Information about the 164km long river Charente and the 29km long river Boutonne


The Charente, one of the most beautiful cruising waterways in France, is navigable over a distance of 164km from Angoulême to the sea. The last 24km from the small coasting port of Tonnay-Charente is tidal estuary, and above this point the waterway is officially unnavigable, having been ‘struck off the list of navigable waterways’ following disappearance of commercial traffic in the 1940s. This legal nicety means that navigation is at the boater’s risk and peril, but is otherwise irrelevant, for the départements of Charente and Charente-Maritime, to whom the waterway was conceded in 1952 and 1963, have restored navigation throughout, and are committed to maintaining the channel and the structures in navig­able condition. Convenient and attractive moorings have been provided at many towns and villages. Several hire firms operate on the river, in addition to trip boats at the main towns, and recreational use of the waterway is developing despite the disadvantage of the river’s isolation from the rest of the waterway network.

An attractive tributary, the Boutonne, is navigable over a distance of 29km from its confluence with the Charente at km 128 to the small town of Saint-Jean-d’Angély, with four locks. These were restored in the 1980s, and one of the passes of the Carillon tide barrier (near the confluence) was provided with a raised footbridge to allow boats to pass when the levels of the two rivers permit. The cumbersome procedure is dissuasive, and few boats have taken advantage of this possibility. However, construction of a new lock is projected to bypass this barrier, and the Boutonne would doubtless then attract many more boats.

From the sea to PK 134 the river is considered as an entrance channel to the ports of Rochefort and Tonnay-Charente. Boats must leave the main channel clear for ships, and anchoring in the channel is forbidden.

Upstream from Tonnay-Charente, speed is limited to 12km/h in Charente-Maritime (up to km 67) and to 10km/h in Charente. There are local restrictions to 6km/h.
History – The river was described by François I as ‘la plus belle rivière du royaume’, and was navigable in its natural state until mills were erected at many locations in the 14th century. Some locks were built but through navigation remained impossible for centuries. Improvements to the navigation were projected by the engineer Trésaguet under Louis XVI in 1772, but work was interrupted by the Revolution. The project was revived under the Restoration and canalisation completed in 1835. The waterway above Cognac was abandoned in 1926 and the rest in 1957. The départements took over operation under concessions in 1963, and transfer of ownership to the Poitou-Charente region is now under discussion.

Key Waterway Dimensions

  • Max Beam: 5.05m
  • Max Height: 3.55m
  • Max Draught: 0.80m-3.00m


Locks – There are 21 locks, the minimum dimensions of which are 34.00 by 6.30m. Saint-Savinien lock (48.50 by 8.00m) was built in 1968 as part of a multipurpose river improvement and flood control scheme. Most of the other locks are unattended, and users have to lock through themselves, using the straightforward paddle winding gear and gate winches. A clear instruction leaflet in English is issued by the waterway authority (addresses below). The locks on the Boutonne are 30.50m by 5.50m. To pass through the Carillon tide barrier on the Boutonne, advance notice is to be given to the authority at Rochefort, for manual operation of the gates. Passage is possible whenever the tide coefficient is greater than or equal to 70. The authority will send an itinerant lock-keeper to lock boats through the first two locks (Bel-Ébat and l’Houmée), while the other two are manned normally.

Draught – In the tidal estuary, the least depth available at low tide is 3.00m. Upstream as far as Cognac, the least depth is 1.50m at low water, but during the summer, when the gates of the weirs at Saint-Savinien and La Baine are closed, the minimum water levels maintained are such that 2.50m may be counted on. The available depth decreases progressively working upstream, with 1.50m around Jarnac, and 0.80 to 1.00m between Châteauneuf and Angoulême.

Headroom – The fixed bridges offer a minimum headroom of 3.55m above the highest navigable water level. This is the headroom under the railway bridge (Pont de la Cèpe) at km 133, where the mobile span is now no longer in operation. The second lowest bridge is at Vibrac (PK 32), with a headroom of 3.72m.

Towpath – The towpath has long fallen into disuse.

Authority – Direction Départementale des Territoires de Charente – 43 rue du Docteur Duroselle, BP1374, 16016 Angoulême cedex (PK 0-67)

Direction Départementale des Territoires et de Mer de Charente-Maritime – 89 avenue des Cordeliers, 17018 La Rochelle cedex 1 (PK 67-138) Port de Rochefort

– Quai Lemoine de Sérigny, 17300 Rochefort (PK 138-163)

Click to enlarge

Route description, Angoulême to the sea

PK 0.0     Bridge (Saint-Antoine), river may be navigated 3.2km upstream to Chalonne mill (but beware of shoals)
PK 0.3     Footbridge
PK 0.5     Angoulême quay l/b (Port l’Houmeau), capacity 15 boats, night €5.34, water, electricity, slipway, town centre 1000m
PK 1.1     Lock (Saint-Cybard) r/b (against island)
PK 1.3     (U/s boats) river divides, take l/b arm
PK 1.5     Saint-Cybard bridge
PK 2.1     Bridge (inner ring road)
PK 2.8     Island, navigation l/b
PK 3.2     New road bridge (N10 Angoulême by-pass)
PK 3.8     Footbridge
PK 4.5     Lock (Thouérat), r/b, opposite gunpowder factory
PK 5.6     (U/s boats) river divides, keep to r/b
PK 6.3     Islands, navigation l/b, Fléac r/b
PK 7.7     Bridge (Basseau), island d/s, take r/b arm
PK 7.9     Lock (Basseau) r/b, weir
PK 9.6     Lock (Fleurac) r/b
PK 10.0     D/s end of Fleurac islands (u/s boats keep to r/b)
PK 10.9     Islands, navigation l/b
PK 12.1     Lock (La Mothe) l/b
PK 13.2     Bridge, Nersac 1000m l/b, islands d/s, channel r/b
PK 16.0     Islands, navigation r/b
PK 17.5     Sireuil bridge, Inter-Croisières hire base, free mooring for 4 boats, water, electricity, showers, slipway
PK 17.8     Lock (Sireuil) l/b
PK 18.6     D/s end of island (u/s boats keep to l/b)
PK 20.5     River divides, navigation in r/b arm
PK 21.4     Lock (La Liège)
PK 21.6     (U/s boats) river divides, take r/b arm
PK 23.1     Lock (Saint-Simeux) l/b, access to village via weir stream r/b
PK 23.8     Bridge (u/s boats turn into l/b arm above bridge)
PK 24.1     Entrance to lock-cut r/b (visible at last minute)
PK 24.3     Lock (Malvy)
PK 24.6     (U/s boats) river divides, take r/b arm
PK 25.8     Island (Île des Groles), navigation r/b
PK 27.0     Lock (Châteauneuf) in short lock-cut r/b, weir l/b, canoe pass l/b side of weir
PK 27.2     End of lock-cut (u/s boats take r/b arm)
PK 27.5     Châteauneuf-sur-Charente bridge, quays both banks, small town 200m l/b
PK 28.9     Island (Île Muguet), navigation r/bPK 29.8 Entrance to backwater (Brassour) l/b
PK 31.0     River divides, navigation in l/b arm
PK 31.5     (U/s boats) river divides, navigation in l/b arm
PK 31.9     Entrance to lock-cut (middle of three channels), bridge
PK 32.1     Lock (Vibrac), one side slopes, the other has a step
PK 32.2     End of lock-cut
PK 33.9     Saint-Simon quay and village r/b (u/s boats take l/b arm)
PK 34.6     Juac bridge, small village r/b
PK 35.0     Lock (Juac) in lock-cut l/b, weir
PK 37.8     Entrance to lock-cut r/b (visible at last minute)
PK 38.1     Lock (Saintonge), Bassac 1000m r/b
PK 38.2     End of lock-cut
PK 39.0     Bridge (Vinade), Bassac 1000m r/b
PK 41.6     Weir (Gondeville) l/b, keep to r/b
PK 41.7     Lock (Gondeville)
PK 42.1     Weir streams l/b, keep to r/b
PK 42.6     Bridge (N141)
PK 43.0     Island, navigation l/b
PK 43.9     Entrance to lock-cut l/b
PK 44.1     Lock (Jarnac), end of lock-cut
PK 44.3     Jarnac bridge, quay and Le Boat hire base u/s r/b, visitor moorings for 2 boats, diesel, water on opposite bank, electricity, showers, crane 10t, slipway, small town r/b
PK 47.6     Entrance to lock-cut r/b
PK 47.9     Lock (Bourg-Charente)
PK 48.0     End of lock-cut
PK 48.7     Bourg-Charente bridge, capacity 4 boats, village l/b

Pontoon mooring in Cognac PK 59.4PK 52.5 Lock (Garde-Moulin) l/b, weirPK 53.7 Island, navigation l/bPK 54.0 Bridge (D15), Saint-Brice village, castle 600m r/b

PK 54.8     Small island, navigation l/b
PK 55.6     Island, navigation l/b
PK 56.0     Island, navigation l/b
PK 56.6     Entrance to Solençon backwater r/b (no access)
PK 57.3     Bridge
PK 59.0     Entrance to lock-cut r/b (mill stream l/b)
PK 59.1     Lock (Cognac)
PK 59.3     End of lock-cut (u/s boats take l/b arm)
PK 59.4     Cognac bridge, quays d/s, Canalous Plaisance hire base, capacity 10 boats, night €7.42- 8.45, water €2.16, electricity €3.90, showers €1.55, crane to order, slipway, pump-out, repairs, town centre and distilleries l/b
PK 60.7     Bridge
PK 61.1     Bridge (N141 Cognac by-pass)
PK 61.3     Island, navigation l/b
PK 61.8     Island, navigation r/b
PK 62.8     Lock (Crouin) in short lock-cut r/b
PK 66.0     Merpins bridge, small village 1000m l/b
PK 67.2     Limit of Charente and Charente Maritime départements l/b
PK 67.5     Quay (Port-du-Lys) l/b, boat club moorings, floating pontoons, slipway
PK 67.2     Limit of Charente and Charente Maritime départements r/b
PK 72.2     Brives-sur-Charente bridge, quay, small village 800m l/b
PK 76.7     Rouffiac boat moorings, water, electricity, shower, slipway, l/b
PK 77.4     Dompierre-sur-Charente ferry, boat club pontoon moorings and quay, slipway, village 500m r/b
PK 80.5     Bridge (D134) and railway bridge (Beillant)
PK 82.0     River divides, navigation in r/b arm
PK 82.4     Entrance to lock-cut l/b
PK 82.7     Lock (La Baine)
PK 82.8     End of lock-cut (u/s boats take middle of three channels)
PK 83.6     Chaniers ferry, moorings u/s r/b, small village 300m r/b
PK 86.8     Port-Hublé slipway, r/b
PK 89.8     Saint-Sorlin r/b
PK 91.7     Bridge (N141 Saintes by-pass)
PK 91.8     Railway bridge (Lucérat)
PK 93.5     Road bridge (Saintonge), quay l/b (Quai des Roches)
PK 94.1     Footbridge
PK 94.4     Saintes bridge (Pont de Palissy), quay u/s r/b or floating pontoons, night €10.50, water, electricity, town centre l/b, railway station 1000m r/b
PK 95.2     Pontoon moorings (Saintes boat club – Port Larousselle) l/b, water, electricity, crane 12t, pump-out
PK 97.0     Courbiac castle l/b, race track r/b
PK 99.2     Bussac castle r/b
PK 104.9     Quay (Port-la-Pierre) r/b
PK 105.6     Motorway bridge (A10)
PK 106.8     Taillebourg bridge, quay and village r/b
PK 109.5     Port-d’Envaux quay and village l/b (former ferry), pontoon moorings for 5 boats, night €7, water, electricity, shower, slipway
PK 116.1     Navigation enters lock-cut l/b, straight on for Saint-Savinien boat harbour, 500m d/s on river, capacity 15 boats, €15 (one night free), water, electricity, slipway, pump-out, restaurant, village r/b
PK 116.7     Lock (Saint-Savinien), bridge
PK 117.1     End of lock-cut
PK 120.9     Motorway bridge (A837)
PK 127.0     Bridge (Pont de l’Houmée), Bords 2000m r/b
PK 128.0     Confluence of Boutonne r/b, navigable to Saint Jean-d’Angély
PK 133.4     Railway bridge (Pont de la Cèpe)
PK 136.1     Bridge (D137 Tonnay-Charente bypass)
PK 137.7     Tonnay-Charente suspension bridge, quays for coasters and small town d/s r/b
PK 139.0     Saint-Gobain factory, quay r/b
PK 140.2     Junction with Canal de la Charente à la Seudre (disused) l/b
PK 143.6     Commercial port basin through lock r/b
PK 144.1     Rochefort basins 1 (commercial) and 2 (marina) with all services through lock, r/b, night €21.60, water, electricity, showers, crane 13t, pump-out, repairs, town centre 300 m (see plan)
PK 144.2     Quay (Quai de l’Artillerie) with pontoon moorings, r/b
PK 147.5     Former transporter bridge (Martrou)
PK 147.7     Site of a forme lifting road bridge
PK 147.9     Road bridge (Martrou-Rochefort, D733)
PK 151.7     Soubise l/b, capacity 12 boats, night €12, diesel, water, electricity, shower, slipway, repairs, restaurant, former ferry
PK 157.5     Entrance to Canal de Charras r/b (no access)
PK 162.0     Saint-Nazaire-sur-Charente boat mooring l/b, night €11, water, electricity, shower
PK 163.5     Port-des-Barques l/b, limit of sea, boat harbour, night €10.60, fuel, water, electricity, showers, slipway €3.50


PK 0.0     Confluence with Charente (PK 128)
PK 0.2     Bridge (Carillon)
PK 0.4     River divides, keep to r/b arm to pass through tide barrier (possible future lock in l/b arm)
PK 0.7     Carillon tide barrier
PK 1.1     Railway bridge
PK 1.3     Motorway bridge (A837)
PK 3.6     Overhead power lines
PK 5.8     Entrance to lock-cut, l/b
PK 6.0     Lock (Bel-Ébat)
PK 10.5     Sharp bend
PK 13.2     Footbridge
PK 14.0     Tonnay-Boutonne bridge, village r/b
PK 15.1     Junction with Canal Sainte-Julienne (drain), r/b
PK 15.7     Lock (L’Houmée) in short cut, l/b, bridge
PK 18.4     Sharp bend
PK 21.2     Torxé bridge, small village r/
PK 24.0     Lock (Voissay) in short cut, l/b
PK 26.4     Overhead power line
PK 27.0     Motorway bridge (A10)
PK 28.1     Entrance to lock-cut, l/b
PK 28.2     Lock (Bernouet)
PK 28.8     Footbridge, basin (public park)
PK 29.2     Bridge (Les Granges), effective limit of navigability, boat club and moorings d/s r/b, slipway
PK 30.7     Saint-Jean-d’Angély bridge (Saint-Jacques), limit of waterway, town centre 600m r/b

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Hiring your own cruising boat is an ideal way to explore and experience the pleasures and treasures that the French waterways have to offer. Hire boats come in different sizes, to suit a couple, a family or you and your friends, and your ‘hands on the wheel’ holiday can be arranged from start to finish by any of the reputable companies to be found on

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Base locations map – River Charente