Petit Rhone : Cruising in Detail

Information about the 21km of river from its junction with the Rhone (the ‘Grand Rhone’) to the ecluse into the Canal Rhone a Sete. The river continues for further 40km to the sea; however the depth gets progressively more shallow (less than 1m) and at PK331 there is a cable ferry, air draft 2.5m.

The contrast between the curvaceous and lovely Petit Rhone, bounded on all sides with high, thick foliage (photo at the top of the screen) and the wide, open Rhone is dramatic. We felt it was like making a short trip down some minor Amazonian tributary. You will probably not meet many, if any, other craft but the Petit Rhone channel can and does accommodate large vessels making their way between the Rhone and the docks at Sete; the ecluse at Saint-Gilles is sized accordingly. The channel is marked by poles; outside the channel depths are variable, there are sandbanks and more particularly there are sections bounded by submerged iron stake ‘fences’. There are plenty of fallen trees and branches at the river edges, too.

See also general notes (foot of page).

Basic Information

  • Approximate minimum depth 2.20m, headroom 4.7m, width 12m (at the ecluse). These are the ‘book’ values and may vary according to conditions. Navigating this section of the river should not present any difficulties to normal pleasure craft.
  • Speed limit 15kph. Opening hours of the (manned) ecluse during the season 06:30 to 19:30.
  • PK numbering continues as the Rhone.
  • Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.

PK279 Rhone Junction

From the Rhone the Petit Rhone branch is fairly clearly marked, off to the west.
Coming from the Petit Rhone, one will have to cross the Rhone (over to the eastern side). Anticipate the downstream current in the main river and also keep a weather eye open for large vessels coming up from Arles or down (maybe quite quickly) from Lyon.

PK281 Pont suspendu du Fourques

Fourques, Petit Rhone River

Formerly the place where Rhone river pilots were stationed.


PK296.5– A quiet and peaceful potential mooring – pontoon and piles, west bank.

PK293.3 Portarnaud (west bank) Hugh McKnight’s little ‘desert island’ – he moored (both deep and shallow water there) and swam from the sandy beach. See “Cruising French Waterways

PK300 Ecluse Saint-Gilles

Saint Gilles, Petit Rhone River
Ecluse lock Saint Gilles, Petit Rhone River

Passage into/from the Canal Rhone a Sete, 4km south of Saint-Gilles and 29km from the (closed) end of the canal at Beaucaire. Top photo shows the ecluse entrance, branching off the river to the west. Considering the scale of the ecluse, its rise/fall will surprise you – we’ve never found it to be more than about 600mm. You will normally be asked for your travel intentions and possibly have your vignette checked. Call up on VHF #18 or telephone 04 66 87 75 30; this must be a pretty quiet eclusier posting.