Rhone au Rhin Canal : Cruising in Detail
Information about 237km of canal and river, from Franche-Comté east to Alsace:
- the 224km of the Canal du Rhone au Rhin from St-Symphorien (River Saone) to Dole, Besancon and finally Mulhouse. The canal rises to a summit at PK184 (or PK0 counting west from PK38 at Mulhouse). For a significant section the canal is actually the River Doubs.
- the 13km of the Canal de Huningue (Kembs-Niffer) from Mulhouse to the Grand Canal d’Alsace (River Rhine lateral canal) junction at Niffer near the Swiss border.
This is a magnificently scenic route through the Jura, with wooded cliffs and blue-ish ranges of hills in the background. The two historic towns, Dole and Besancon both have spectacular settings.
The canal was proposed to be transformed into a major east-west commercial navigation linking the Rhine with the Rhone via the upper Saone, but this idea was dropped in 1997. All locks and waterway navigation features have been renovated relatively recently, but because sections of the River Doubs form such an intrinsic part of the route care must then be taken to keep to marked channels and to avoid such natural river features as rocks, shallows and weirs. They are clearly marked and should not otherwise cause problems, except if the river is running fast and strong.
The canal to Mulhouse is used by a few, conventionally sized, commercial peniches, which as always, take priority at ecluses. Beyond Mulhouse (the Ile Napoleon docks) the Kembs-Niffer Huningue canal sees very large Rhine standard barge and push-tow convoy traffic.
See also general notes (foot of page).
- Approximate TE minimum depth 1.8m, TA headroom 3.5m, width 5m. These are the ‘book’ values that may vary according to season and circumstances, but in general terms these values (principally available depth) can be thought reasonably reliable. The Huningue canal is considerably deeper and bridges, higher.
- Speed limits are 10kph on river sections, 8kph on canal sections and 3kph when passing moored boats.
- There are 73 ecluses (locks) on the Saone (west) side of the summit and 39 on the east (Rhine) side. Completion of the modernisation programme means that most locks are operated using a remote control device given to each boat. There are also a number of chains of ecluses where an eclusier will be in control.
- Automatic ecluses are open from 07:00h to 19:00h, eclusier operated locks from 08:30h to 18:30h with a one-hour break for lunch.
- There are two short tunnels, at Thoraise and at Besancon.
- VNF contact telephone numbers –
03 84 70 80 05 (Dole), 03 81 25 00 30 (Besancon), 03 81 91 17 32 (Monbeliard), 03 84 45 65 30 (Mulhouse)
- Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.
PK0 St-Symphorien (Saone PK219)
A modest entry/exit point for the canal route that connects the Rhine with the Saone and the Rhone, the recent white, angular, lookout control tower is very noticeable.
Bourgogne Marine – port and maintenance.
PK7 Abergement-la-Ronce – Free moorings
Birthplace of Louis Pasteur. Well equipped moorings.
Section shaded by plane trees, like the Canal du Midi.
Moorings. Take care to keep to the channel on the river section east of the village.
PK39 Ranchot – Moorings
PK57 Pleasant rural quayside mooring, herons and kingfishers.
Short tunnel with waterfall curtains at each end (operated by your ecluse remote control) and lighting display inside. Depth 2.8m, height 4.1m+. Good mooring between the tunnel entrance and the adjacent ecluse.
PK62-PK63 Keep 20m clear of the northern bank to avoid rocky shallows
Traditionally, a centre of clock-making, Victor Hugo was born here and there is a spectacular view from the hilltop ‘Citadelle’ down and over the Doubs valley.
Take the very attractive 3km river loop through the historic town (however the available depth is 1.3m) – or take the short 400m long Tarragnoz tunnel that by-passes it (available depth 2.1m, height 4.3m).
< Moorings at the Port St Paul (some reports of rowdy youths being a nuisance on weekend evenings) near the east entrance to the tunnel.
For 47km, from Besancon to PK121 near Clerval, the waterway is the River Doubs which has natural shallows and rocks, so it is important to keep to the marked channel (buoyed as appropriate).
PK86 Novillars – moorings.
PK92 Deluz – moorings, charming little town. Dramatic section of the river past high cliffs.
PK99 Ougney-la-Roche – Restaurant pontoon, a lovely stretch of the river.
Moorings and services in conjunction with campsite.
PK112 Pontoon moorings
Ecluses (locks) in this section of the river are located immediately next to barrages and thus can be tricky when heading downstream (west). For this reason, their ‘default’ readiness is to be prepared for downstream boats. Lock #35 l’Ermite at PK119.5 has gaps in the walls where the old gates were – take care going upstream (rising against the walls).
PK127 Clerval – potentially tricky stern-to moorings into the river current on pontoon, and close to a sandbank just downstream.
Quayside moorings above the ecluse, close to a fuel service station.
PK153 Lift bridge
Doubs crossing, beware cross-current.
PK164 Montbeliard / Sochaud
Once a Roman stronghold, now the home of Peugeot vehicles.
Port de Plaisance, all services, but possibly noisy.
PK171.5 Embranchement de Belfort
9km of pleasant but shallow (1.2m) branch canal heads north, part of an ambitious C19th scheme to connect Montbeliard to the upper Saone, by-passing the Doubs valley.
PK175 Short section along the River Allaine, keep well clear of the barrage.
PK176-PK186 Ecluses #7 to #3 are a chain and an eclusier will accompany boats passing through them.
PK186 = PK0 Montreux-Chateau – canal summit
Good moorings with services. Quayside also at PK2 Montreux-Vieux.
Kilometre marks reset to zero and the canal descends towards Mulhouse and the Rhine.
Ecluses #2 to #15 (Dannemarie) are a chain and an eclusier will accompany boats passing through them.
Recommended Port de Plaisance.
PK23 Illfurth – Moorings
Port de Plaisance in the Vieux Bassin, all facilities. Railway museum, Electrical engineering museum, ceramics museum and textile museum. And home of the Schlumph brothers’ phenomenal Bugatti Museum.
The eclusier at PK35 ecluse #41, close the the centre of Mulhouse, controls the chain westwards from ecluse #39 to ecluse #28 at PK19. He needs to be informed during the day before (up to 16:00h) of one’s timetable and departure time from Mulhouse.
PK38 = PK13 Canal de Huningue (Kembs-Niffer)
The Canal Rhone au Rhine originally proceeded north at this point, to Colmar and then Strasbourg. It has been replaced by an enlarged direct Grand Canal d’Alsace (River Rhine lateral canal) link, a section of the Canal de Huningue which once connected to Basel.
There are two Haltes Nautique along the 13km length, at PK8 and PK4.
PK1-PK0 Niffer / Kembs
There are two (alternative) ecluses at the junction with the Grand Canal d’Alsace.
The smaller ‘Kembs-Niffer’ lock would be used by pleasure craft and has a control building designed in 1960 by the famous Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier. There are pleasant moorings just before it – confirm your intention to stay there (rather than pass the lock) to the eclusier via Ch 22.
The much larger ‘Principale’ ecluse (left) was built in 1995 in an even more striking style.
Also just upstream of the Kembs-Niffer ecluse, a short branch canal reaches Kembs where there is a well-equipped port.
PK0 = PK185 Grand Canal d’Alsace (River Rhine)
Left (north) to Strasbourg.
Right (south) to Basle.