Recreational boating in Belgium
The Belgian network of waterways has a total length of 1 523 kilometres. This basic network can be roughly broken down as follows:
- Three major radial or axes connecting the industrial areas with the ports:
- the Antwerp-Liège axis via the Albert Canal;
- the Antwerp-Brussels-Charleroi axis via the Maritime Scheldt, the sea-canal and the Brussels-Charleroi Canal;
- the Antwerp-Ghent-Borinage axis, via the Scheldt and the Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes Canal.
- Two large transversal axes:
- the northern, linking the ports on the coast and at Ghent and Antwerp with the port of Liège;
- the southern, linking Dunkirk with Liège via Lille, Mons and Namur and in Belgian territory is formed by the Nimy-Blaton-Péronnes Canal, the Centre Canal, the Sambre and the Maas (Meuse).
The waterways are managed by the Flemish administration in the North and by the Walloon administration in the South. The Brussels administration manages 14 km of waterways, from the lock at Anderlecht (on the canal between Charleroi and Brussels) to the bridge of Vilvoorde (on the canal between Brussels and the river Scheldt).
These regional administrations are empowered:
- to fix the operating hours of locks and bridges;
- to select the sections where high-speed navigation is allowed;
- to authorise the driving of vehicles on the tow-paths;
- to decide where the boats can be moored;
- to edit the “Newsletters for Shipping” (Berichten aan de Schipperij – Avis à la Batellerie);
- to authorise the organisation of nautical events on the waterways;
- to maintain and repair the engineering works on the waterways;
To navigate on the Belgian network of waterways, the navigators of foreign pleasure boats entering Belgium via a waterway must report their arrival at the first Belgian tax collector’s office or lock encountered on their shipping route. When these boats leave Belgium, their navigators are required to report their exit at the booth of the last lock encountered. The same applies to foreign recreational boats that are launched on or removed from the Belgian shipping waterways.
We advise you to download the leaflet “Guide on the water”.
Foreign pleasure boats must carry the shipping documents about the registration required in their country of origin. They must fly their national flag or an indication of their country of origin on the prow (annex 1 of the recommendations of the European Code for Inland Waterways – ECIW).
The list of sections where high-speed navigation is allowed can be obtained from the respective regional administrators.
A boating license for recreational navigation on the Belgian inland waterways is mandatory for steering a pleasure boat that either is at least 15 meters in length or is equipped with an engine and can reach a speed of at least 20 km/hour. Some equivalent license delivered by the authorities of your country may be also accepted.
The markings and lights and inland navigation rules on the Belgian waterways are based upon the recommendations of the European Code for Inland Waterways (ECIW).
Pleasure boats navigating on the open sea and in the Belgian maritime waters must have a certificate of registry (a document which entitles the vessel to fly the flag of a country).
The Belgian maritime waters include:
- the territorial sea;
- the coastal ports;
- the port of Ghent;
- the canals between Ostend and Bruges;
- the canals between Zeebrugge and Bruges;
- the Belgian part of the canal between Ghent and Terneuzen;
- the “Beneden-Zeeschelde”.