Equipage - VNF, Sylvain Cambon

All the information you need
for sailing on the Canal du Midi

There are no major risks involved in sailing along the Canal du Midi, but it is still important to be well prepared and to be aware of all the customs and practices involved in waterway navigation.  

Be well prepared for sailing on the Canal du Midi

When is it possible to go sailing on the Canal du Midi?

Sailing is possible from the beginning of April to the beginning of November. This is the peak season!
Out of the peak season, it's possible to sail but you have to issue a request (contact Voies Navigables de France). 

Did you know?

During the low season, there's a period when the canal is closed to navigation. This winter period allows the canal management, Voies Navigables de France (VNF), to carry out all the maintenance and restoration work needed on engineering structures. The locks are closed at this time, and the canal pounds (canal sections between locks) can be emptied.

Navigation is also prohibited across the whole Canal des Deux Mers on 1 January, 1 May, 11 November and 25 December. 

For all practical information about sailing (opening hours and periods for locks, annual closure dates), we recommend browsing this document: Notice to Skippers n°1 from the south-west regional branch of VNF.

There is a table of annual closure periods available to download on the website

A boating license for inland waterways is not always compulsory

If you want to sail your own boat on the Canal du Midi, you will need a boating license for inland waterways. But if you are hiring a boat, this is not necessary! The company you hire the boat from is responsible for its boats and must have a charter authorisation to be able to provide boats for hire.

The boat and its crew

Every boat must have a crew of at least 2 people on board. 

When passing through locks, the skipper must remain at the helm while another crew member secures the ropes and moors the boat. The lock keeper is entitled to refuse the passage of a boat with only one person on board!
It is necessary to follow the instructions given by the lock keeper or those on display when passing through an automated lock.

Dimensions of bridges, locks and other engineering structures

Length and width of locks, height of bridges, clearance, draught, etc. Here, you'll find all the information regarding the Canal du Midi.

Lock length: 33 m

Lock width: 6.45 m

Draught: 1.40 m

Clearance: 3.60 m

Clearance for 5.5 m in width: 3.35 m

Lock length: 40.25 m

Lock width: 5.70 m

Draught: 1.40 m

Clearance: 3.55 m

Clearance for 5.5 m in width: 2.70 m

Lock length: 30 m

Lock width: 5.50 m

Draught: 1.40 m

Clearance: 3.30 m

Clearance for 5.5 m in width: 2.40 m

Lock length: 40.60 m

Lock width: 5.85 m

Draught: 1.40 m

Clearance: 3.40 m

Clearance for 5.5 m in width: 2.40 m

Lock length: 40.50 m

Lock width: 5.60 m

Draught: 1.40 m

Clearance: 3.70 m

Clearance for 5.5 m in width: 2.60 m

Lock length: 40.50 m

Lock width: 5.95 m

Draught: 1.30 m

Clearance: 3.30 m

Clearance for 5.5 m in width: 2.60 m

Canal draught (tirant d'eau du canal)

On the Canal du Midi, the draught is fixed at a maximum of 1.50 m in the sailing channel. There is an increased risk of grounding beyond this limit. 

Tirant d'eau

Tirant d'eau

Bridge clearance (tirant d'air de l'ouvrage)

The Pont Marengo bridge in Carcassonne (opposite the train station) has the most limited clearance level: 3.30 m in the sailing channel. 

Tirant d'air

Tirant d'air

Sailing toll fees

To ensure you are sailing legally and contributing to the maintenance of inland waterways, each boat must pay a navigation toll fee. This fee then grants you access to using the public waterways across the network managed by VNF. 

When you pay the toll fee, you will be issued:  
- proof of payment
- a 'disk' which needs to be displayed at the front of the boat, on the starboard side, visible at all times. 

When you hire a boat, this disk should already be on display, certifying payment of the toll fee.

Sailing toll fee: purchase your disk on the website www.vnf.fr .

What you need to know before sailing on the Canal du Midi

Learn how to sail

Sailing correctly is not something that just comes naturally. To find out about the customs and practices of sailing, check out the page Learn to sail in accordance with standard practices - VNF 

Access live information about sailing conditions

If you would like to access information about the conditions on the inland waterway in real time, download the mobile application Navi, developed by Voies Navigables de France, 'waterway news in the palm of your hand'.

Navi application - VNF 

You'll be informed of any 'Skipper Notices' issued, to warn users of the waterway of any expected or unexpected events that might affect the sailing conditions.

You can also read or subscribe to these Skipper Notices:

Skipper Notices

To find out about sailing conditions on the Canal des Deux Mers, check out the sailing map for the VNF south west inland waterway network: 

Sailing map for the south west France network

Standard sailing direction

Just like on the road, you'll need to sail on the right-hand side of the canal. Do not get too close to the banks. Drifting is not authorised. 

Any overtaking or passing must only be done if the manoeuvres do not present any danger. The passengers on board must not hamper the skipper's visibility. 

If two boats engage into a section of the waterway that is not wide enough to accommodate the two boats at the same time, the boat sailing in a downstream direction shall pass as a priority.

Did you know?

On the Canal du Midi, the canal pound where the waters merge is at the Seuil de Naurouze, between the 'Océan' and 'Méditerranée' locks. At the outlet of the supply channel, the canal leads in an easterly direction to the Mediterranean and in a westerly direction to the Atlantic.

Navigation speed

The speed limit for boats on the canal is 8 km/hr to avoid any damage to the banks.  

When you approach engineering structures (locks, bridges, aqueducts, ports, stations), speed must be reduced to 3 km/hr to cross through them. This speed limit is also applicable when you are passing or overtaking another boat.

The rules of common courtesy require a reduction in speed when passing by smaller craft (boats, canoes, etc.) or people fishing on the banks. It is recommended to use a horn when approaching engineering structures where visibility is limited.

Mooring boats

It is always better to moor your boat at a designated port, station or dock. You'll find a range of services at the Harbourmaster's offices at the ports and stations such as water supply, electricity terminals, sanitary facilities, washing machines, Wi-Fi, etc.

Places where mooring is forbidden will be marked out with a dotted yellow line on the wall of the dock ('reserved for barges'). Boats should never be moored in a place that obstructs navigation or the use of towpaths. It is forbidden to moor a boat underneath a bridge, on an aqueduct or in the sailing channel. 

If you would like to moor your boat in an isolated place, use a post that has been planted in the banks. Please note that mooring a boat to a tree is strictly forbidden. On the one hand because the ropes can cause serious accidents for cyclists or walkers, and on the other hand because the ropes damage the trees and encourage the spread of canker stain, a disease caused by a microscopic fungus that attacks plane trees.

You will need authorisation from Voies Navigables de France if you plan on mooring your boot in the public waterway domain for a long duration.


Swimming in the Canal du Midi is strictly forbidden. There are plenty of swimming areas in the surrounding area of the canal. 

Navigation police regulations

You can access the inland navigation police regulations for the whole of the Canal des Deux Mers network, including branches. 

Special police regulations for the canal route

Browse the inland navigation police regulations (RGPNI or RGP) in this sample of extracts from the Transport Code from the French Ministry of Transport.

The inland navigation police regulations

Passing through the locks on the Canal du Midi

Along the Canal des Deux Mers there is a series of different types of locks. They differ in size, materials, and also structure. Some feature a single chamber (basin) and some have several. Some locks are 'double' (2 chambers), 'triple' (3 chambers), 'quadruple' (4 chambers), 'quintuple' (5 chambers)... or even 'sextuple' such as Fonseranes locks with a succession of 7 chambers in the form of a staircase of locks.

Did you know?

In periods where water is scarce, a Skipper's Notice sets a waiting time and instructions for boats to group together before passing through the locks. Under normal circumstances, there is usually a waiting time of 20 minutes to pass through a lock.

Some recommendations

When you are approaching an engineering structure, do not get closer than 50 m from the lock. Do not continue unless the light turns green or the lock keeper has signalled that you can move forward.

Approach the banks or tie your boat to the pontoon just before the lock. A crew member will need to get off the boat and walk to the lock to begin mooring the boat. The skipper must stay on board the boat at all times.

Once the doors open, move slowly towards the lock. Inside the chamber, stay behind the painted marking on the lock wall.

We ask you to be careful in the surrounding area of the locks, especially if you are travelling with children. They should not take part in the manoeuvres and must wear a life jacket at all times. When the boat is moored inside the lock chamber, this is not an opportunity to stop for a break and disembark.

To pass through the locks, boats must be moored and the engine must be in neutral. Users must not use the safety ladders inside the chambers to disembark, even if it is to attach the boat. The mooring must take into consideration the variations in the water level inside the chamber. Ropes should have enough leeway to slide up and down the bollard. Do not tie any knots! Ropes should not be simply wound around the bollard or held in place by hand, but correctly attached so that they do not fall into the water.

While waiting in the chambers of some locks, the moving waters could cause the boat to drift away from the bank and turn to the side. We recommend holding onto the ropes tightly on-board the boat.

Regroupement - VNF, Sylvain Cambon

Regroupement - VNF, Sylvain Cambon

The types of locks you will come across while sailing

While sailing, you may come across two different types of locks: mechanical locks and automated locks. There are not many automated locks on the Canal du Midi. 

A lock keeper will be present as you pass through the mechanical locks. Once the boat has been moored, the lock keeper will begin opening or closing the doors, and then begin process of emptying or filling the lock chamber. The lock keeper will manage the boats passing through and make sure that each boat respects the queuing system. Some boats will be given priority, and you can recognise these boats with a block red flag visible at the front of the boat. Make sure you respect the lock keepers' instructions and advice.  

Good to know!

To ensure navigation flows correctly and to save water wherever possible, the lock keeper may ask several boats to enter the lock chamber at the same time, depending on traffic at the time. Moor your boat correctly while remaining aware of other boats around you.  

To pass through the few automated locks on the Canal du Midi, users will need to operate the locks themselves using the control panel with all the practical instructions. There are no lock keepers at these locks. In the event of an incident or accident, there is an 'emergency stop' button to bring all manoeuvres to a halt and notify a member of the VNF team who will come to assist you.