Information about the 184km long Rhine in France

Rhine location map France

The Rhine has its sources in the Swiss Alps southwest of Chur. Passing through Lake Constance, it retains its alpine character along the Swiss-German border down to the Basle region, where navigation begins at Rheinfelden. Just below the busy inland port of Basle the river leaves Switzerland and forms the French-German border over a distance of 184km, down to Lauterbourg. The Rhine then runs north and northwest through Germany and the Netherlands to discharge into the North Sea, 1320km from its source. The Upper Rhine (from Basle down to Bingen in Germany) has always been a difficult and often a dangerous river to navigate. Large-scale channel improvements were carried out between 1840 and 1860, but they had the effect of increasing the current speed and bed erosion. A meandering channel formed within the corrected 250m-wide bed and rocky bars were gradually exposed, the most notorious being at Istein near Kembs. Further works were required, to fix the channel by means of transverse groynes, but Basle was still only accessible to 600-tonne barges under favourable conditions. A more effective solution for navigation was already being envisaged before the 1914-1918 war. This was the construction of a canal stretching down the left bank from Basle to Strasbourg, the Grand Canal d’Alsace, designed as a series of hydroelectric power schemes, with benefits for agriculture as well as navigation. France was authorised to undertake the project under the the Treaty of Versailles and the works were conceded to Electricité de France. The first section of the canal, avoiding the Istein bar, was opened in 1932. By 1956 three further schemes had been completed. The project was then modified under a new agreement between the French and German governments, to limit the serious environmental impact on the Rhine itself. Subsequent schemes took the form of diversion canals of varying length, with a dam on the Rhine and power station and locks towards the downstream end of the canal. In the 1970s two further schemes were completed downstream of Strasbourg. As a result, the Rhine is canalised almost throughout its course on the French border.

Distances on the river are counted from the Rheinbrücke at Constance (under international agreement). The distance table here covers the section of the river shared by France between PK 168.5 and PK 352.1. The right-hand column gives distances working upstream from the French-German border at Lauterbourg. The Grand Canal d’Alsace extends over a distance of 53km, from PK 173.6 to km 226.6.

There are connections with the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, Niffer branch, at Niffer (PK 185), with the Canal de Colmar (formerly a branch of the Canal du Rhône au Rhin) at PK 226, with the Canal du Rhône au Rhin, northern branch at PK 257.9 and with the Canal de la Marne au Rhin at Strasbourg (PK 291 or 295, see plan).Rhin region map

History – Canalisation of the Rhine for hydropower and navigation was authorised under the Treaty of Versailles in 1919 for the exclusive benefit of France. The twin Kembs locks, built in the 1930s, were 182.50 by 25 m and 100 by 25m. After World War II, construction of the Grand Canal d’Alsace continued, until pressure from Germany, supported by environmental studies, called for a change in design. Subsequent schemes, with locks 185 by 12m and 185 by 23m (later widened to 24 m), were built on diversion canals. Below Strasbourg, the locks built in the 1970s at Gambsheim (on the French side) and Iffezheim (on the German side) each have two identical chambers 270m by 24 m.

Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Beam: 12m
  • Max Height: 7m
  • Max Draught: 2.70m


The Rhine is a challenging fast-flowing river from the German border up to Iffezheim lock. The winding channel, the ferries, the current and the incessant traffic all require constant attention. From Iffezheim upstream to Basle the dams and locks make the river easy to navigate, but it is forbidden to hire boats. Fast currents will also be encountered on the approach to the Swiss border and the port of Basle. The blue flag protocol applies on the Rhine, allowing craft to pass starboard to starboard instead of port to port, so that upstream craft can choose the inside of bends where the current is not so strong. Smaller craft do not display a blue flag, but should of course be out of the main channel and attentive to what may be incorrectly interpreted as erratic zigzagging by commercial traffic.

Locks – There are 10 locks, all built as part of important hydroelectric power schemes. The first four are on the Grand Canal d’Alsace, the remaining six on diversion canals. Each lock comprises two chambers side by side, one 185 by 24m, the other 185 by 12m. In view of the heavier traffic downstream of the busy port of Strasbourg (12 million tonnes per year), the two locks added in the 1970s and early 1980s, at Gambsheim and Iffezheim, each have two 270 by 24m chambers.

Draught – There is a guaranteed draught of 3.00m between Huningue and the downstream end of the Grand Canal d’Alsace. On the canalised river the available draught at the normal stage of the river is 2.70m down to Strasbourg and 2.90m between Strasbourg and Lauterbourg.

Gambsheim Lock Rhine
Gambsheim Locks, on the Rhine, the busiest in France. © Jean Marx/MRW-Zeppeline Alsace/doc VNF

Headroom – All the fixed bridges offer a clear headroom of 7.00m above the highest navigable water level between Basle and Strasbourg, 9.10m between Strasbourg and Lauterbourg.

Authority – VNF – Direction interrégionale de Strasbourg
–    60 rue du Grillenbreit, BP 40545, 68021 Colmar (PK 168-258)
–    2, route de l’Ill, BP 19, 67761 Gambsheim cedex (PK 258-352)

Click to enlarge

Rhine Waterway map

Route description, north to south

PK 352.1     Mouth of Vieille-Lauter l/b, French-German border
PK 349.2     Lauterbourg industrial harbour l/b, restaurant, village 2000m
PK 344.0     Munchhausen 700m l/b, access by river Sauer
PK 341.6     Entrance to gravel basins l/b
PK 340.4     Seltz pendulum ferry, village 2500m l/b
PK 339.0     Entrance to gravel basin, l/b
PK 335.7     Road bridge (formerly railway), Beinheim-Wintersdorf
PK 335.5     Beinheim port de plaisance  l/b (Cercle Nautique Alsace du Nord), 15 visitors’ berths, night €14, water, electricity, showers, slipway, restaurant on barge, village 3500m
PK 334.5     Confluence of Moder, l/b
PK 334.0     Iffezheim locks (lift 10.30m), VHF 18, and power station, r/b, dam l/b, bridge
PK 326.9     Fort-Louis 1000m l/b (gravel basins u/s and d/s)
PK 321.3     Greffern gravel loading basin and boat club moorings, r/b
PK 319.8     Entrance to gravel loading basin, l/b
PK 318.3     Drusenheim ferry, village 1500m l/b
PK 317.6     Entrance to basin, l/b
PK 317.3     Entrance to gravel loading basin, r/b
PK 313.7     Offendorf gravel loading basin l/b, private port de plaisance, 200 berths, night €18, water, electricity, showers, slipway, clubhouse in season
PK 311.7     Entrance to diversion canal, l/b
PK 308.8     Gambsheim locks (lift 10.35m), VHF 20, and hydropower plant, bridge (cross-border road)
PK 307.2     End of diversion canal, navigation re-enters Rhine
PK 303.3     Entrance to gravel loading basin r/b
PK 297.7     Entrance to port of Kehl, r/b
PK 295.6     Junction with northern entrance to port of Strasbourg and Canal de la Marne au Rhin, l/b
PK 293.7     Railway bridge, Kehl boat club harbour d/s r/b
PK 293.5     Bridge (Pont de l’Europe, Strasbourg-Kehl)
PK 293.0     Footbridge (Deux Rives)
PK 291.4     Entrance to diversion canal, junction with southern entrance to port of Strasbourg and Canal du Rhône au Rhin l/b, port de plaisance (Ruhlmann), 50 berths, night €15, water,  electricity, crane on request, slipway, repairs
PK 290.6     Basin 1 (Auguste Detœuf)Jonction Plan Strasbourg Rhine
PK 289.8     Basin 2 (Gaston Haelling)
PK 289.1     Basin 3 (Adrien Weirich)
PK 288.3     Port of Strasbourg, basin 4, l/b
PK 287.4     Strasbourg locks (lift 10.80m), VHF 22, and hydropower plant, bridge
PK 283.1     End of diversion canal, navigation re-enters Rhine
PK 283.0     Main road bridge (Pierre Pflimlin), N353
PK 282.5     Plobsheim compensating basin (used for water sports) l/b
PK 276.6     Entrance to gravel loading basin r/b
PK 274.1     Entrance to diversion canal, l/b
PK 272.2     Gerstheim locks (lift 10.98m) VHF 20, and power station, bridge
PK 267.5     End of diversion canal, navigation re-enters Rhine
PK 261.0     Rhinau ferry, village 800m l/b
PK 260.1     Entrance to diversion canal, l/b
PK 257.9     Junction with link canal to Canal du Rhône au Rhin, l/b
PK 256.2     Rhinau-Sundhouse locks (lift 12.30m) VHF 22, and power station, bridge
PK 248.2     End of diversion canal, navigation re-enters Rhine
PK 242.5     Entrance to diversion canal, l/b
PK 239.9     Marckolsheim locks (lift 13.80m), VHF 20, and power station, bridge
PK 234.3     End of diversion canal, navigation re-enters Rhine
PK 230.8     Industrial quay (Kaysersberg) l/b
PK 228.6     Industrial quay (Rhenalu) l/b
PK 226.6     Entrance to Grand Canal d’Alsace, l/b
PK 225.9     Biesheim port de plaisance on Rhine l/b (access from end of diversion, next line), night €14, 220 berths, fuel, water, electricity, showers, crane 28t, slipway, repairs
PK 226.3     Junction with Canal de Neuf-Brisach (canal du Rhône au Rhin), l/b
PK 225.8     Port of Colmar-Neuf-Brisach l/b
PK 224.5     Vogelgrün locks (lift 11.80m) VHF 22, and power station, bridge
PK 210.5     Fessenheim locks (lift 15.10m) VHF 20, and power station, bridge
PK 209.6     Fessenheim nuclear power plant
PK 199.6     Chalampé l/b
PK 199.3     Railway and road bridge (Neuenburg-Chalampé)
PK 199.0     Industrial quay (Rhône-Poulenc) l/b
PK 197.0     Industrial quays l/b
PK 196.0     Port of Mulhouse-Ottmarsheim l/b
PK 194.3     Motorway bridge (A36)
PK 193.7     Ottmarsheim locks (lift 14.70m) VHF 22, and power station, bridge
PK 191.9     Turning basin (Hombourg), 600 x 200m
PK 185.4     Junction with Canal du Rhône au Rhin, embranchement de Niffer , l/b
PK 181.0     Gravel loading quay r/b
PK 180.5     Gravel loading quay l/b
PK 179.8     Overhead power transmission lines
PK 179.1     Kembs locks (lift 13,20m) VHF 20, and power station, bridge
PK 173.7     End of Grand Canal d’Alsace, Kembs dam r/b, navigation re-enters Rhine
PK 171.3     Bridge (Palmrain), industrial quay d/s l/b
PK 170.2     Footbridge (Trois Pays)
PK 170.0     French-German border r/b
PK 169.9     Port of Basel, Kleinhüningen basin, r/b
PK 169.7     Entrance to former Huningue branch of Canal du Rhône au Rhin, l/b (navigable 2km to port de plaisance at Kembs), Huningue quay and small town l/b
PK 169.2     Mouth of Wiese river, r/b
PK 168.5     French-Swiss border l/b (Basel centre 2000m u/s)

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