European Inland Waterways


Internal Waters, the waters landward of the Base Line (see Law of the Sea and the Coastal State for clarification of these terms), are considered to be an integral part of the Coastal State, therefore a foreign vessel visiting the inland waters of another country should be prepared to comply with any legislation that country may have in place that is applicable to foreign flagged vessels.

The main waterways of continental Europe are a key element of the transport network and are used heavily by freight traffic which includes transporting hazardous cargo.

Regulations are developed locally, nationally and internationally leading to a varied regulatory basis.

Across much of the European Inland Waterways the Code Européen des Voies de Navigation Intérieure (CEVNI) forms the basis of the regulations. CEVNI is a United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) resolution, number 24. Unlike the Collision Regulations (COLREG), when CEVNI is implemented in a country through national legislation it may be altered, hence although CEVNI forms the basis of the regulations, the rules may not be identical from country to country and regional variations are also permitted.

Resolution 24 is a live document and periodically new revisions are issued. Although most implementing Governments update the national and regional legislation in line with the new revision of the resolution, this takes time. Therefore the applicable legislation may not be based on the latest published revision of Resolution 24. That said, learning and understanding CEVNI is a good starting point.

Resolution 24

Online version of CEVNI (searchable)

CEVNI overview poster

Establishing which regulations apply and where can be complex. The regulations for rivers governed by a commission may differ from the national ‘river police’ regulations of the country you are in. Additionally the different regulations may be set by the local navigation authority or the rules may vary from waterway to waterway in a country depending on the waterway’s classification.

It is often a requirement to carry on board a copy of the applicable rules (which may be written in the native language of the country concerned). In some countries it is necessary to have a permit to use certain waterways. Where the RYA has details of such requirements the information is provided within our countries pages.

Evidence of Competence

The requirement for evidence of competence varies from country to country. Sometimes it is required for coastal waters, sometimes for inland waters, sometimes for neither and sometimes for both. Evidence of competence is discussed in detail under The ICC and Evidence of Competence Abroad.

Working towards harmonisation of the rules

The ICC is one example of the work that has been undertaken over the years to harmonise regulations across the interconnected European inland waterways. The ICC is the product of another UNECE Resolution (Number 40).

UNECE has, through its various technical and policy bodies, been working towards sustainable and efficient inland water transport across the UNECE region since 1956. However, amongst others, the European Union (EU) and the River Commissions are also working to harmonise the rules, which primarily govern the considerable freight traffic that navigates the interconnected European waterways every year.

In recent years regulations to which UK recreational boaters must adhere when navigating inland waterways overseas have been gradually increasing particularly, but not exclusively, for boats over 20m in length or more than 100m³.

Information the RYA has can be found in the following pages:

Technical Requirements for Inland Waterways Vessels