks on the Havel River. The southeast end is on the Spree river, either near the Plozensee locks or the Charlottenburg locks or near central Berlin (our charts are unclear).
Connections to: Oder-Havel canal (AKA Havel River) north of Spandau locks. Spree River near Plozensee or Charlottenburg locks.
Locks enroute: Plozensee locks at midpoint – our drop was about 1m. Charlottenburg locks at Spree River – our drop was about 2m.
Portion Covered: From northern end to Charlottenburg locks.
Description: Mainly through parkland before Plozensee locks and industrial areas afterwards.
Problems or Issues:

Spree River on wikipedia

Terminus Points: The east end is located in the border regions between Germany and the Czech Republic. The west end is below the Spandau locks on the west side of Berlin where it joins the Havel River.
Connections to: Havel River at its western end.
Locks enroute: Charlottenburg locks from Berlin-Spandauer Schiffarts Canal – our drop was about 2m.
Portion Covered: Chalottenburg locks to confluence with the Havel River below the Spandau locks.
Description: The small portion we covered was almost completely industrial.
Problems or Issues:

Once we arrived in Berlin we were able to locate the pilot books for the waterways we planned to travel. The excellent inventory ands service of Nautische Bauchhandlung (address at bottom of page) not only had the products we needed but also advice on which publications to use and which publications were currently under revision and therefore worth waiting for the new imprint.

Oder-Havel Kanal (canal) on wikipedia

Terminus Points: The northeast end is located at the Spandau locks on the west side of Berlin.
The south end is SW of Potsdam at Schwielowsee.
The west end is at Brandenburg.
Connections to: Havel-Oder Kanal at Spandau locks. Havel Kanal from the north at km XXX.
Locks enroute: none
Portion Covered: Covered complete length – ??km.
Description: A combination of big city Berlin that quickly turns into small towns and large parkland. Followed by various schloss (palace homes) as you approach Potsdam where a cornucopia of parks and palaces exists.
Problems or Issues: none

Elbe Havel Kanal (EHK) (canal) on wikipedia

Terminus Points:
Connections to:
Locks enroute:
Portion Covered:
Description:
Problems or Issues:

Mittelland Kanal (MLK) (canal) on wikipedia

Terminus Points:
Connections to:
Locks enroute:
Portion Covered: Covered complete length – ??km.
Description:
Problems or Issues: none

Dortmund-Ems Kanal (DEK) (canal) on wikipedia

Terminus Points:
Connections to:
Locks enroute:
Portion Covered:
Description:
Problems or Issues:

Rhein-Herne Kanal (RHK) (canal) on wikipedia

Terminus Points:
Connections to:
Locks enroute:
Portion Covered:
Description:
Problems or Issues:

Rhine River (River Rhein) on wikipedia

Terminus Points: Switzerland and North Sea
Connections to:
Locks enroute: none
Portion Covered:  km xxx to km xxx
Description:
Problems or Issues:

The Rhine River contrasts distinctly with the connecting canals that formed our route. We joined at Duisburg and left at XXX. The rate of flow at Duisburg was approximately 8km and the commercial traffic dense. As we preceded up the river the traffic gradually diminished as we passed harbours along the river. Water levels vary on the Rhine and must be observed for a safe passage. The river was running between 1 and 1.5 m high when we travelled – this gave us less concern for touching the bottom but did bring us closer to the bridges such as the pedestrian bridge at the entrance to Köln marina which is listed at 4m but ws less when we passed under it.

There are three types of river marking, floating bouys (which are in the minority) and posts mounted in the water near the shore. The posts are red or green and are either solid or striped. On most sections of the river the posts mark the furthest point of underwater breakwaters that help stabilise the shores and decrease erosion. We could not find a constant depth for them  so we tried to stay near them without going into less then 3m of water (having a draft of 2m). Shallow areas can swing out from the shore with very sharp angles so you can get into shallow water very quickly (and we were going against the current with a speed over ground of about 4.5 kph). Many of the underwater breakwaters create whirlpools which sometimes extend out into the river – one grabbed us and sped us up to 7.2 kph before tossing us out.

We saw 4 types of boats on the Rhine: commercial barges, passenger boats, sport boots and police boats. The barges are predictable and dependable, they may be big but they are professional. The barges signal their intentions by blue board or horn signals, they stay in the deep water and they are easy to coexist with. On the other hand some of the passenger boats are cowboy operations that disregard everyone on the river, commercial or sport. They travel on either side of the river with no demonstration of intention, darting in and out of any traffic that happens to be in front of them. The sport boats are either local boats that are day tripping or boats on a long slog up the river like us. Finally are the police boats that are always going somewhere at high speed (we never found out where). You may pass one per hour, always going somewhere and putting up the worst wake on the river. The few problems we had on the Rhine were always with some of the passenger boats and the wake created by the police boats.

Blue boarding is the method by which commercial boats indicate they are crossing the lanes of traffic to take advantage of lower current on the opposite side of the river. They indicate this by displaying a square blue board on the starboard side of the pilot house, usually there is a flashing white light in the middle of the board. When this is displayed they will cross to the “wrong” side of the river. Traffic will blue board in both directions, downstream vessels having priority. Not all vessels will choose to blue board and so as a slow moving sport boat you may be passed by 2 barges, one going in each direction. And this may happen on either side of the river.

The journey from Duisburg up river to Koblenz can be done multiple different ways, we used the following harbours with 4 travelling days:

Duisburg Rhine km 777
Depth: 3+m
Air Draft: 5+m
Facilities: diesel, water, garbage, electricity, toilets, showers, food shopping nearby (Lidl)
Description: Marina Duisburg is located in an old ship’s harbour in the centre of the city and has an extremely helpful harbour master. Due to the length of the approach canal there is no river surge.
Problems or Issues: none
Neues Rhine km 735.5
Depth: 3+m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: water, garbage, electricity, toilets, showers
Description: Located in an old cargo basin off the river, there are 3 boat clubs in the basin, at least 2 of which have guest places. A nice pastoral setting with no river surge.
Problems or Issues:  none
Distance from Previous Harbour:  41.5 km (average speed over ground 4.3 kph)
Köln Rhine km 687
Depth: 3+m but there is a sill to the harbour entrance.
Air Draft: 4m under a pedestrian bridge at the entrance.
Facilities: diesel, water, electricity, garbage, toilets, showers, laundry, food shopping nearby
Description: Köln Marina is located in an old ship’s harbour in the centre of the city. The major sites are within walking distance.
Problems or Issues: Depending on the state of water depth either the sill or pedestrian bridge could be an issue. There is river surge from the barges and tourist boats.
Distance from Previous Harbour: 48.5 km (average speed over ground 4.5 kph)
Ober Winter Rhine km 639
Depth: 3m+
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: water, electricity, garbage, toilets, showers, laundry, food shopping nearby
Description: Yachthafen Oberwinter is located in an old cargo basin off the river. At the entrance there is a sliding pontoon that is operated by push buttons on the dock. The yacht harbour is across a busy road from the town with no river surge.
Problems or Issues: If the sliding pontoon is closing the entrance then someone must be put on the pontoon to push the button. The waiting boat can neither tie up to pontoon on the outside as either the section slides or it is covered by the sliding pontoon section.
Distance from Previous Harbour: 48 km (average speed over ground 4.5 kph)
Koblenz Rhine km 590
Depth: 3m+
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: water, electricity, garbage, toilets, showers, food shopping nearby
Description: Yachtclub Rheinlache Koblenz e.V. is located in an old cargo basin off the river, there are 3 or 4 boat clubs in the basin, the 2nd of which has guest places. A nice pastoral setting with no river surge.
Problems or Issues: none
Distance from Previous Harbour: 49 km (average speed over ground 3.9 kph)

We arrived at Koblenz in early May in a year with a very late spring. We were almost brought to a stop twice (i.e. a speed of less than 1 kph over ground): once in the section Köln-Oberwinter and then again in the section Oberwinter-Koblenz. Both times were where an island divided the river flow and we had to go up the side of the island which was effectively the middle of the river. There is very little margin of safety at that speed when things are approaching you at a minimum of 8 kph.

Based on our experience between Duisburg and Koblenz  and talking to boats in Koblenz it seemed apparent that the water flow through St Goar was too great for our motoring ability at the time we arrived. We thereby decided to take the bypass through Luxemburg and then Nancy, rejoining the Rhine at Strasburg. After which we would come down the Rhine to Mainz.

Mosel River on wikipedia

Terminus Points: Rhine river at Koblenz
Connections to:
Locks enroute: none
Portion Covered:  km xxx to km xxx
Description:
Problems or Issues:

The Mosel river leaves the Rhine at the city of Koblenz. It has a serpentine route for the next 190 km up to Trier. The valley gradually widens from the near-canyon at its confluence with the Rhine. This page will cover the Mosel up to the French border at Apach. The rest of the Mosel is covered on the pages Luxembourg – Inland Waterways  and  France – Inland Waterways.

Rhine River (River Rhein) on wikipedia

We rejoined the Rhine at Strasbourg on the French side, it was still in flood and running very quickly. Maintaining enough speed through the water in order to have steerage gave us a speed over ground of about 17 kph.

Kehl Rhine km 294
Depth: 2+m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: diesel, water, garbage, electricity, toilets, showers
Description: Nautic Club Kehl is located immediately down river of the eastern pylon of the railway bridge at km 294.
Problems or Issues: The entrance is tricky due to the cross current from the river, exiting is almost a blind operation as you can not see around the bridge pylon until you have entered the river.
The club facilities are very good but you can only pay by card, cash is not accepted.
OberhauserAltrhein Rhine km 391.5
Depth: 5+
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: none
Description: Anchored in 5m of water with a muddy bottom.
Problems or Issues: There is a strong cross current from the river at the entrance.
Worms Rhine km 443
Depth: 2+m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: pontoons and shore access only
Description: The Nibelung-Marina at Worms is listed in the Fenzl pilot book. The club house exploded due to a gas leak at New Years 2011 and the harbour has been emptied although the pontoons are still there.
Problems or Issues:


River Main on wikipedia

Terminus Points: Rhine river at Mainz, Main-Donau Kanal at Bamburg
Connections to:
Locks enroute:  34 (150 m)
Portion Covered:  km 0 to km 382
Description:  river with canalised portions
Problems or Issues: limited mooring for sport boats, limited draft in sport boat harbours

The Main river leaves the Rhine at the city of Mainz and has a personality different from the other German waterways. For a keeled boat going up the Main things are more difficult as most of the towns do not seem to have quays or if they do there is insufficient depth at them. In the few years since the logs of Alegria (2004)  and Polaris (2006) [Note: the preceding link is dead as of 2018 – “www.sailpolaris.com”] were written it also seems that various towns have banned sport boats from their quays and turned the quays over to the floating hotel boats. The town of Würzburg has even removed a highly rated marina and replaced it with a floating Chinese restaurant and mooring for the floating hotel boats. There are multiple boat clubs along the way but they generally do not have sufficient water for keeled boats and also do not have a pontoon in the river where there is deeper water. In addition most towns  did not have commercial harbours. On the Rhine and the canals numerous sport boat harbours were situated in former barge harbours and so had between 2 and 4 metres of water. The combination of circumstances on the Main meant that although there was ample water in the canal, mooring for the night could be troublesome. We have listed the harbours that we found which would handle 2m draft. When we could we spent nights at the locks as they always had 2m but not all locks have tie ups for sport boats.

Mainz Rhine km 497 & Main km 0
Depth: 2+ m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: water, electricity, toilets; garbage & showers at club house
Description: The Seil Klub Mainspitze boat club in Gustavsburg (east side of Rhine, south side of Main) undoubtedly has the most historic toilet block.
Problems or Issues:
Aschaffenburg Main km 87
Depth: <2 m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: unknown
Description: 6 boat clubs and a notable palace to see.
Problems or Issues: Although described in the pilot as having 2m we could not get to the docks of any of the 6 boat clubs and the Main was about 30 cm above normal when we were there. There is a quay with 2m but it is reserved for the tourist boats.
Wernfeld Main km 216
Depth: 2 m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: pontoons, electricity, showers and shore access
Description:
Problems or Issues:
Würzburg Main km 256.6
Depth: 2 m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: pontoons and shore access only
Description: Würzburg and it’s Rezidenz is the jewel of the Main and well worth seeing.
Problems or Issues: The city removed the deep water marina somewhere around 2008 (and replaced it with a floating Chinese restaurant), there is a motor boat club with 1.5m nearby. For keeled boats there is a private boatyard Helen Geise located at 256.6. The boatyard is the unused dock and harbour for a concrete plant and is located 4 km on the bicycle path from the city centre.
Schweinfurt Main km 332
Depth: 2 m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: pontoons and shore access only
Description: There is a marina in the town but access was blocked due to a water festival when we went through, we stayed on the quay (which was marked for sport boats at the down river end).
Problems or Issues: Hotel boats tried to drive us off the quay even though it was marked for sport boats. The police were called and they sent the hotel boats off the quay.


Main-Danube Canal on wikipedia

Terminus Points: Main river at Bamberg, Danube River at Kelheim
Connections to:
Locks enroute: 16 (175 m)
Portion Covered: km 0 to km 382
Description: The watershed between the Rhine and Danube rivers is at an elevation of 406 m and located at km 102.1 on the canal.
Problems or Issues: Unfortunately there is no moorage to stop and enjoy the watershed divide even though it is the highest navigable water in Europe.

The Main-Danube canal joins the major waterways of the Rhine and Danube rivers, thereby providing a water route from the North Sea to the Black Sea.

Bamberg Main km 256.6
km 2.6 on Main-Danube canal
Depth: 2 m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: water, garbage, electricity, toilets, showers, food shopping nearby
Description: The scenic Unesco World Heritage Site town is a 20 minute walk along the canal.
Problems or Issues:
Nürnberg Main-Danube canal km 65.2
Depth: 2 m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: water, garbage, electricity, toilets, showers, food shopping nearby
Description:
Problems or Issues:
Berching Main-Danube canal km 121
Depth: 2
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: shopping in town
Description: tied up to canal wall
Problems or Issues: Told to move by police due to danger of swell from large vessels, moved to Bershing lock (about 2 km away)


Danube River on wikipedia

Terminus Points: Main-Danube Canal at Kelheim, Sulina Romania, Black Sea Canal at Cernadova
Connections to:
Locks enroute: 6 (in Germany)
Portion Covered:  km 2408 to 2223
Description:
Problems or Issues:

The Danube has already run for 477 km before the commercial waterway joins at Kelheim.

Note: there is no moorage in Kelheim, Saal is the closest. Saal does not have a train station either.

Saal Danube km 2410
Depth: 3
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: diesel, water, garbage, electricity, toilets, showers, food shopping nearby, boat repair in marina, train station
Description: Marina Saal is a good deep water facility to see the surrounding area of Regensburg and Valhalla, as well as Kelheim and Weltenburg Monastery. Additionally a side trip is easily made to Plzen in the Czech Republic. This is a full service marina and a very good location to prepare for the journey down the Danube.
Problems or Issues:

Note: we did not go into Regensburg by boat as the entrance through the ancient bridge can be tricky. We chose to visit Regensburg by train from Saal.

Degensdorf Danube 2284 km
Depth: 2 m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: water, garbage, electricity, food shopping nearby (possibly toilets and showers)
Description: There are a number of boat clubs in a former barge basin.
Problems or Issues:
Passau (Henning) Danube 2233 km
Depth: 2 m
Air Draft: unlimited
Facilities: diesel, water, garbage, electricity, toilets, showers, food shopping nearby
Description: Marina Henning is a good moorage located on the bicycle route into Passau proper (about 5 km).
Problems or Issues: The visitor berths for larger boats are outside the harbour and may receive swell from passing boats.

Next river segment downriver – Austria

  • The excellent nautical bookseller Nautische Buchhandlung in Berlin
    Unter den Eichen 57, 12203 Berlin
    (030) 831 23 41
    [Note: the preceding link is dead as of 2018 – “www.reimernautik.de”]
  • Vom Rhein zur Nord- und Ostsee by Manfred Fenzl – guide book from the North and Baltic Seas to the Rhine River (covers the Mittellandkanal). This book is now over 20 years old and although parts have been updated other sections have not. Some facilities which were years old did not appear in the book and others which were listed had been removed or re-designated years earlier. If planning a nights moorage with this book it is wise to have alternatives in the event that the site is either full or does not exist.
  • Der Rhein by Manfred Fenzl – guide book for the Rhine River. This book is approaching 25 years old, the sections we used (Duisburg to Koblenz and Strasbourg to Mainz) were mainly accurate but not complete. As with the other Fenzl volumes the updating does not seem to have been thorough.
  • Die Mosel by Manfred Fenzl, this book is now somewhat out of date as per Fenzl’s other publications
  • Gewässerkarte Main Main-Donau-Kanal by Andreas Saal, this chart/booklet combination is as out of date as the Fenzl publications. We couldn’t find it on the Delius Klassing website so possibly it is out of print.
  • Die Donau by Melanie Haselhorst & Kenneth Dittmann – guide to the Danube River from Kelheim Germany to the Black Sea. The second edition came out days before we left.
  • we have collected the links we found for the canals and rivers of Germany, eastern France and the Donau
  • some of our sources were online facilities which we list in Android for Sailing

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