CANOEING ON THE MAIN AND MAIN-DANUBE CANAL
The Main is an incredibly scenic river that twists through rolling German countryside thick with trees or vineyards. Due to its many locks it is a slow moving river though the advice is certainly that it should still be paddled downstream. There are many hospitable canoe clubs along the river and also some canoe rental companies. There are numerous historic towns were you can take a break to walk the cobbled streets or visit hill top castles. The Main is still a vital commercial link for traffic across Europe and paddlers need to always be aware of shipping on the river.
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. For the Main you want sheets 3 and 4. 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 dams/locks on the Main very roughly every 12 or 15 kilometres apart. The dams are marked clearly on the Wassersport Wanderkarte map with zoomed in and precise diagrams on how to portage the dams.
How do I get around the dams?
At each lock there is a self-operating small boat lock in service, though we never actually used it. The dams are marked clearly on the Wassersport Wanderkarte with zoomed in and precise diagrams on how to portage them.
Are there other obstacles on the river?
There is traffic on the river Main though it is no where near as busy as the river Rhine, to which the river is a tributary. Because the river is smaller and meanders constantly the traffic moves at a slow speed and there is very little wash. 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 Main you can quietly camp on the river banks without people noticing if you pick the right spots, especially using the stone kilometre markers which always have a good clear space around them. 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 safely 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.
What about the Main-Danube Canal?
The Main-Danube Canal is much the same as the river in terms of logistics. It is totally different in terms of the experience. It is not a picturesque river, but a man-made link and it is, for want of a better description, extremely boring. It does not pass through interesting towns or villages and bypasses Nuremberg which cannot be visited on foot from the canal. If you are out to have fun, paddle on a nice river instead. If you want to use the canal as a link between the Main and Danube then it is easy. You don't need a special permit or to do anything different, continue as you did on the rivers and you're fine. The locks are marked on the Wassersport Wanderkarte maps and there are trolleys and paths for portaging.
How long will it take?
We averaged roughly 40kms each day which would normally encompass three locks. Bear in mind however that this was upstream so travelling in the normal direction should be much quicker. From Mainz to Bamberg took us 16 days (not including rest days) and the canal took us a further 4 and a half days from Bamberg to Kelheim. These were days of fairly constant paddling so allow more time to visit the amazing towns and villages!
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 my contact page.
Following this advice?
These FAQ pages are intended to answer your common questions but reflect out-dated knowledge from our experiences in 2013. 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.