Information about the 29.5km long Canal de Calais


The Canal de Calais is 29.5km long from the canal lock in the port of Calais to its junction with the river Aa at Le West. It has three branches, extending to the small towns of Guînes (6.2km), Ardres (4.8km) and Audruicq (2.4km), lying on the edge of the Flanders plain. The canal is still regularly used by commercial traffic, and has been upgraded throughout to accommodate 600-tonne barges. The works, completed in the 1990s, included the reconstruction of Hennuin lock, demolition of the iron swing-bridge at the junction and the automation of lift-bridges. Despite these changes, the canal remains an attractive cruising waterway, but the situation on the branches leaves a lot to be desired. The lift bridges on the Guînes branch are disused, so that only the first 900 metres is accessible, while siltation limits the available draught on all three branches to about 1.00m.

Calais as entry port
Calais is the closest port to the UK (Dover or Ramsgate are the usual nearest departure ports) and an interesting town that tends to be bypassed by the vast numbers that transit through the functional terminals (car ferry and Eurotunnel) each year. For navigators it is a convenient point of entry into the French inland waterways network. The marina in the Bassin Ouest is entered through a sea-lock, which has waiting buoys outside. Call Port of Calais VHF #17 harbour control, e-mail to arrange for passage either into the marina or through the sea-lock and its lift bridges into the Bassin Carnot. From here it is right into the Bassin Arrière and through the canal lock into the Bassin de la Batellerie. This is possible approximately 1.5hrs either side of HW, which might guide the  planned passage time if you do not need to enter the marina (for example, for de-masting).


History – Started on its present line in the late 17th century, the canal was opened some 50 years later, and the ‘pont sans pareil’, a four-branched bridge at the cross-roads of 4 canals, completed in 1758. The canal was enlarged for Class II Campinois and ‘Canal du Nord’ craft in the 1980s over two thirds of its length. Larger craft are still blocked by the Freycinet tidal lock in the port of Calais.

Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Beam: 8m
  • Max Height: 3.17m
  • Max Draught: 2.20m

Local Waterway Links


There are mooring pontoons near the VNF office at 45 quai de la Meuse (☎ 03 21 34 03 49). This may be a useful to purchase a vignette, although this is now much easier on-line. VNF will also arrange for a travelling bridge-keeper to open the six lifting bridges on the canal out of Calais.

Locks – The canal lock in Calais is part of the port of Calais. On the inland waterway there is only one lock, situated at Hennuin, with a rise of about 1m in the direction of the river Aa. The former 38m lock here was replaced by a modern lock for high-capacity barges, 92.00m long and 8.00m wide.

Draught The maximum authorised draught has been increased to 2.20m on the main route. The branches have silted up and offer a reduced depth of 1.00.

Headroom All the fixed bridges on the main line leave a minimum headroom of 3.17m above the highest navigable water level (3.47m above normal level). The corresponding dimensions for the branches are respectively: Audruicq 3.40/3.70m, Ardres 2.80/3.10m and Guînes 3.10/3.40m. It must also be noted that vessels exceeding 28m in length cannot enter the branch to Ardres on account of the difficulty in turning under the Sans-Pareil bridge at the junction with the main line.
The corresponding dimensions for the branches are of academic interest only, since none of them is maintained for navigation. They are respectively (above normal water level): Guînes 3.40m, Ardres 3.10m and Audruicq 3.70m. Vessels exceeding 28m in length could not enter the branch to Ardres on account of the difficulty in turning under the Sans-Pareil bridge at the junction.

Towpath There is a metalled towpath throughout.

Authority VNF – Direction territoriale Nord – Pas de Calais – Terre-plein de l’Écluse du Jeu de Mail – BP 1008 – 59375 Dunkerque ☎03 28 58 71 10

Click to enlarge

Route description

PK 29.8     Lock, VHF 10, and bridge, access to inner basin of port of Calais-Bassin Ouest (2400m to English Channel), night €28, fuel, water, electricity, shower, repairs, restaurant
PK 29.5     Bridge (Pont Mollien) and railway bridge, limit of inland waterway, moorings d/s
PK 29.3     Calais public quay r/b, water
PK 29.0     Footbridge (Vic)
PK 28.9     Automatic lift bridge (Vic), two separate decks
PK 28.4     Bridge (Saint-Pierre)
PK 27.7     Automatic lift bridge (Curie), footbridge
PK 27.4     Railway bridge


PK 27.2     Motorway bridge (A16, Calais bypass)
PK 26.8     Industrial quays
PK 26.2     Coulogne automatic lift bridge, footbridge

The lift-bridge at Hennuin, and canal landscape near Ruminghem. © Jean-Marc GFP
The lift-bridge at Hennuin, and canal landscape near Ruminghem. © Jean-Marc GFP

This branch to the village of Guînes has to be explored by the towpath. It runs close to where the Field of the Cloth of Gold meeting between King Henry VIII and François I happened in 1520

PK 25.6     Junction with embranchement de Guînes, l/b
PK 24.5     Bridge (Pont de Briques)
PK 22.4     Turning basin
PK 21.1     Les Attaques automatic lift bridge, quay u/s r/b
PK 18.1     Le Pont d’Ardres bridge (Sans-Pareil), junction with embranchement de Ardres, l/b, quay d/s r/b
PK 17.2     Sugar mill, pipeline crossings and quay, l/b
PK 15.9     Motorway bridge (A26)
PK 10.8     Fort-Bâtard bridge, quay u/s r/b
PK 8.1     Junction with embranchement de Audruicq, l/b

After 15km of open fenland countryside, approaching Hennuin, announce your arrival on VHF 18: the lock-keeper will first open the bridge, then continue to operate the lock.

PK 6.6     Hennuin lift bridge, automatic, quay d/s l/b, small village

Village quayside mooring (the lock-keeper should be told if it is intended to stop here)
PK 6.0     New lock (Hennuin), VHF 18/22, water
PK 2.1     Ruminghem bridge. quay u/s l/b, village 1200 l/b
PK 0.0     Junction with river Aa (PK 13.7)

The junction is near the village of Watten. Turn left (north) towards Gravelines and the Canal de Bourbourg to the pleasant village of Bourbourg and on to Dunkerque. Turn right (south-east) to head along the Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut wide Grand Gabarit route towards Douai, Paris and the Mediterranean.The three branches are listed hereafter for reference, and for possible exploration on foot or by bicycle. They are all heavily silted, and VNF does not allow navigation.

Guînes branch
PK 0.0     Terminal basin (filled in)
PK 1.1    Lift bridge (Planche-Tournoire)
Current limit of navigation in shallow-draught boats, as none of the lift-bridges are operated.

PK 1.2     Turning basin
PK 2.4     Lift bridge (Banc-Valois)
PK 4.1     Lift bridge (Écluse Carrée)
PK 5.1     Lift bridge (Planche-Tournoire), current limit of navigation
PK 6.2     Junction with Canal de Calais (PK 25.6), railway bridge

Ardres branch
PK 0.0     Ardres quay, canal ends in cul-de-sac, town 500m
PK 1.0     Swinging footbridge (Brêmes), disused, limit of navigation
PK 1.2     Brick works and quay l/b
PK 4.7     Railway and road bridges
PK 4.8     Junction with Canal de Calais (PK 18.1) at Sans- Pareil bridge

Audruicq branch
PK 0.0     Audruicq canal basin, limit of navigation, town centre 500m
PK 1.2     Bridge (Pont Rouge)
PK 2.4     Junction with Canal de Calais (PK 8.1)