Information about the 138km navigable long river Loire


The Loire, the longest river in France, was formerly navigated upstream as far as La Noirie, level with Saint-Étienne, 880km from the sea, but its extreme flow regime makes it the least navigable of all France’s major rivers. The flow is relatively small throughout much of the year and wanders about over a wide bed. In many reaches the depth drops to no more than 25cm. During floods, the river rises rapidly, and the fast current makes navigation dangerous as soon as depths of about 2m have been reached. Thus all navigation has long ceased on the upper and middle courses of the river, except at two places where the water is held back by weirs: at Roanne there is access to a short navigable length of the river from the Canal de Roanne à Digoin, but the link is used only for water supply and no longer for navigation, while at Decize the river is navigable for 1.7km from the Decize branch of the Canal latéral à la Loire to the Canal du Nivernais. This important link is included in the distance table.

The river becomes fully navigable (with reservations, see below) at its confluence with the river Maine at Bouchemaine. It thus links the Maine and its navigable tributaries (Mayenne, Oudon and Sarthe) to the Canal de Nantes à Brest in Nantes, a distance of 84km. The total distance from the confluence at Bouchemaine to the sea at Saint-Nazaire is 138km. The inland waterway ends at the port of Nantes. From here the Loire estuary is a maritime waterway, but for convenience the distance table is continued down to Saint-Nazaire. The following indications apply only to the inland waterway section, and for navigation in the estuary reference should be made to nautical publications.Loire-reg

History – In 1700 the port of Nantes numbered more inland waterway craft than any other port in France. This statistic alone testifies to the historic importance of navigation on France’s longest river. Shallow-draught gabares and other river craft continued to transport goods into the industrial era, including coal from Saint-Étienne loaded on to barges in Orléans. However, the hazardous free-flow navigation and limited tonnages meant that railways rapidly killed off the surviving traffic from the 1850s. In 1894 a company was set up to promote improvements to the navigation from Nantes to Briare. The works were authorised in 1904 and carried out in two phases from Angers to the limit of tides at Oudon. These works, with groynes and submersible embankments, survive and contribute to the limited navigability under present-day conditions. Some politicians continued to promote canalisation of the Loire until the 1960s.

Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Height: 4.50m
  • Max Draught: 1.50m


Draught – From Bouchemaine to Nantes a channel 100 to 150m wide is fixed by means of submersible dykes and groynes. The channel is marked by buoys, red on the left-bank side and black on the right-bank side. At low water the navigable channel is marked by 4.50m high stakes driven into the sand, those on the left-bank side having their tops partly broken and hanging down. In principle a depth of 1.50m is maintained at medium low water, but there may be marked variations, with as little as 0.35m over certain sills in the channel at exceptional low water levels. Spring tides may be felt as far upstream as Champtoceaux. In low water periods enquiries should be made at the VNF office (address below) before making the passage. Use of a detailed guide is recommended.

Headroom – The bridges on the inland waterway section leave a minimum headroom of 4.50m above the highest navigable water level (7.00m above the mean water level).
Towpath None historically, but a cycle route has been laid out along the river, and has become a popular cycling itinerary.

Authority – VNF – Direction régionale de Nantes
– 2 rue Marcel Sembat, 44100 Nantes (PK 0-87).
Port Autonome de Nantes – Saint-Nazaire
– 18 quai Ernest Renaud, 44186 Nantes Cedex 4 (PK 87-138).

Click to enlarge

Route description, east to west

Link between Canal latéral à la Loire
(embranchement de Decize) and Canal du Nivernais
PK 0.0     Junction with Canal latéral à la Loire (embranchement de Decize), l/b
PK 0.5     Decize bridge, town r/b
PK 1.4     Quay r/b, additional quay with bollards on the river Aron 100 m from the confluence
PK 1.7     Junction with Canal du Nivernais, r/b (see plan under Canal du Nivernais)

From Bouchemaine to the sea
PK 0.0     Confluence of Maine, r/b
PK 0.4     La Pointe Bouchemaine r/b, pontoons, water, slipway
PK 4.6     Béhuard r/b (on island)
PK 5.1     Bridge (Savennières)
PK 7.8     La Poissonnière quay r/b, village 400m r/b
PK 10.9     Railway bridge (Alleud)
PK 11.3     River divides, navigation in l/b arm
PK 14.6     Chalonnes-sur-Loire bridge, quay u/s l/b
PK 22.6     Bridge
PK 23.6     Montjean-sur-Loire suspension bridge (D15), quay d/s l/b, village l/b
PK 28.1     Ingrandes suspension bridge, quay for 10 boats u/s r/b, night €1, water, village r/b
PK 36.9     Saint-Florent-le-Vieil bridge (l/b arm), quay for 4 boats u/s l/b, water, electricity, slipway
PK 49.6     Ancenis suspension bridge, quay for 12 boats u/s r/b, water, slipway, small town and château, r/b
PK 56.1     Champtoceaux, mooring in backwater l/b, village 800m
PK 57.9     Bridge (Pont de Champtoceaux)
PK 58.6     Oudon municipal harbour r/b (through railway bridge), 2 berths, night €6, water, electricity, shower, slipway, village 200m
PK 62.4     Le Cellier, floating pontoons for 3 boats, water, electricity, slipway, château de Clermont r/b
PK 67.8     Mauves-sur-Loire bridge, village 700m r/b
PK 69.0     La Chapelle-Basse-Mer (Port de la Pierre Percée) l/b, water, electricity, slipway
PK 73.2     Bridge (Thouaré)
PK 78.4     Bridge (Bellevue), N844 Nantes ring road
PK 82.0     River divides, La Madeleine arm r/b, Pirmil arm l/b

Madeleine arm
PK 82.4     Railway bridge (Pont de la Vendée)
PK 83.2     Projected bridge
PK 83.6     Railway bridge (Résal)
PK 83.7     Bridge (Willy Brandt)
PK 84.0     Junction with Canal de Nantes à Brest (canalised river Erdre), r/b
PK 84.3     Nantes bridge (Aristide Briand), town centre r/b
PK 84.9     Bridges (Général Audibert, tramway lines 2 & 3)
PK 85.3     Bridge (Haudaudine)
PK 85.8     Footbridge (Victor Schoelcher)
PK 86.1     Bridge (Anne-de-Bretagne), mooring d/s r/b
PK 87.3     Two arms meet

Pirmil arm
PK 82.4     Railway bridge (Pont de la Vendée)
PK 83.5     Bridge (Léopold Sédar Senghor)
PK 84.3     Nantes bridge (Georges Clemenceau), town centre 1700m r/b
PK 84.9     Bridges (Pirmil), tramway lines 2 & 3
PK 85.3     Confluence of Sèvre-Nantaise, l/b
PK 85.5     Railway bridge (Pornic), limit
PK 86.3     Bridge (Trois Continents)
PK 87.3     Two arms meet
PK 87.4     Port of Nantes, u/s limit
PK 87.7     Rezé (Port de Trentemoult) boat harbour l/b, first night free then €11-13, water, electricity, shower, slipway, restaurant
PK 90.3     Motorway bridge (Cheviré), N844 Nantes ring road
PK 93.0     Quay (Haute-Indre) r/b, d/s limit of port of Nantes
PK 95.0     Basse-Indre quay, village r/b, Indret quay l/b, ferry
PK 99.0     Couëron quay, first night free then €11-13, water, electricity, shower, slipway, restaurant, small town r/b
PK 101.0     Le Pellerin quay and village l/b, ferry
PK 103.5     La Martinière quay l/b (in entrance to former ship canal)
PK 114.0     Cordemaïs power station, coal unloading quay r/b
PK 125.0     Paimboeuf quay and small town l/b
PK 130.0     Donges port, r/b
PK 138.0     Saint-Nazaire suspension bridge (D213) limit of sea (port entrance a further 3km d/s)

Cruises, holidays and vacations on the Loire

River cruises France


With a complement of just 100-200 guests on board, river cruise ships (or ‘riverboats’) offer close, friendly and personal hospitality. Their modest size means that they can moor up right in the heart of France’s world-famous historic towns and cities and cruise sedately through the sunny heart of France itself. Eight, highly experienced, river cruise companies offer an extensive choice of river cruises on France’s four major rivers.