CANOEING ON THE RHINE

The Rhine is one of Europe's busiest commercial rivers with strong currents and constant wash from the many ships travelling up and down stream. The British Canoe Union rightly describe it as "no place for a beginner in canoe touring". Having said that, there are still many canoe and kayak clubs along the river and hundreds of people paddle on it each year, including us. It is a busy waterway, but if your remain wary at all times you gradually grow used to it and learn the ways of the river. If your out for fun, there are numerous more picturesque rivers that are far safer and better for canoeing... but if your determined to paddle the Rhine, then it is certainly possible.
N.B. Our information is from paddling only as far as Mainz.


What maps did you use?
For the Rhine we used special water-sports maps called Wassersport Wanderkarte. These maps cover all of germany and can be bought easily online. They are in German and we had key words translated along the way to help us out. These maps mark every dam and lock on the river with zoomed in diagrams on how to get a canoe around each one. They also mark canoe and rowing clubs which are colour coded to show which clubs offer camping facilities and which do not. The perfect map to use and in sections we accompanied it with a road map to provide a second scale and viewpoint.

Do you need a river permit?
No. For canoeing on the river you do not need a permit as far as we are aware. Though you are supposed to meet a few minimum requirements on all german rivers. Boat name, or the name (or its recognised abbreviation) of the organisation to which it belongs: to appear in easily legible letters 10cm high on the exterior of the craft. Owner’s name and address: to be affixed in a visible place outside or inside the boat. Pennon/flag/sicker: mount BCU or SKV (German Canoe Union) pennon at least 30cm x 20cm, or display a smaller flag (for instance sticker) on the hull or deck. Carry a union membership card. We cannot say we met all these exact specifications, though we did join the British Canoe Union and carried our cards at al times. We also flew a Union Jack on the stern of the canoe.

Where are there dams on the river?
There are only dams/locks on the Rhine until 50kms South of Strasbourg after this the river runs quickly without hindrance. The dams are marked clearly on the Wassersport Wanderkarte with zoomed in and precise diagrams on how to portage the dams.

How do I get around the dams?
The dams are marked clearly on the Wassersport Wanderkarte with zoomed in and precise diagrams on how to portage the dams.

Are there other obstacles on the river?
Yes. The traffic, sometimes three or four vessels abreast. The Rhine is an extremely busy commercial river and you will have to compete with wash from upstream vessels, downstream vessels, and the wash rebounding off the river banks. The rule of downstream paddling is to keep to the right hand side of the river and to keep out of the way of the commercial traffic. Stay alert and you'll be fine.

Canoe storage when stopping briefly?
Take a long bike lock. When leaving the canoe we would always lock it to something using a long bike lock and took our paddles with us. As for leaving bags in the canoe, we learnt this lesson the hard way. Admittedly the city of Tour on the river Loire is no small village, but we had loads of our gear stolen from our dry bags, including tent and sleeping bags, when we visited the city for an afternoon. From then on whenever we stopped anywhere we locked the canoe and took both of our large dry bags with us. That meant the canoe was left alone with only food in it, easily replaced. Other than Tour we never encountered any problems.

Canoe storage at night?
Canoe club and rowing clubs are marked on the Wassersport Wanderkarte maps and many offer good camping facilities. These are good secure places to stay and meet like minded people. On the Rhine you can quietly camp on the river banks without people noticing if you pick the right spots. We did plenty of wild camping but it is not legal in Germany so be careful. Here we simply slept with the canoe rolled over next to our tent. We could also store a few things under it at night time to keep them dry, sometimes using a bike lock to hold everything together.

Canoe storage in cities?
Again, use a trusty bike lock and lock the canoe to something. As in the previous question, the maps have canoe and rowing clubs marked and these are ideal places to store your canoe safely. The people there are like minded and keen to help you out. If you are not staying in a club or campsite our advice is NOT to lock the canoe and leave it by the river while you stay in a hotel. Talk to the hotel and ask them about storage, ask in the tourist info, but for safety in the city be sure to find somewhere. We often used the friendly people on couchsurfing.org or warmshowers.org - online communities set up by travellers to help travellers. If your in need of a friend to help you out abroad, these are the websites to use.

Do I need a water purifier?
No. There are plenty of places to fill up water along the way. With a good amount of water storage (we had about 10ltrs) you'll be fine.

Have more questions?
Simply get in touch through our contact form.

Following this advice?
These FAQ pages are intended to answer your common questions but reflect out-dated knowledge from our experiences in 2013. This advice is also limited to the short section of the Rhine that we travelled on. Things may be different today. James Warner Smith and Nathan Wilkins do not take responsibility for anybody that follows our advice without seeking further, professional guidance and cannot be held responsible for any loss, damage, injury or death that occurs as a result of following this information. Please be cautious, act responsibly and canoe safely.