Information about the 22.5km long river Petit Rhône and the Canal de St Gilles

Petit Rhone location map France

The Petit Rhône makes a grand finale to the cruise south to the Mediterranean, leaving the mighty river route across Southern France starts with a section of the Petit Rhône, branching off from the powerful stream at Fourques, a short distance upstream from Arles. This was formerly a narrow shallow channel of the Rhône delta navigable only by small boats. However, the channel was deepened for high-capacity barges over a distance of 20 km from its entrance at Fourques to Saint-Gilles, where a new cut with what may seem an incongruously massive lock connects with the Canal du Rhône à Sète. Down to this point the river thus forms the first section of the through route. The total distance from the Rhône at Fourques to the junction with the Canal du Rhône à Sète is 22.5 km. The route description gives the kilometre distances continuing those of the main river, which will be seen on stakes on the banks.

Petit Rhone region map

History – As a natural distributary of the Rhône, the ‘Petit Rhône’ has always been navigable, and was the main route inland until the Roman period. It was left in that (shallow) state until the CNR adapted it in 1970 as the new route to Sète, using a novel technique of bottom panels to ensure the required depth of 2.50 m.

Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Beam: 4.50m
  • Max Height: 3.00m
  • Max Draught: 1.00m


The channel on the through route is well marked by stakes. Below the Saint-Gilles link canal there are no markings but the twisting river is easy to follow. The twisting river bounded by high, thick foliage offers a dramatic contrast with the wide, open Rhone is dramatic. You will probably not meet many, if any, other craft but the Petit Rhone channel can and does accommodate large vessels making their way between the Rhone and the docks at Sete; the ecluse at Saint-Gilles is sized accordingly. The channel is marked by poles.

Locks – None on the river itself. The lock on the Canal de Saint-Gilles, of Rhône dimensions (195 by 12m, with a sill depth of 4.50m), gives access to the Canal du Rhône à Sète.

Draught – The depth of the 30m-wide channel on the main route is maintained at 2.20m at low water level. Outside the channel depths are variable, there are sandbanks and more particularly there are sections bounded by submerged iron stake ‘fences’. There are also plenty of fallen trees and branches at the river edges. The unregulated Petit-Rhône is not suited for boats drawing more than 1.00m.

Headroom – There are five bridges on the main route. The lowest is the railway bridge at km 294.7, offering a minimum head­room of 4.75m. On the unregulated Petit-Rhône, there is only one bridge, at Sylveréal, but the lowest obstruction is the cable at the Sauvage ferry, limiting the air draught to 3.00m.

Authority – VNF – Direction territoriale Rhône-Saône
Subdivision Grand Delta:
–    1 quai de la Gare, 13200 Arles (PK 118-310)

Click to enlarge

Petit Rhône waterway strip

Route description

From the Rhône to the Mediterranean Sea

PK 279.6     Junction with Rhône at Fourques
PK 281.1     Fourques suspension bridge

A useful, albeit very basic, mooring.

PK 281.8     Fourques girder bridge (D6113/D113)
PK 288.3     Motorway bridge (A54)
PK 294.5     Railway bridge (Cavalès)
PK 297.3     Bridge (Saint-Gilles), D6572
PK 299.6     Entrance to Canal de Saint-Gilles, r/b

Beginning of navigation in the unregulated river.

PK 301.8     Pontoon r/b
PK 305.0    Mas Marignan, r/b
PK 307.1    La Motte, r/b
PK 316.6    Château d’Avignon, pontoon mooring l/b
PK 318.3    Junction with Canal des Capettes, r/b (abandoned navigation)
PK 321.9    Sylveréal girder bridge, village r/b

Petit Rhone Cavales
A commercial barge passes through the girder bridge at Fourques (PK 282)

PK 322.0    Junction with Canal du Peccais à Sylveréal, r/b (abandoned navigation)
PK 326.0    Mas des Baumelles, pontoon mooring l/b, water, restaurant
PK 331.0    Sauvage ferry, village (Le Petit Sauvage) r/b

Hire boats are not allowed to continue downstream from here.

PK 335.1    Port Dromar harbour (private) in small basin l/b
PK 335.5    La Fouque harbour (private) in basin l/b
PK 335.8    L’Amarée harbour (private) in basin l/b
PK 337.9    Grau d’Orgon outfall in Mediterranean

Canal de Saint-Gilles

Petit Rhone Sauvage ferry
Aspects of the Camargue near the mouth of the Petit Rhône, revealed by the passenger boat Tiki III. The boat operates from its base at the Sauvage ferry (PK 331).

PK 299.6    Entrance from river Rhône
PK 300.1    Lock (Saint-Gilles), bridge, VHF 18
PK 302.0    Junction with Canal du Rhône à Sète (PK 29)

Navigation continues on the Canal du Rhône à Sète.

Petit Rhone Camargue