Canal/Waterway Size Restrictions


For overview of England and Wales, see answer in FAQ

For details of specific canals and waterways, see Waterway Dimensions (pdf file), from the Canal & River Trust. Unfortunately, the "last updated" date is NOT shown in the text; however, checking "Properties" (or some similar term in your pdf viewer) may show you the date. On 17 Oct 2023, the one I downloaded was dated 30 Aug 2022.

Note that "headroom" as shown in the document is, as described in an email from the C&RT, "the height at which the width across the arch is equal to the 'gauge' of the canal in most cases. There are some cases where the definition is the highest point of the arch, but these are mostly for wide bridges."

Water levels can also vary by several inches under normal conditions, or more dramatically during floods. This will also change the "headroom".

For visualizing narrow and wide canals on a map, see:

Mainland Europe

All of the canals in mainland Europe are categorised as follows -

Category Tonnage (T) Length (m) Beam (m) Depth (m) Headroom (m)
I 300 38.5 5.0 2.2 3.55
II 600 50.0 6.6 2.5 4.20
III 1000 67.0 8.2 2.5 3.95
IV 1350 80.0 9.5 2.5 4.40
V 2000 95.0 11.5 2.7 6.70
VI >2000 >95.0 >11.5 >3.0 >6.70

Armed with a large scale map of Europe showing the canals and their categories, one should be able to workout what routes are available. Be warned, as many French and Belgian canals may be only good for a depth of 1.8m not 2.2m. Usual problem of them not being dredged due to lack of money. (Thanks to Michael Clarke for supplying the above information.)

From "French Waterways", here's a map and tables for French Waterway Depths, Heights and Widths Here's a diagram, from, showing how required "air draft" can vary with vessel width. The problem is actually more complex than shown there as the canal towpath can take up space on one side or the other under the bridge which has the effect of shifting any vessel toward a lower portion of the bridge arch.

Some information, and a book to buy, will be found at Michael Briant's Routes Between the English Channel and the Mediterranean.

See also PC-Navigo for (somewhat pricey) software.

Link to main canals page.
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Text and photos Copyright © 1995-2023 by George Pearson.
This Page Last Modified: Tuesday, 17-Oct-23 10:30 pm EDT
Page Links Manually Checked: Tuesday, 17-Oct-23 10:20 pm EDT