River Saone (Aval) – ‘La Saone’ : Cruising in Detail

Information about the 255km of navigable and canalised lower Saone river from PK255 Maxilly (Canal Marne a la Saone) to PK0 Lyon (River Rhone). There are 8 locks, none of them very deep (2m-4m); the river may be large (beyond Saint-Jean) but it is normally quiet and gentle, some winter conditions excepted.

Whilst the River Saone carries some commercial traffic – for example, making the south-north passage from Lyon (and the Mediterranean) to the Rhine and locally, moving grain, limestone aggregate and cement – you will probably not be unduly affected except towards to Lyon where its intensity is more noticeable. Large push-tows go up as far as the ‘europort’ harbour at Pagny above Seurre. Larger ships/barges go as far as the commercial harbour below Macon town, sometimes up to Chalon. You may possibly meet even larger container vessels near Lyon and there is now a dedicated VHF frequency – Ch.18 – for Lyon and environs – the many bridges are, of course, the trickiest ‘pinch points’. Normally, commercial traffic uses Ch.10 and a listening watch on that channel can provide useful warnings. There are a number of places to refuel alongside the river itself, as well as various service stations nearby. And, in addition to the various places detailed below, there are many other places to moor, although the river is shallow in some places, alongside some banks. The upper reaches, above Saint-Jean, feature occasional fallen trees and branches – on the banks and in the river itself. One can see some branches floating on the surfaces; there are also waterlogged ones just below. Keeping a good look-out is a good idea.

See also general notes (foot of page).

Basic Information

  • Above Saint-Jean – minimum depth 1.8m, headroom 3.5m, width 5.1m. These increase significantly below Saint-Jean. Navigating the river should not present any difficulties to normal pleasure craft and it is one of the recommended routes from the Channel to the Mediterranean.
  • In general, in season, ecluse opening hours are from 06:00 to 21:00. The two ecluses between Saint-Jean and the Marne a la Saone canal open later at 09:00, close between 12:30 and 13:30, and close at 19:00. These two ecluses operate via a ‘perche’ (twist the pole hanging above the river); the others are all manned – lifejackets must be worn.
  • Using a pilot-guide book is strongly recommended: Breil Guides or Fluviacarte (Navicarte) Guides.

PK255 Heuilley

Heuilley, River Saone

Ecluse controlled by perches. First lock, heading south, after the Canal Marne a la Saone.

PK251 Pontailler

Pontailler, River Saone

The PdP is through a bridge (adequate headroom, but check) and into a side channel where there is a waiting pontoon, then a marina basin. Capitainerie (03 85 47 43 50) with showers etc. Alternatively, there is a long stretch of quayside on the river itself. Nice village, Atac supermarket is through the village centre, then turn right.

PK233 Auxonne

A new Port de Plaisance opened in June 2011, operated by H2O (of St Jean de Losne). The port offers 150 places on finger pontoons. Also, a range of newish pontoons (03 80 31 18 44) with water and electricity, just above the bridge. Or moor up in the ‘traditional’ place – the tree-shaded quayside between the bridge and the exit from the by-pass canal, by the barrage.

PK230 Ecluse at the end of the canal – perches.

PK219 Saint-Symphorien – the Canal Rhone au Rhin.

PdP immediately beyond the access ecluse from the Saone. Also an over-wintering destination with repair facilities.

PK215 Saint-Jean-de-Losne

St Jean de Losne, River Saone

[Pron. “Lone”] One of France’s leading inland waterways centres, on the River Saone and at the end of the Canal de Bourgogne. All services and facilities are available:

  • Mooring on the river quayside, water and electricity (arrange at one of the cafes alongside). The quay edge is quite low to the water.
  • The Gare d’Eau (a large harbour) lies off the river, adjacent the Bourgogne ecluse. Within the basin there are three potential moorings, divided by small islands: firstly Blanquart’s pontoons immediately on the left, then H2O’s pontoons in the central section, then le Boat’s hire boat basin in the furthermost. There is a signed route to follow around the harbour basin. Blanquart (speak to David Blanquart 03 80 29 11 06) is often reckoned the ‘best’ and has the best security but is also often full; H2O (speak to the capitainerie 03 80 39 08 08) is the most popular and the largest; le Boat‘s pontoon is the least hemmed-in but is not available at weekends or ‘change-over’ days when it is full of returning hire boats (speak to Nicole Gilles 03 80 27 03 50).
  • In addition to the quay and the Gare d’Eau, tree-lined bank-side mooring is possible a short way along the Canal du Bourgogne at Saint-Usage. Private peniches can berth at the ‘Old Lock’ PK211 by arrangement with H2O.
  • Saint-Jean is a popular over-wintering place with a lively and sociable international community.
  • Both Blanquart and H2O have excellent chandleries.
  • There are three boatyards for repairs and maintenance, located around the Bourgogne basin above the ecluse. H2O is on the west side. Blanquart to the north and Atelier Fluvial immediately by the lock-keeper’s house. H2O and Blanquart can lift out for work to be done ‘on the hard’. Atelier Fluvial (03 80 27 03 00 – Nathalie Delorme or Phillippe Gerbet) is a professional (commercial and private) peniche yard, with a large dry dock. In addition, Atelier Fluvial has another repair yard on the river upstream from the quays, with a sideways ramped haul-out.
  • Fuel barge by the canal junction.
  • Shops in the village including Casino supermarket. Intermarche, Bricomarche and a building materials yard (all excellent) a short distance at Saint-Usage. Bars and restaurants including the authentically tatty and very friendly PMU bar opposite the cannon-strewn monument to Saint-Jean’s brave defenders of 1636. Pastis (Ricard) is the drink.
  • Railway station about 1km away westwards along the river, safe parking, regular trains to Dijon (thence very fast TGV trains to Paris).

PK187 Seurre

Seurre, River Saone

A lovely riverside village with a number of possible mooring places. Pontoons by the island (above), nearer the ecluse and in a basin off the river itself; all good. Excellent showers in the marina capitainerie (03 80 20 31 05).

It is possible to cruise 10km along the by-passed river from Seurre and moor at Le Chatelet(03 80 79 02 03) – there are a couple of areas of shallows to be avoided on the way. Between Seurre and Saint-Jean there is a large new commercial harbour half-way along the Pagny by-pass canal.

PK167 Verdun-sur-le-Doubs

Verdun sur le Doubs, River Saone

Another lovely riverside village, just off the Saone on the River Doubs (which is fearsome in winter spate, otherwise benign). Limited pontoon space (03 85 91 85 06), with water and electricity.
(The old Saone ecluse above the village has lots of ‘no entry’ ‘no mooring’ signs. Pity.)

It is quite possible to cruise up the Doubs for 14km to Navilly; good depth and width but no bank-side moorings possible, apparently.

PK159 Gergy

Gergy, River Saone

Halte by a cafe/restaurant and 3-star camp-site (03 85 98 12 90)

PK142 Chalon-sur-Saone

Chalon sur Saone, River Saone

At PK145 the Canal du Centre and at PK144 a commercial peniche repair yard able to haul (slide) out sideways and repair the biggest barges. Opposite, the sailing club basin does not welcome visiting plaisanciers.

Chalon-sur-Saone is a great small city, with plenty to see and do, including fast rail links. It was the birthplace of photography – the Brothers Niepce museum by the river is thoroughly recommended. It marked the boundary between Occupied and Vichy France during WWII.

The PdP is more like a marina, with lots of boats and pontoons as well as showers, etc. From the river one must approach from the south side of the island that it is to one side of (and leave to the north) . Excellent big supermarket and brico very near the PdP. It is deservedly popular – we have been turned away ‘full’ – so phone ahead (03 85 48 83 38) and/or get there before mid-afternoon. Fuel and a lift-out crane, both of which have an expensive reputation. This is not a cheap stay, but it is a convenient one. It is also possible to moor on the city quayside, above the Saint-Laurent bridge, north bank. Other river moorings are reserved for the cruise ships that dock here each day – don’t chance your arm!

PK123 Gigny

Gigny, River Saone

[pron. “Jinyee”] A disused ecluse and a really good place. We got turned away at Chalon and had to come on to Gigny(03 85 44 76 84), which turned out to be absolutely delightful. Very small supermarket not far, boulangerie lady turns up every morning at 8:30. Nice guy managing the port – been there 15yrs. Great dog-walking along the river bank. We stayed for days . . .

PK112 Tournus

Tournus, River Saone

An ancient town, the abbey of St Philibert was founded in AD1000 and is well worth a visit. A long stretch of pontoons by the river, water and electricity.

PK106 La Seille -Junction

The River Seille is navigable (1.5m depth) for 39km from its junction with the Saone, through Cuisery to Louhans (picture). Four ecluses, including the access lock at the Saone (03 85 51 06 21), very little rise, quiet and peaceful.
Moorings at PK1 La Truchere, PK13 Cuisery, PK35 Branges and PK38 Louhans.

PK97 Canal de Pont-de-Vaux – Junction

Pont de Vaux
has an excellent modern PdP (above) (03 85 30 99 10) located 4km along a side canal (depth 1.2m). Highly recommended to us by friends who over-wintered there. At PK97 there is also a river pontoon but we are unsure as to available depth.

PK90 Asnieres

A good pontoon, with water (03 85 36 16 04) but depth limited to 1.2m.
At PK87 Vesines another, less attractive and just 1m depth.

PK80 Macon

Macon, River Saone

Macon is a fine and historic town with a number of potential mooring places. At PK83 is the marina basin (Macon marina/port de plaisance website), off the river and a little distant from the town centre, but in a pleasant parkland setting and with fuel. Macon marina (port de plaisance) has recently (2013) been significantly enlarged and modernised.

At PK81 just by the St Laurent bridge (see above) on the island, a nice little pontoon. But beware of the shallows that lie immediately to the north; they’re clearly marked in the chart-guides. On the opposite (town) bank, PK80, good new pontoons with water and electricity. Do not moor at the cruise ship pontoon!

PK73 Creches-sur-Saone

Good pontoons at Port d’Arciat, a camping site. All facilities, including access to a watersports lake. 03 85 37 48 32
PK66 Saint-Romain – a small Halte for smaller boats
PK63 Thoissey – Halte, shallow draft boats only

PK55 Belleville

In the middle of the Beaujolais terroir, a good new Halte (04 74 66 44 67), water and electricity. Large village 0.5km nearby.

PK52 Montmerle-sur-Saone

Montmerle, River Saone

One of our favourite places. Halte by the village square, small supermarket. Perfect. Approaching the adjacent bridge, when heading downstream (i.e on the west side), keep well over away from the bank – there is a shallow spit that extends beyond the two red port-hand marker poles.

PK43 Beauregard – a small Halte for small craft only

PK40 Villefranche/Jassans – (left) above the Pont de Frans, new pontoon with electricity, but we understand, no water. PK35 Saint-Bernard– (right) new pontoon.

PK31 Trevoux

Trevoux, River Saone

Historic and very pretty, Trevoux was once capital of its own small principality of the Dombes. Good moorings by the campsite, grass, trees, walks along the river.

PK22 St-Germain-au-Mont-d’Or

There are three items of interest along this wide stretch of the river.
(east bank) NauticAuto – boat repair yard with fuel barge.
PK22 (west bank) (pic left) – large PdP and yard, no fuel
(west bank) – good (public) pontoon below an imposing restaurant(?) and the other side of the bridge at
PK20 Neuville-sur-Saone
– town quayside

PK18 Couzon

Just below the ecluse, east bank, a quay very close to a service station and convenience store. Opposite a stretch of private moorings on the west bank.
PK12.5 Collonges
– good small pontoon between piles, west bank. The famous five-star Paul Bocuse restaurant is close by.

PK9-PK0 Lyon – VHF Ch.18

Lyon, River Saone

Lyon is France’s second city; fine buildings, old buildings, public squares and a long history dating back before the Roman city, which was itself very important. We thoroughly recommend the walking tour of Fourviere (as in almost every French city, town or village, go to the Tourist Office) that includes visiting the ‘secret’ houses, their courts and passages. Also the modern and completely engrossing archeological museum near the Fourviere basilica (dominating the skyline in the top pic).

Visiting by boat is an equally memorable experience. From the river perspective, the city falls into three sections. Firstly, the Mont d’Or northern approach, roughly up to PK9: the picturesque Ile Barbe (where there is a disused lock, supposedly offering mooring but always full when we have gone past).
Secondly, the city itself, 5km of the river filled with twists and turns, many bridges and almost continuous public quaysides. Keep a visual (and VHF Ch,18 listening) watch for large commercial vessels and cruise ships, especially approaching the bridges. Plenty of mooring possibilities (left pic), but selecting a location that is completely ‘safe’ might be a problem. We have never stayed overnight; people have, without difficulty, but we’d be loathe to leave the boat unattended. Maybe we’re over-cautious.
Thirdly, the 2km southern tip – La Perrache. Formerly a huge railway depot it is now being comprehensively redeveloped as ‘Lyon Confluence‘.

n excellent new Halte Fluviale opened at Perrache (partially, in advance of full completion in 2012/13) in May 2011. It has moorings for 20 boats, for a maximum stay of 4 days and a maximum length of 12m. Closed from October to April. The capitainerie (08:00 to 21:00, 7 days), although in temporary accommodation, has all facilities and also controls the passarelle (footbridge) at the entrance. Hoot to request opening or you may be able to pass underneath if 2.75m air-height or less. Capitainerie also VHF Ch.18 and telephone 06 89 99 45 11

There are bars and restaurants nearby and a Lidl supermarket. Also near a tram stop with direct routes through to Lyon-Part-Dieu mainline railway station and with a tram route from there direct to Lyon Saint-Exupéry airport (BA, Easyjet).

Many peniches and boats also berth along the river here; there is an excellent fuel barge at PK1.5 (extreme left in the photo above), with a chandlery (looked expensive) and capitainerie. The small pontooned Halte at PK2 looks permanently full. At PK0 the river (la Saone) joins le Rhone. Just beyond the tip of land, west bank, there is a disused lock now used for occasional water sports. It is has always looked empty and accessible and might make a brief or emergency mooring. There is also a pontoon opposite, a little further downstream, east bank, but we have never been close enough to see any detail; it may be tour boat only.