Barge Life: Maps and Navigation

Two choices for detailed maps of France's inland waterways

Two choices for detailed maps of France’s inland waterways

Europe’s network of inland waterways usually provides multiple ways to get to the same place. With the choice of routes comes the dilemma: Which way should we go?

If we were planning a route by road we usually would scout the routes using Google Maps. Traveling by river and canal, other resources are needed. There are many considerations. Where can we stop? What can we see along the way? And though Wanderlust will fit on most of Europe’s waterways, there are places where she won’t. It is essential to know the waterways where we can’t go. There’s not a single resource that provides all of the planning information we want. Instead we use multiple methods for planning our route.

PC Navigo plotting our route from Calais to Auxerre

PC Navigo plotting our route from Calais to Auxerre

Close up details from PC Navigo

Close up details from PC Navigo

Computer mapping and planning software:

We use PC Navigo. The program is good for planning routes with the ability to include the dimensional restrictions. With a GPS dongle, it also has the capability for tracking progress in real time. It can even interface with an AIS transponder. The program has reasonably up-to-date contact information so you know which VHF channel to use or phone number to call to talk to the VNF when two red lights are showing at the lock ahead. Importantly, if the navigational updates are kept up to date, PC Navigo will provide waterway stoppage information as a route is planned.

Sounds great but there are limitations to PC Navigo. The program itself is a bit kludgy. It is certainly not refined to the level of car navigation programs. Though there is a new version out for the Mac, the program has a much longer history on PC’s.

There are other options. Other navigational aids are available like chart plotters, Water-way, and Navionics. Even a car GPS such as a TomTom can provide useful information about upcoming twists and bends in the waterways and also can provide information about services available nearby. And of course there is GoogleMaps.

For route planning only, websites like the VNF’s can be used. The VNF website includes important stoppage information and alerts. Canal Plan AC is another route planning tool available on the Internet.

A large map of the entire waterway network is very useful

A large map of the entire waterway network is very useful

Mooring information:

For barges, the best resource for learning the ins and outs of moorings on the inland waterways is the Barge Association’s Waterways Guide. The member base updates this guide with the details important to passing pleasure boats with the bias towards boats the size of barges. It is available only to DBA members.

There a lot of waterways in France

There a lot of waterways in France

Maps:

We like having paper map books on hand. Amongst other things, it is always good to have a back up to the electronic systems. The maps also provide more detail about the waterways including little tidbits on the history and sights in the area.

There is a downside: Both Fluviacarte and the Éditions du Breil Waterways Guides are significantly out of date. Though the basic route and lock information remains basically correct, many of the service related details are not. For example, we’ve often found the watering point information and the VNF contact information to be off. But an advantage of the paper maps is that you can take notes and make corrections. The next time through the area you will know have a more accurate map.

Breil vs Fluviacarte: There’s a lot of overlap between the Fluviacarte and Breil Guides. The Fluviacarte guides have slightly wider coverage. All things being equal, we prefer the Éditions du Breil format but the choice between the two guides is highly personal.

A detailed map inside an Éditions du Breil Waterways Guide.

A detailed map inside an Éditions du Breil Waterways Guide.

Typical page inside a Fluviacarte

Typical page inside a Fluviacarte

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