Up the canals. When to start?


New member
6 Dec 2001
Thanks for all the responses about jump off points for the French canals. I now need to decide when we start the run up.
Having talked to some folks with experience, it would appear that my original plan of starting in the Spring is unlikely to be a goer because the melt water in the Rhone runs at such a rate that you need big horsepower (which we haven't got) to stem it or a tug hire which needs big money (which we haven't got either).

Starting "from the bottom" I understand that June/July is possibly the earliest date option.

Another option would be to start in September October and get up far enough to be above the strong current zone. If that is possible, any recommendations for overwintering up there?
Our boat draws 1.7 metres and is a bit marginal for some stretches so I do have some worries about grounding as well.
Maybe it would be simpler to go back round the outside again. However the risk to the family fabric is too much to contemplate!
All views and ideas welcomed


Well-known member
11 Jun 2001
Inland France + Oxon.
Some thoughts . . .

Depends what you mean by "Spring", how powerful your engine is, and the snow/melt situation. Although we've come down, not up, we did it in April and conditions were not that hairy. On the other hand, experienced (very) friends who brought a rather underpowered mobo up from Beaucaire to St Jean in January/February said "never again".
There's also the Mistral to consider - I forget the most likely months for Mistral conditions, and you'll want to avoid, if you can. Early in the 'season' you may not be able to avoid an instance and have to hole up somewhere until it goes away.
So all that said, I would think that having to leave travelling up until June/July is possibly a little on the over-cautious side.
I forget where you're entering . . . and how far 'up' you want to go - e.g all the way? in which case you'll want to be sure about water levels in the Marne/a la Saone etc. Again, we came through to St Jean from Honfleur/Paris in late Sept/Oct and didn't have a problem. [mind you we don't draw a great deal, keel up]. There are plenty of places to overwinter 'up there', including St Jean.

Sea Devil

Well-known member
19 Aug 2004
Boulogne sur mer & Marbella Spain
the Rhone really has been tamed.. There are six or seven barrages across it with their ship sized locks beside them.. Even in winter or spring you are unlikely to get more than 4 knots on the nose,, In the canalised sections it will be virtually nothing. Mainly I think you will get in spring around 3 knots... for the rest of the canal system (excepting the canal du midi) they will maintain the 'charted' depth.

The canals (except perhaps the branch to St Valery) are commercial waterways and the barges run laden to the depth of the canals - frequently pushing mud because of a little over loading. There would be an uproar if the canal water levels were allowed to drop stopping the commercial traffic... OK if there were a really serious national drought on an unprecedented scale there could be a problem but excepting that provided your draft is with in the 'charted' depth you should be OK.

I have been down the outside a dozen or so times and UP the outside 3 times. It is a long way, always to windward and at the end there is the 'weather window' wait in northern Spain to get a suitable window for the 4-5 days to Falmouth or similar... Going south I prefer outside - down wind and easy...

If the boat can go north by the canals which can be done in two weeks Med - English Channel I would always go for that rather than 3 weeks slog plus back round he outside - almost all to windward.


New member
20 Feb 2006
Visit site
The best bet is to look on the VNF website and get the Rhone Information hotline telephone number. This broadcasts the Rhone flow rates in English (press Option 2) and select the lock by lock option. This way you can chart the flow rates of the Rhone and watch out for large lumps of water coming down the river!