Information about the 1km long Canal d’Arles à Fos

This canal parallels the Rhône over a distance of 31km from the town of Arles on the left bank to the point where its course is joined by the new Canal du Rhône à Fos. It is virtually disused. It was closed as a through route in the 1970s when a salt barrier was built at the junction with the new cut, and it now serves mainly as a storm water drain for the land lying south-east of Arles. The canal is entered through the large entrance lock from the Rhône at Arles, giving access to the canal basin and a boatyard. From here on, the canal is under the jurisdiction of the Grand port maritime de Marseille. Navigation ends at Le Relai, where the salt marshes used to load salt for shipment up the Rhône. Although the canal is theoretically navigable down to Le Relai, the effective limit of navigation is now the canal basin in Arles, as the lack of maintenance excludes navigation through to the village of Mas-Thibert (PK 18.5).

arles-fos-regHistory – The Canal d’Arles à Bouc was built roughly on the line of an early Gallo-Roman canal. Works started in 1804, and the canal was opened in 1834. Part of the original canal, south of the salt barrier, has been enlarged and incorporated in the Liaison Rhône-Fos-Bouc. It is famous for the Pont de Langlois, the lift bridge painted by Van Gogh. It is potentially of interest for cruising, even as a dead end, offering views over the unspoilt landscape of La Crau, but no development is currently envisaged.

Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Beam: 12.00 m
  • Max Height: –– m
  • Max Draught: 2.50 m

Local Waterway Links

The canal is today used only as a boatyard for services and repairs. Navigation is not formally forbidden beyond the basin in Arles, but the lack of basic maintenance makes it virtually impracticable.

The entrance lock at Arles, replacing the original lock, which was filled in as part of the Rhône development works, was built to large dimensions, 165 by 12m. VNF needs to be given 48 hours notice for passage through the lock. A lock-keeper has to travel from Saint-Gilles lock (see Petit-Rhône) to operate the lock, tel 04 66 87 75 30. There are two other locks at Montcalde (PK 2.5) and L’Étourneau (PK 21), both permanently open, their gates having been removed. The width of the chambers is 8.00m.

The maximum authorised draught is 1.20m, but this depth cannot be guaranteed and care is required, for there are local obstacles such as wrecked cars and domestic appliances.

The maximum authorised air draught is 3.50m.

VNF – Direction territoriale Rhône-Saône, Subdivision Grand Delta:
–    1 quai de la Gare, 13200 Arles

Click to enlarge
Canal d'Arles à Fos
Arles canal basin planRoute description, Arles basin (the rest for information)

PK 0.0    Junction with Rhône on l/b d/s of Arles
PK 0.2    Entrance lock
PK 0.4    Arles canal basin, town centre 500m, boat repair yard, water, electricity
As indicated under Essentials, 48 hours’ notice to be given to VNF to pass through the lock into or out of the basin. No staff on site.
PK 0.5    Bridge (Réginet), boatyard d/s r/b
PK 0.9    Railway bridge
PK 1.2    Turning basin, moorings r/b
No practical navigability beyond this point
PK 2.5    Former lock (Montcalde), bridge, gates removed, and ‘Van Gogh’ lift bridge (Pont de Langlois)

PK 4.5    Bridge (Allen)
PK 7.0    Bridge (Mas de la Ville)
PK 9.1    Bridge (Mollégès)
PK 14.5    Bridge (Beyne)

Van Gogh’s Pont de Langlois looking south
Van Gogh’s Pont de Langlois looking south

PK 18.5    Mas-Thibert bridge, moorings, small village l/b
A charming, sleepy little village set between the arid heathland of La Crau to the east and the lush Camargue to the west, worth exploring by bike from boat moorings in Arles or Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône.
PK 21.0    Former lock (Étourneau), gates removed
PK 31.0    Le Relai salt marshes r/b, effective limit of navigation
PK 31.3    Salt barrier just before junction with the Rhône-Fos canal (no through navigation)