Waterway Rules of The Road for Sailing in French Waters

The rules for navigating through the waterways is straightforward to follow. While the rules are essential, the sailor/navigator should be able to handle the boat properly and confidently. Both the theory and practical knowledge of the waterway code of sailing in France is vital for a sailor to follow.

Commercial Traffic and Barge Priority

If you are sailing a small boat, keep in mind that the commercial boats and other barges get higher priority than your vessel. You must make sure that you give room to them to carry on with their journey and ensure they have enough room to maneuver easily. It is the job of the skipper on board always to remember the rules of giving way to barges and bigger vessels when they work on the boat. The law applies even to trip boats. All the craft should be steered clear off, and this includes dredges and maintenance vessels that need to work at sites on the waterways in France.

Croisement – Meeting of Other Vessels

Only if the waterway is wide enough can two vessels pass each other?

All size, traffic, and locality should be considered before deciding to pass a vessel on a waterway. When boats are on their course and if there is no risk of colliding with other traffic, should under no circumstance reduce their speed suddenly or charge their course suddenly, that it causes a collision. When boats meet or pass, it should always happen to the right side.

Blue Flag Rule

When you are on wider waterways like rivers, it is common for boats that are heading upstream to stay on the inside of the channel when they are in a bend. The practice usually is to use the slacker water while the vessels that are going downstream stay in the middle. The international Blue Flag rule is what covers this rule, and vessels which are going to left, put up a blue flag to indicate their intention. If the skipper who is on the vessel things that the aim has not been understood correctly, he should blast two quick horns to the other vessel. The one short horn is to make the standard pass and indicating the same. This is not a rule for smaller boats but more for barges.


If you intend to pass a vessel in a waterway, it should always happen to the left. Passing can only occur on the right if the waterways are wide. The blue flag should be displayed on the bow to indicate the direction of overtaking or moving. If the boat that is being overtaken has to change any speed or its course to help the overtaking vessel, then the overtaking vessel should sound two short horns plus one long one to alert the other vessel that the overtake would be on starboard. For port passing, two long horns plus two short ones are required.


One long blast of the horn should be provided by the boat which wants to change its direction and turn around completely. The long blast is often followed by a short one. The short one should be used if the vessel is swinging to the right. Two sharp horns should be blasted after the long one if the boat is swinging to the left.


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