This is our selection of some key waterways. The figures given below are the maximum permitted depth (vessel draught), headroom (air draught) and beam for the various combinations of rivers and canals indicated (i.e the worst cases). The data has been checked by our Practical Navigation editor David Edwards-May (author of our sister publication Inland Waterways of France and pdf downloads). Where official figures have been found to vary, or in case of reliable reports indicating lower than ‘book’ values, we give the lower figure. Precision to the nearest 5cm is important, since the standard péniches are precisely 5.05m in beam.

NOTE: In the late 19th many canals were re-engineered to provide standardised dimensions including a depth of 2.20m and with locks 39.00m long by 5.20m wide, in order to accommodate barges 38.50m x 5.05m x 1.80m draught (the so-called ‘Freycinet’ standard). Much of the network still offers these dimensions, with the notable exception of the Canal du Midi and some other smaller waterways and locks, which were never enlarged. Many waterways also no longer reliably offer the full 1.80m draught along their length, as maintenance dredging programmes are delayed for lack of funding, or because 1.60m (or even less) is considered sufficient where commercial traffic has disappeared.
In the table below the dimensions are the maximum vessel dimensions through each section.

French waterway depths
Waterway depths (meaning the actual available draught) through the French waterway network
> Dunkerque to Escaut 3.00m 5.25m 11.40m
> Calais entry and Canal de Calais 2.20m 3.45m 8.00m
Canal du Nord 2.40m 4.00m 5.75m
Canal de Saint-Quentin 2.20m 3.70m 6.00m
> Canal de la Somme 1.60m 3.40m 5.45m
> Seine (through Paris to the Marne) 3.00m 6.00m 11.40m
Seine (from Marne to Yonne and Canal du Loing) 2.80m 5.50m 11.40m
River Oise, Canal latéral à l’Oise 2.40m 4.10m 6.50m
River Aisne, Canal de l’Aisne à la Marne 2.00m 3.50m 5.05m
River Marne, Canal latéral à la Marne 1.80m 3.70m 5.05m
CENTRAL FRANCE Depth Height Beam
Bourbonnais route (Loing, Briare, latéral à la Loire) 1.80m 3.50m 5.05m
Canal du Nivernais 1.20m 2.70m 5.05m
Canal de Bourgogne 1.40m 3.50m 5.10m
Canal entre Champagne et Bourgogne 1.80m 3.45m 5.10m
River Saône 1.80m 3.50m 5.20m
Canal de la Marne au Rhin 1.80m 3.50m 5.05m
Canal de la Meuse 1.80m 3.50m 5.05m
River Moselle 2.90m 5.10m 11.40m
Canal du Rhône au Rhin 1.80m 3.50m 5.05m
Canal d’Alsace, Rhin 2.70m 7.00m 11.40m
BRITTANY and LOIRE Depth Height Beam
Canal d’Ille et Rance, Vilaine 1.20m 2.50m 4.50m
Canal de Nantes à Brest and Blavet 1.10m 2.40m 4.60m
River Loire 1.50m 4.50m
Rivers Mayenne, Sarthe 1.40m 4.10m 5.00m
> Rhône 3.00m 6.00m 11.40m
> Petit Rhône, Canal du Rhône à Sète 2.20m 4.10m 8.20m
Canal du Midi (but see note [1] below on depth) 1.50m
(less in places)
3.25m 5.45m
> Canal de Garonne, Garonne 1.50m 3.40m 5.20m

Important Notes
[1] Whatever printed documentation may state, depths vary according to season and river flow, and vary locally. As noted elsewhere on this website, depths immediately downstream of locks can be lower than book values,
[2] If it is critical, err on the side of caution. We have heard of yachts getting stuck and having to be craned out of the Midi and loaded onto a transporter. Remember that you will float about 2.5% lower in fresh water than in salt water, say +40mm for a draught of 1.50m.
[3] Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides. Each navigable waterway in France also has its own detailed guidance page on this site :: Practical Navigation