Information about Le Havre, Canal du Havre à Tancarville and Honfleur
The Canal du Havre à Tancarville was built originally as a ship canal, and opened in 1887. It bypasses what was then still a difficult section of the Seine estuary over a distance of 27km from just below the Tancarville suspension bridge to the basins of the port of Le Havre. The Seine estuary is shallow, with strong tides and currents and an uncomfortable sea can kick up easily. It is also very prone to thick fog. The canal by-passes these potential hazards, but a few years ago the port of Le Havre decided to prohibit navigation to all recreational craft. The boatyard at Tancarville, equipped with a tall crane and travel-lift, a chandlery and a large hardstanding area, is now accessible only from the Seine, passing through the locks at Tancarville. The canal provided access to the charming village of Harfleur, once one of France’s most important ports, associated with Agincourt and Henry V.
History – The canal was planned by Vauban, who built the 5km Harfleur canal between this little port and the main port of Le Havre. It was completed in 1887, with one 180 by 12m lock at Tancarville, wider (14m) in the chamber. A second lock was added in the 1980s, longer and wider (24m). The canal is linked to the sea by the Quinette de Rochemont lock, in the harbour, or the huge François 1er ship lock. A new lock is planned to connect the canal with the new container terminal (the Port 2000 project).
Key Waterway Dimensions
- Max Beam: 14m
- Max Height: 7m
- Max Draught: 3.50m
Local Waterway Links
Le Havre as entry port
From the marina, the route is through the main inner harbour lock Sas Quinette into the large Bassins (docks) de l’Eure and Bellot. At the end of Bassin Bellot lies the large Sas Vétillart (right), the fall or rise depending on the tidal state, with a tall modern control tower next to it, followed by the Bassin Vétillard.
The route inland on the canal from the Sas Vétillard is available only to commercial craft. It is forbidden to plaisanciers. One passes sky-scraping piles of containers to the first bridge which is a non-descript low concrete swing bridge. After a barge dock on the right comes bridge 2, the white lift-bridge (road/rail). At the end of a large wide dock lies bridge 3, the red lift-bridge (railway). After bridge 3 the Canal Bossière branches off southwards, giving access to the large commercial docks and the Grand Canal du Havre. Bridge 4, a green lift-bridge (road and rail) marks the start of the Tancarville Canal proper. The canal is generally quite calm. Bridge 7 carries commercial vehicles to Le Havre’s extensive industrial area south of the canal.
Locks – There are two locks within the port of Le Havre, the sas Vétillart and sas Quinette de Rochemont. The canal is then lock-free through to Tancarville. The two entrance locks accommodate push-tows up to 185m by 23m (new lock) or 14m (old lock). Travelling east for Rouen, the earliest one can exit the lock onto the river is HW-3 and this may not provide enough remaining upstream flow time to get to Rouen PK245. See under Lower Seine our advice on intermediate moorings.
Draught – The maximum authorised draught is 3.50m.
Headroom – The maximum authorised air draught is 55m. There are numerous movable bridges between Le Havre and Harfleur, opened on demand by calling Le Havre bridge and lock control on VHF 12 or VHF 88. For craft higher than 7m the motorway bridge (PK 14) and the Pont du Hode (PK8) have to be opened, the corresponding request being made by 1600 the day before passage (these bridges are not operated on Sundays and public holidays). As a reminder: this information is relevant only for commercial vessels, not plaisanciers, who are interdits !
Authority – Grand port maritime du Havre
– Terre-plein de la Barre, BP 1413, 76067 Le Havre
PK 27.0 Inner basins of port of Le Havre
PK 25.8 Lock (sas Quinette de Rochemont)
PK 23.9 Lock (sas de Vétillart), moving bridges
PK 23.0 Bridge No 5 (Bassin Vétillart)
PK 22.1 Lift bridge No 6
This blue bridge serves the busy A29 motorway which crosses the Seine via the spectactular (and extremely high) Pont de Normandie. It is rarely operated, as commercial vessels, including the big car transport push-tows from the nearby Renault factory can pass underneath.
PK 20.8 Basin (Marcel Despujols) and industrial quays
PK 20.7 Lift bridge No 7
PK 20.0 Canal de Junction (link to new basins of port of Le Havre)
PK 19.5 Bridge No 7a
PK 19.3 Harfleur basin north bank, 600m long through footbridge (bridge No 9)
For six centuries Harfleur was the principal seaport of northwestern France. In 1415, it was captured by Henry V prior to the Battle of Agincourt. In the 16th century, the port began to dwindle in importance owing to the silting up of the Seine estuary and the rise of Le Havre. In 1887, the Tancarville canal restored waterborne access to the town from both the Seine and Le Havre. Turn off the canal and up the River Lézarte, under the two road bridges, but the river is reported to be heavily silted up. There are some excellent long-term/péniche moorings along the river banks downstream of the historic village itself.
PK 19.1 Lift bridge No 8
PK 16.0 Gonfreville oil refinery south bank
PK 14.4 Motorway lift bridge (D929 or A29)
PK 10.4 Conveyor bridge
PK 7.8 Swing bridge (Pont du Hode)
PK 1.1 Boatyard (Les Torpilleurs), r/b, water, electricity, shower, crane 12t
PK 0.1 Entrance locks, VHF 18, bridge, moorings u/s
Tancarville ecluse (VHF 18) has two chambers side-by-side; how they are used depends on tide, direction of passage and size and quantity of vessels. Boats need to be prepared to share with substantial push-tows, barges and small ships, whether directed to the older lock (north) or the newer one to the south. Being the last in can be uncomfortable because all vessels tend to keep their props turning hard, so it can be very difficult to maintain direction and control when entering the lock and mooring up close behind them.
PK 0.0 Junction with Seine, d/s of Tancarville suspension bridge
Immediately outside the lock is the big Tancarville bridge and beyond that (north side) is a range of substantial steel pile dolphins (ducs d’Albe). This is where commercial vessels wait for the lock’s operation. There is nowhere for pleasure craft to moor temporarily and the currents in this part of the river, close to the sea/estuary, are very strong indeed, in both directions. The guides say that yachts can moor between the piles and the bank. We preferred to request (VHF #73) tying up to a waiting péniche. The request was speedily and helpfully granted.