VHF Radios

Vessels longer than 20m on continental waterways are required by the CEVNI rules to carry two VHF radios, one to listen on Ch 10 for ship-ship traffic and one for the local canal/lock/bridge operations. Dual watch is not permitted.

Craft up to 20m may be required to carry a VHF radio depending on local regulations, for example through Paris and Lyon. Hand-held VHF radios (less than 6W, without DSC) can be used with no training or certificate.


ATIS VHF radioATIS is an acronym for Automatic Transmission Identification System and it means that when a VHF radio is used, the user can automatically be identified. In that respect it is similar (but not the same) as the MMSI number produced by DSC-enabled VHF sets. France, Germany, Holland and Belgium now require that ATIS be featured in any VHF transmission.

An ATIS number can be obtained on application to OFCOM (with the radio’s MMSI number) for a variation to a Ship’s Radio licence. The number is essentially the MMSI number, prefixed by 9. The radio then has to be modified. However, the UK currently does not allow ATIS to be used in UK waters, which rules out the use of an ATIS VHF there. See the Ofcom ATIS website.

See below for the similarly named, but different, AIS

Equipment Licence

VHF radios normally require a ‘Ship Station’ licence (i.e. for the ship). This will provide a Call Sign, MMSI number and ATIS number which are only applicable to one boat. The licence often specifies the type of radio equipment permitted – e.g. fixed or portable VHF and AIS transceivers.

This licence is normally issued by the radio authority in the country of the boat’s registration.

Operator’s Certificate

One person on the boat must have a personal ‘Operator’s Certificate’, having done a training course and passed a test. Others may use the VHF ‘under supervision’. In the UK a one-day RYA course will produce a certificate, valid in most countries.

France allows the use of hand-held radios with no certificate on boats less than 20m.

Use of VHF Inland

On 20m+ boats one radio should be on continual watch on Channel 10 for ship to ship navigational communications. The other radio would normally be used for communications with lock/bridge keepers or marinas on a designated channel for the waterway. Smaller boats must switch channels as necessary.

  • The radio must be in ATIS mode
  • Dual watch is not allowed and must be disabled. (CEVNI)
  • DSC operation is not allowed inland. (CEVNI)
  • Channel 77 should be used for social ship-to-ship chat.
  • Channel 16 is not used on inland waterways.

AIS – Automatic Identification System

AIS inland waterwaysATIS should not be confused with AIS – Automatic Identification System – which is an automatic tracking system used on ships and by vessel traffic services (VTS) for identifying and locating vessels by electronically exchanging data with other nearby ships and AIS Base stations.

Where ATIS transmits information only when a VHF call is made, AIS transmits/receives using GPS and VHF in real time and displays the result in a similar way as does marine radar. It is also used by some waterway and port authorities.

AIS transponders provide very accurate data on the navigation of nearby boats, including speed, course, vessel identification, size and sometimes, their destination. They can be linked to a chart plotter or computer screen. Of course, ‘seeing’ other vessels in the vicinity relies on their having their having an AIS installation and it being switched on. One cannot guarantee this.

There are two AIS classes

  • Class A is the EU standard for inland waterways as required in in an increasing number of areas for boats larger than 20m
  • Class B has a lower power and fewer features. It does not satisfy the legal requirement for AIS on larger boats but does much the same job at lower cost. Smaller boats might choose to use a receive-only unit, just to ‘see’ the bigger boats around them.

Equipment and Safety

These are the French regulations regarding boat equipment and safety.

Boat between 2.5m and 24m length

  • Ground tackle (anchor, chain and rode) adapted to the length of the boat
  • Two mooring lines of more than 5 metres, at least equal to the length of the boat
  • Two oars, or a paddle and an oar (boats under 8 metres)
  • A boat-hook
  • A horseshoe lifebuoy or life-ring
  • One lifejacket per person on-board (lifejackets must be worn on sports boats)
  • An air pump – inflatable boats
  • An ignition safety cut-off device – sports boats
  • One or more CE type approved fire extinguishers
  • A bailer (attached) – boats of 5 metres or less
  • A rigid 7 litre bucket – boats over 5 metres
  • A first aid kit (bandages, gauze, tape, topical antiseptic, etc.).

Boat over 24m length

  • Ground tackle (anchor, chain and rode)
  • Floating fenders
  • Three wire cables (100, 60 and 30 meters) or hawsers
  • Equipment required for visual and sound signals and the marking of vessels
  • Emergency lights (for signalling stationary grounded or sunken vessels)
  • A blue flag
  • Minimum 3 extinguishers (6kg) appropriate to risks
  • A rescue tarpaulin (can be subject to dispensation)
  • A passarelle (0.40m x 4m) with handrails
  • A boathook
  • Binoculars
  • A first aid kit
  • An axe
  • Two horse-shoe lifebuoys or life-rings
  • One container with lid for storing oily rags,
  • A man overboard notice
  • A megaphone
  • A boarding ladder (if freeboard is greater than 1.5m).
  • One EN395 type approved lifejacket per person on-board
  • An emergency dinghy

Wearing a lifejacket is obligatory whenever there is a serious risk of falling in, also at many large locks (for example on the Seine, Saône and Rhône).

The DBA Barge Association

Owners of barge-sized boats should consider joining the DBA, which is an active organisation providing advice and representing interests. http://www.barges.org/

Technical Requirements for Inland Waterways Vessels

The European Union’s Directive 2006/87/EC establishes harmonised conditions for issuing technical certificates for inland waterway vessels. It is aimed at increasing the safety of passengers and freight transport by inland waterway in Europe. The new certificate, delivered in compliance with the common requirements, is valid for navigation on all European inland waterways, including the Rhine (where applicable). This Directive operates as from 1st January 2007 and requires listed member states to enact appropriate legislation as from 1st January 2009. France is included in the list, as is Belgium and Holland. It concerns itself with pleasure boats longer than 20m or whose volume is 100 cu.m or greater, measuring overall length x maximum breadth x hull depth below the waterline (i.e excluding any keel).

CINC – The Community Inland Navigation Certificate

Pleasure craft of this size built during or before 2008 can –

  • Fully comply and receive a CINC Community Inland Navigation Certificate, enabling them to use all EU waterways. See Zones following.
  • Partially comply, in that any shortcoming do not “constitute a manifest danger” also receiving a CINC but one that a Qualification precludes them from using the River Rhine (Zone R).

A CINC was envisaged as being required sometime before January 2019 but member states can alter this, as Belgium has done, bringing the date for inspection and certification forward to January 2011 for craft constructed before 1912 and to January 2014 for others. Other states may follow suit. This development has caused a certain amount of consternation in Belgium because the authorities have refused to certify non-Belgian registered vessels and UK (for example) certifying bodies (e.g Lloyds) have been slow to gain acceptance. This is changing and, so far, no serious difficulties in achieving at least Qualified CINC certification have been reported.

The TRIWV Zones

Community waterways are classified into four different navigable zones. Depending on the zone, reduced or additional technical requirements may be applied by the Member States. The Directive also allows a number of derogations from the common rules, if justified by local navigation conditions. Following subsequent agreements in 2008, the new certificate is also valid for navigation on the stretches of the Rhine and the Danube outside EU territory.

French TWIWV Zones

Zone 2 [effectively, tidal/coastal waters]

  • River Dordogne – Downstream from the stone bridge at Libourne
  • River Garonne and Gironde Estuary – Downstream from the Pont de Pierre stone bridge at Bordeaux
  • River Loire – Downstream from the Haudaudine bridge on the Madeleine arm and downstream from the Pirmil bridge on the Pirmil arm.
  • River Rhône – Downstream of the Trinquetaille bridge in Arles and beyond towards Marseille
  • River Seine – Downstream of the Jeanne-d’Arc bridge in Rouen

Zone 3

  • River Rhine (in France, Holland and Germany; Germany’s Zone 3 waterways also include the Elbe and the Danube). The Rhine is in a special zone by itself, Zone R.

Zone 4

  • All other French waterways

For details of all of the above TRIWV aspects, refer to the EU Legislative Website

The CCNR Certificate

This is noted in the EU TRIWV legislation. The CCNR is the Rhine Navigation Commission and vessels travelling the Rhine must be certified accordingly, possibly with a specific CCNR inspection and certificate issued by an authorised body, or through an equivalent (approved) standard, now including the TRIWV.

Other EU Legislation applying to Pleasure Boating

Michael Clark has produced an excellent and seemingly exhaustive series of tables of legislative citations with links to the original EU documents (foot of the page). These are divided into:

  1. Introduction/Context
  2. Craft
  3. Crew
  4. Environmental
  5. Equipment
  6. General
  7. Infrastructure
  8. Taxation

As we have noted elsewhere, in many instances the practical impact of this legislation on ordinary plaisanciers travelling the lesser waterways is minimal to non-existent. Perhaps this will change, but like the situation with ATIS VHF, travelling more ‘commercial’ waterways, piloting boats longer than 15m, having passengers or guests aboard, etc. does demand taking these matters seriously and rightly so.