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Discover France by canal

Freedom to travel the 6,700km of waterways in France can cost just €84.90 for a year

FREEDOM to travel the 6,700km of waterways in France can cost just €84.90 for a year - or many times that unless you know some simple rules.

This month’s Fête du Nautisme gives a chance to try out most water-based activities across the country for the weekend of June 5-6 and Connexion took a look at the French waterways - Europe’s largest navigable network.

The 6,700km of rivers, canals and lakes is controlled by Voies Navigable de France, an organisation under the ecology and energy ministry.

You pay to use the network - and pay for its upkeep - with a series of vignettes which cover the period you are travelling.

Tickets for one-day, three-day, holiday, leisure and all-year usage are available as well as special seasonal packages.

Prices start at e12 for a one-day pass for a boat under 12m2 (payment is based on surface area not length, measure the length of the boat and multiply by the breadth - including fenders - typical 9m boats x 3m wide = 18m2).

A full year’s Freedom (Liberté) vignette will cost €553.30 for a boat of more than 60m2; boats under 12m2 pay €84.90 a year, while holiday usage - 16 days - costs €415.60 for the largest boats and €31 for the smallest.

The vignette should be stuck in a visible area on the left-hand side of the windscreen.

The majority of moorings amarrages on the network are free but private marinas will charge around €10.

Year-round berths are widely variable but expect to pay around e1,500. Electricity and water is usually included in the mooring charge.

It is free to moor up temporarily at most canal sides - use an anchor stake as it is forbidden to tie up to trees as it can damage them and block the towpath.

In general, touring inland and finding available moorings will cost under €10 a night in quieter villages. Travelling across Brittany and mooring up for longer periods in a 9m boat will cost about €18 a night.

Some ports, like Saint-Vaast in the Manche, will make no charge out of season but will cost €23 for that same 9m boat in high season.

Elsewhere, the most popular canal on the network is the Canal du Midi which links the Garonne river on Atlantic and the Mediterranean at Sète. It carries one quarter of all French river tourism

Completed in 1681, the 240km canal is a Unesco World Heritage Site and is famous for its tree-lined stretches; although, sadly, many of the plane trees are now diseased with chancre coloré fungus and have had to be cut down.

Once on the Mediterranean, prices for moorings vary enormously and the availability is scarce although super-yachts will pay €1,300 a night in Saint-Tropez outside of peak periods and €1,200 at Port Hercule in Monaco.

By contrast, Port Camargue, which gives access to the Mediterranean and the Rhône will cost €11 a night.

Ports can be full for peak periods and Cannes has a waiting list of at least a year for berths at film festival time.


Year-round moorings can also be very expensive, with some only available on 50-year leases.

Apart from the VNF vignette, boats must have their original registration document and display their registration number, insurance policy and, if fitted, a ship’s radio licence (one of the crew must also have a radio operator’s certificate)

No licences or formal qualifications are needed if hiring a boat but anyone looking at a longer period afloat would need to take the International Certificate of Competence and the CEVNI qualification, which is the European Inland Waterways Highway Code.

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