Living with the Rhone

Navigating on the Rhone

CNR has developed the Rhone, France’s most powerful river, to produce electricity and to make it navigable. A vector of trade and civilisation since the beginning of history, the Rhone participates in the economic and touristic enhancement of the territories it crosses.

330 km of wide gauge navigable waterway from Lyon to the Mediterranean

port-de-sablonsDownstream of Lyon, CNR has developed 330 km of wide gauge navigable waterway from the confluence of the Rhone and the Saone to the locks of Bacarin and Port-Saint-Louis opening out into the Mediterranean. This waterway has 13 reaches with an average length of 25 km and 14 locks for crossing the hydropower development schemes. The differences in level between Lyon and the sea is 162 m and the maximum head of the locks varies between 6.70 m and 23 m. Originally a steep slope with rapids, CNR’s developments have transformed the river into a succession of gently sloping steps.

Although tamed, the Rhone remains powerful. During periods of strong flowrates, current speeds can exceed 3 m/s in certain sectors. The Mistral, a north wind, is another element that skippers must face. CNR uses its Navigation Management Centre to control all the traffic on the Rhone, optimise lock passages and provide information services for skippers.

Pleasure boating on the Upper Rhone

Pleasure boating upstream of Lyon is now possible along 50 km, thanks to a major programme to restore navigability carried out by CNR in the framework of its Missions in the General Interest. It is the pleasure boaters themselves who operate the locks in semi-automatic mode.

Indispensable authorisations

We advise you to check with VNF (Voies Navigables de France) or the DDT du Rhône that you possess all the documents and permits required to sail on the Rhone.

Caution: if you are a foreign skipper, you must check that your credentials are valid in France.

On the same subject

Key figures

812 km : the total length of the Rhone, including 545 km in France
11 French departments are crossed by the Rhone: Haute-Savoie (74), Ain (01), Savoie (73), Isère (38), Rhône (69), Loire (42), Drôme (26), Ardèche (07), Gard (30), Vaucluse (84) and Bouches-du-Rhône (13)

19 locks (14 wide gauge locks downstream of Lyon, 5 locks for pleasure boats upstream)
Close to 91,046  lock passages in 2016
4.85 million tons of goods transported between Lyon and the Mediterranean
206,396 cruise passengers and pleasure boaters
95 500 km² : the surface area of the Rhone watershed, i.e. about 17% of the surface area of continental France

Conforming to the regulations

Navigation on the river is subject to regulations that you are obliged to know. When sailing, take heed of the announcements made to skippers by VNF.These announcements inform you of any incident or problem as well as navigation restrictions. You can find more information on the VNF site

Navigations conditions

In spite of the development, the river can present a few difficulties: currents, wind (Mistral), the opening of gate structure dams that can generate local current speeds from 3 to 4 m/s. Your safety depends on your awareness and compliance with instructions. Before setting out, you must always consult the weather forecasts and navigation conditions:

  • On the Internet : (only from France)
  • By vocal server: 0 820 10 10 20 (information is available in both French and English)

Navigation characteristics between Lyon and the Mediterranean

  • The maximum authorised length of boats and push-tow convoys: 190 m long by 11,45 m wide from Lyon to the Mediterranean.
  • Authorised speed outside restricted zones : 30 km/h.
  • Channel width: 60 m at least from Lyon to Palier d’Arles (80 m downstreapm).
  • Lock dimensions excluding Port Saint-Louis : 195 m long by 12 m wide.
  • Lock dimensions of Port Saint-Louis : 135 m long by 19 m wide(access to the sea is obligatory for pleasure boaters).
  • Clearance under bridges : it varies between 6,30 m and 7,88 m.