Information about the 143km long Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut

Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut location map France

The Dunkerque-Escaut waterway was completed in the late 1960s to provide a route for high-capacity barges between the busy North Sea port and the industrial towns of Denain and Valenciennes on the Escaut. The waterway (referred to by barge skippers simply as la liaison) extends over a distance of 143 km from Mardyck lock, linking with the basins of the port of Dunkirk, to its junction with the Escaut (conventionally considered to be at Pont-Malin lock, 500m from the actual junction). The large-scale waterway and its branch to Lille and the river Lys (Canal de la Deûle) incorporate a number of earlier canals, which were widened, realigned and linked by new cuts as necessary. The Mardyck diversion canal (PK 143-137) and Colme diversion canal (PK 136-127) were new cuts built for the high-capacity waterway. The detailed map distinguishes the various canals making up the through route, and also shows the numerous connections and branches.
The most important branch is the Canal de Lens, in a highly industrialised area. Since the upper sections were infilled for new roads and a motorway interchange, the canal no longer reaches the centre of Lens. It extends 8.6 km from its junction with the through route (PK 44) to its terminal basin east of Lens. Most of the industrial quays in this former coal-mining area are no longer in use, and the canal is much more attractive than in the past; it is also less polluted, following a programme of dredging works.
At the end of the waterway, the old line of the Canal de la Sensée is of interest. It extends over a distance of 3.7km starting from the main canal at PK 3.0 and connecting with the river Escaut. It includes the remarkable Bassin Rond, a tranquil canal basin which is wide enough to allow dinghy sailing and other water sports. The quay along the south side of the basin makes an ideal mooring.


Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut region map


The old canal through La Bassée offers another opportunity to escape into calmer waters, branching off from the main line at PK 58.6 and rejoining it at PK 61.0. The bypassed length of the old canal is 2.6km, and includes boat moorings conveniently located in the centre of this small town.

The Canal de Beuvry is another attractive branch canal, remarkably rural in character since coal mining ceased in the area. Originally 2.5km long, it could potentially be navigated from the junction with the main canal at PK 66.9 through to the culverted bridge at Beuvry, 200m short of the terminal basin, were it not for the lift bridge at PK 1.9, which is no longer in working order. This leaves a navigable length of 0.6km, which is well worth exploring, with a café conveniently located just beside the lift bridge at the end.

History – The liaison is made up of all or part of eight original canals. The common thread of their history was linking up the navigable rivers which flow north off the Artois plateau. The Canal de la Sensée (PK 0-23.6), linking the Escaut to the Scarpe, was completed in 1820 by a private company under a concession from the State. The Deûle and Lys were linked by the Canal d’Aire à La Bassée (PK 54-93), built under a concession in 1822-1825, with both economic and military functions. The Canal de Neuffossé (PK 93-112.6) was first built as a military ditch in 1046-54 under Count Baudouin of Lille. Vauban proposed in 1688 to enlarge it for navigation as well as improved defences, but works did not begin until 1753. The canal was completed in 1774. For notes on the other waterways included in the liaison – the Aa (PK 112.6-121), the Canal de la Colme (PK 121-127.1) and the Canal de Bourbourg (PK 136-137), see the separate entries for those waterways. In 2016, nearly 50 years after completion of the high-capacity waterway, an ambitious programme of enlargement works is now under way, as part of the overall Seine-Scheldt Waterway project, a priority transport infrastructure project for the EU. This means rebuilding 35 bridges to provide a headroom of 7.10 m, so that containers can be carried on three tiers. New, longer and slightly wider chambers will also eventually be built at each lock, but probably not for many years.

Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Beam: 12m
  • Max Height: 4.30m
  • Max Draught: 2.50m


Barge traffic is intense, and since some sections remain relatively narrow, particular care should be taken when meeting or overtaking the bigger barges which operate on the waterway. Advantage should be taken of the opportunities to moor in wash-free water off the through route.

Locks – There are seven locks on the main line, falling towards Dunkerque from an elevation of about 34m at Pont-Malin, plus the sea lock at Mardyck in the port of Dunkerque. Their dimensions are 144.60 by 12.00m. In some cases the original 38.50m lock remains in operation alongside the bigger chamber. The lock-keeper’s instructions should be followed. On the Bauvin-Lys branch, there are three locks offering the same navigable dimensions as those on the main line. In the 1970s locks of these dimensions were opened at Lille (Écluse du Grand Carré), replacing La Barre lock and allowing elimination of Sainte-Hélène lock, and at Quesnoy, allowing elimination of Wambrechies lock. The former lock at Deûlémont is by-passed by a new cut opened in 1994, and the upstream approach to the old lock has been redeveloped as a boat harbour. There are no locks on any of the branches.

Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut Watten lock
Watten lock, PK 121. © Jean-Marc GFP

Draught – The maximum authorised draught is 3.00m. On the branches the maximum authorised draught is 1.80m, except on the Canal de Lens (2.20m).

Headroom – After some recent rebuilding, all fixed bridges now leave a minimum headroom of 5.25m above the highest navigable water level, New bridges are built to provide a headroom of 7.00m, to allow barges to load three levels of containers. The least headroom on the Canal de Lens is 4.20m, elsewhere 3.20m.

Towpath – There is a good service road throughout the canal.

Authority – VNF – Direction territoriale Nord – Pas de Calais
–    16, route de Tournai, BP 26, 59119 Waziers  (PK 0-54)

Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut sheeps
VNF uses ‘eco-grazing’ to maintain the banks of the Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut. © Phileas Photos/VNF

–    Rue de l’Écluse Saint-Bertin, BP 353, 62505 Saint-Omer (PK 54-121)
–    Terre-plein de l’Écluse du Jeu de Mail, BP 1008, 59375 Dunkerque (PK 121-143)

Click to enlarge

Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut waterway strip

Route description

Mardyck diversion canal
PK 143.1    Mardyck maritime lock, VHF 18, navigation terminates in basins of port of Dunkerque
PK 142.7    Pipeline crossing and bridge (Fortelet)
PK 140.8    Main road bridge (D940)
PK 140.1    Dunkerque canal basin (Port Fluvial), l/b
PK 139.5    Railway bridge (Mardyck)
PK 139.4    Motorway bridge (A16)
PK 137.3    Bridge (Basses-Brouckes)
PK 137.0    End of Mardyck diversion canal, Junction with Canal de Bourbourg  r/b

Former Canal de Bourbourg
PK 135.6    Navigation continues in a section of Canal de Bourbourg
PK 134.9    Bridge (Coppenaxfort), raised to 7.00m
PK 133.1    Bridge (Dieppe-Straete)
PK 130.7    Bridge (Looberghe)
PK 128.2    Bridge (Lynck)

Former Canal de la Colme

Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut lock Flandre
Barge heading out of Flandre Lock towards Dunkirk. dem

PK 127.1    Junction with Canal de la Colme, navigation continues in Colme diversion canal, l/b
PK 126.5    Bridge (Pont l’Abbesse)
PK 126.2    Cappelle-Brouck quay l/b, village 2700m l/b
PK 124.7    Millam quay r/b, village 2000m r/b
PK 123.0    Basin
PK 121.6    Railway bridge (TGV/Eurostar Paris-London)
PK 121.2    Lock (Watten), VHF 22
PK 121.0    End of diversion canal, Aa branches off l/b, navigation continues in Canal de la Colme

Navigation in widened river Aa
PK 121.0    Bridge (D3)
PK 120.0    Watten bridge, quay d/s r/b, entrance to Watten diversion canal l/b
PK 119.4    Port l’Ermitage former boat harbour, slipway, r/b
PK 118.1    Cutoff (bypassing a bend in the river) r/b, junction with river Houlle, l/b (navigable 4.0km to the village of Houlle, see under Aa)
PK 117.8    End of cutoff
PK 114.5    Saint-Momelin bridge, small village r/b
PK 114.3    Confluence of Moerlack, r/b (entrance to Wateringues canal system used by small craft)

Former Canal de NeuffosséArques Jonction Plan

PK 112.6    Navigation enters Canal de Neuffossé
PK 111.9    Bridge (Doulague)
PK 110.2    Bridge (D209), quay d/s l/b, Saint-Omer 2500m l/b
PK 108.9    Bridge (Marais Platiau), turning basin d/s
PK 108.6    Railway bridge (Malhove)
PK 108.4    Boat harbour in basin r/b, through bridge, 70 berths, night €8.00-20, water, electricity, showers,  slipway €2-5, repairs, restaurant
PK 107.9    Lock (Flandres), VHF 18, water
PK 107.3    Junction with Canal de Neuffossé l/b
PK 107.2    Arques bridge (Flandres), town l/b
PK 106.6    Widening at junction with former cut to Fontinettes boat lift, r/b
PK 106.5    Railway bridge
PK 106.0    Lock (Fontinettes), VHF 22, water
PK 105.0    Private quays l/b
PK 104.5    Private quays r/b
PK 104.2    Bridge (Arques bypass, D942)
PK 103.4    Bridge (Campagne)
PK 101.2    Bridge (Asquin), quay u/s l/b
PK 98.2    Blaringhem bridge, quay d/s l/b, village 800m r/b
PK 97.2    Private quays r/b
PK 95.3    Bridge (Garlinghem), quay u/s l/b
PK 93.7    Pipeline bridge
PK 93.6    Boat moorings at canal widening, l/b (formerly junction with old line of Canal de Neuffossé)
PK 93.2    Bridge

Former Canal d’Aire
PK 93.1    Junction with canalised river Lys, navigation continues in Canal de NeuffosséAire-sur-la-Lys Map Liaison Dunkerque Escaut
PK 92.7    Aire-sur-la-Lys bridge, access to town via former canal, l/b
PK 91.0    Pipeline bridge
PK 90.7    La Lacque bridge, small village l/b
PK 89.2    Isbergues bridge, quay u/s l/b, village 1000m l/b
PK 88.9    Railway bridge, basin u/s
PK 88.5    Footbridge (Bray)
PK 88.2    Steel works, private basin l/b (through bridge)
PK 86.3    Guarbecque bridge, quay u/s r/b, village 500m l/b
PK 85.9    Public basin l/b, d/s entrance
PK 85.3    Public basin l/b, u/s entrance
PK 85.2    Railway bridge
PK 83.7    Bridge (Épinette)
PK 82.1    Bridge (Biette)
PK 80.6    Robecq bridge (Eclemme), quay u/s l/b, village 500m r/b
PK 79.3    Bridge (Saint-Venant)
PK 78.1    Bridge (Suppli)
PK 75.7    Hinges bridge, village 1500m l/b
PK 74.5    Bridge (Hingettes)
PK 73.5    Bridge (Avelette)
PK 72.6    Junction with old line through Béthune, l/b, access to Béthune boat harbour at end of basin, free moorings (7 boats), water, electricity, slipway
PK 72.4    Bridge (Long Cornet)
PK 72.0    Quays, l/b
PK 71.3    Bridge
PK 70.5    Public quay l/b
PK 69.3    Basin l/b
PK 68.7    Bridge (Gorre)
PK 68.4    Footbridge (Gorre)
PK 67.9    Gorre quay r/b, small village 400m r/b
PK 66.9    Junction with Canal de Beuvry, l/bBethunePlan
PK 65.0    Pipeline crossing
PK 64.2    Cuinchy bridge, quay d/s l/b, village l/b
PK 63.6    Lock (Cuinchy), VHF 18, two chambers
PK 62.5    Bridge (Crêtes)
PK 61.0    Canal divides, new cut l/b, junction with old line through La Bassée, La Bassée r/b
PK 60.9    Skew railway bridge
PK 60.2    Bridge (D941)
PK 59.3    Bridge
PK 58.6    New cut rejoins old line, basin d/s l/b
PK 57.9    Footbridge (Blanc-Ballot)
PK 57.8    Road bridge (N47), quay (Douvrin) d/s l/b
PK 54.8    Billy-Berclau bridge, village 400m l/b
PK 54.0    Bauvin bridge (D163), village 1000m r/b

Former Canal de la Deûle
PK 53.9    Triangular junction with Antenne Bauvin-Lys (Canal de la Deûle), main line turns left into Canal d’Aire (see junction plan opposite)
PK 51.2    Meurchin bridge, quay d/s r/b, village 500m r/b
PK 50.6    Basin l/b
PK 50.5    Bridge (D165)
PK 49.8    Basin (Pont-à-Vendin) and boatyard r/b, quay l/b
PK 48.7    Railway bridge
PK 48.6    Pont-à-Vendin bridge, village r/b
PK 47.8    Annay basin and quays l/b, small town 100m l/b
PK 47.1    Site of a former railway bridge (Houillères)
PK 46.5    Bridge (Pont Maudit, D917), private quay u/s r/b
PK 44.2    Courrières bridge, quay d/s l/b, small town 1500m l/b
PK 44.0    Disused railway bridge
PK 43.9    Junction with Canal de Lens, l/b
PK 42.2    Oignies bridge (Batterie), quay d/s r/b, town centre 1700m r/b (site of the last working mine in northern France, shut down in 1990)Bauvin junction plan deule
PK 41.4    Railway bridge (TGV Paris-Brussels/London)
PK 41.2    Motorway bridge (A1, Autoroute du Nord)
PK 40.6    Bridge
PK 40.1    Delta 3 quays
PK 38.8    Bridge (Pont-à-Sault), Dourges 1000m l/b
PK 38.4    Railway bridge (SNCF), basin d/s
PK 37.1    Basin (Houillères) l/b
PK 36.3    Courcelles bridge, Evin-Malmaison 1500m r/b
PK 35.5    Entrance to basin l/b, Courcelles boat harbour in former dry dock in south-west corner of basin, 14 berths, night €9-18, water, electricity, shower €2, slipway (free), wifi, restaurant
PK 33.9    Footbridge (pipeline crossing), quay l/b
PK 33.8    Basin r/b
PK 32.6    Auby bridge, quay d/s r/b, small town 700m l/b
PK 32.0    Private footbridge with pipeline crossing

Scarpe bypass (dérivation de la Scarpe autour de Douai
PK 31.5    Junction with old line of Canal de la Deûle, r/b (enclosed 1000m long basin with former industrial quays), navigation continues in Scarpe diversion canal (bypassing Douai)
PK 30.9    Road bridge (N455 Douai North bypass)
PK 30.8    Bridge (Flers)
PK 30.3    Boatyard (Polygone), water
PK 29.9    Bridge (Polygone)
PK 29.8    Junction with Canal de Junction (link with the Scarpe Moyenne d/s of Douai)
PK 29.7    Quays
PK 28.5    Bridge (Ocre)
PK 28.4    Footbridge (Ocre)
PK 28.0    Lock (Douai), VHF 22, two chambers, water
PK 27.7    Esquerchin bridge, Douai centre 500m r/b
PK 26.9    Quay r/b
PK 25.6    Main road bridge (Arras road, D950)
PK 25.2    Road bridge (D621 Douai bypass, Rocade Minière)
PK 24.7    Turning Basin
PK 24.2    Railway bridges
PK 23.8    Lock (Courchelettes), VHF 18, two chambers, bridge, water

Former Canal de la Sensée
PK 23.6    Junction with river Scarpe, navigation continues in Canal de la DeûleCorbehemDEPlan

Just upstream of the junction is the expansive Despinoy boatyard, where many barges are repaired, maintained or reconditioned.

PK 23.3    Corbehem bridge
PK 22.5    Férin basin
PK 21.2    Férin bridge, quay d/s r/b, village 500m r/b
PK 20.2    Lock (Gœulzin), VHF 22, two chambers, water
PK 18.6    Bridge (Moulinet), quay u/s r/b, Gœulzin village 1200m r/b
PK 17.8    Industrial quay r/b (cement works)
PK 16.3    Public quay r/b
PK 15.5    Arleux bridge, boat moorings u/s l/b, village 1200m l/b
PK 15.1    Junction with Canal du Nord, l/b
PK 12.3    Bridge (Abbaye du Verger), Oisy-le-Verger 2000m l/b
PK 11.1    Railway bridge (Aubigny, SNCF -Douai)
PK 11.0    Main road bridge (Aubigny, D643), Aubencheul-au-Bac village 200m l/b

Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut lock
Gœulzin lock, PK 20. As at all the locks on the Liaison, a new 185 by 12m chamber is to be built as part of the Seine-Nord Europe Canal project. Studies are to be undertaken to see how the new lock can most effectively be added to the existing structures. © FredArt

PK 10.8    Aubigny-au-Bac basin, quay r/b, village 500m r/b
PK 10.1    Junction with future Canal Seine-Nord Europe, l/b, at Aubencheul-au-Bac, works to start 2011
PK 7.9    Fressies bridge, quay d/s r/b, village l/b, Féchain 1500m r/b
PK 6.2    Hem-Lenglet bridge, quay u/s r/b, village 500m l/b
PK 5.8    Hem-Lenglet village and church l/b, footbridge
PK 3.5    Wasnes-au-Bac bridge (Pont Rade), village 1200m r/b
PK 3.0    Junction with former line of Canal de la Sensée, l/b
PK 2.0    Bridge (Marlettes)
PK 1.7    Culvert (Pré Piton) for river Sensée
PK 0.5    Actual junction with river Escaut (see plan)
PK 0.0    Junction with canalised river Escaut at upstream entrance to Pont Malin lock

Canal de Beuvry
PK 0.2    Beuvry bridge (Planche Wattel), culverted, last 200m of canal inaccessible, centre 400m
PK 0.4    Former coal loading quays l/b, camp site r/b
PK 1.1    Disused lift bridge (rue Thomas)
PK 1.5    Large canal basin (150 x 120m) r/b
PK 1.9    Disused lift bridge (rue des Plantes), café
PK 2.0    Boat moorings (pontoon) l/b
PK 2.4    Footbridge and railway bridge
PK 2.5    Junction with liaison Dunkerque-Escaut (PK 66.9)

Liaison Dunkerque-Escaut Beuvry
The author nudges the bow of his rented pénichette up against the lift bridge at Beuvry, as a gesture regretting its closure, back in 1988. It has recently been made operational. © dem

Canal d’Aire through La Bassée
PK 0.0    Junction with liaison Dunkerque-Escaut at km 58.6
PK 1.0    Basin r/b
PK 1.1    Railway bridge
PK 1.2    Basin r/b
PK 1.5    Bridge (Avenue de la Gare)
PK 1.6    La Bassée boat moorings, pontoon, town r/b supermarket 200m
PK 1.6    Bridge (D941)
PK 2.6    Junction with liaison Dunkerque-Escaut at PK 60.1

Canal de Lens
PK 0.0    Head of navigation at new road interchange 1500m east of Lens, industrial quays (2.7km from original head of navigation)
PK 0.6    Railway bridge, basin d/s r/b
PK 0.8    Turning point
PK 1.6    Noyelles-sous-Lens bridge, quay u/s r/b, town 500m r/b
PK 3.2    Footbridge (former railway bridge)
PK 3.9    Bridge (Fouquières)
PK 4.5    Harnes quay l/b, town centre 300m l/b
PK 4.6    Footbridge (Harnes)
PK 5.1    Bridge, coal loading quays d/s r/b
PK 7.1    Disused railway bridge (Vert Gazon)
PK 7.4    Courrières bridge, small town r/b
PK 8.0    Boat moorings alongside public park r/b
PK 8.6    Junction with liaison Dunkerque-Escaut

Fontinettes boat lift
The Fontinettes boat lift, PK 106, bypassed by the 13.60m deep lock completed in 1968. dem

Old line of Canal de la Sensée
(Paillencourt branch)
PK 0.0    Junction with the canalised river Escaut at PK 12.2
PK 0.3    Bridge (Bassin Rond)
PK 0.4    Beginning of Bassin Rond basin (100m wide), quay l/b
PK 0.5    Former junction canal on r/b, boatyard
PK 1.3    End of Bassin Rond widening
PK 2.0    Paillencourt bridge, village 200m l/b
PK 3.7    Junction with liaison Dunkerque-Escaut at PK 3.0