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A floating market on one of Thailand's waterways Damnoensaduak97.jpg
A floating market on one of Thailand's waterways

A waterway is any navigable body of water. Broad distinctions are useful to avoid ambiguity, and disambiguation will be of varying importance depending on the nuance of the equivalent word in other languages. A first distinction is necessary between maritime shipping routes and waterways used by inland water craft. Maritime shipping routes cross oceans and seas, and some lakes, where navigability is assumed, and no engineering is required, except to provide the draft for deep-sea shipping to approach seaports (channels), or to provide a short cut across an isthmus; this is the function of ship canals. Dredged channels in the sea are not usually described as waterways. There is an exception to this initial distinction, essentially for legal purposes, see under international waters.

Navigability body of water, such as a river, canal or lake, is navigable if it is deep, wide and slow enough for a vessel to pass or walk

A body of water, such as a river, canal or lake, is navigable if it is deep, wide and slow enough for a vessel to pass or walk. Preferably there are few obstructions such as rocks or trees to avoid. Bridges must have sufficient clearance. High water speed may make a channel unnavigable. Waters may be unnavigable because of ice, particularly in winter. Navigability depends on context: A small river may be navigable by smaller craft, such as a motorboat or a kayak, but unnavigable by a cruise ship. Shallow rivers may be made navigable by the installation of locks that increase and regulate water depth, or by dredging.

Body of water Any significant accumulation of water, generally on a planets surface

A body of water or waterbody is any significant accumulation of water, generally on a planet's surface. The term most often refers to oceans, seas, and lakes, but it includes smaller pools of water such as ponds, wetlands, or more rarely, puddles. A body of water does not have to be still or contained; rivers, streams, canals, and other geographical features where water moves from one place to another are also considered bodies of water.

Channel (geography) A type of landform in which part of a body of water is confined to a relatively narrow but long region

In physical geography, a channel is a type of landform consisting of the outline of a path of relatively shallow and narrow body of fluid, most commonly the confine of a river, river delta or strait. The word is cognate to canal, and sometimes takes this form, e.g. the Hood Canal.


Where seaports are located inland, they are approached through a waterway that could be termed "inland" but in practice is generally referred to as a "maritime waterway" (examples Seine Maritime, Loire Maritime, Seeschiffahrtsstraße Elbe). The term "inland waterway" refers to navigable rivers and canals designed to be used by inland waterway craft only, implicitly of much smaller dimensions than seagoing ships.

In order for a waterway to be navigable, it must meet several criteria:

Ship Large buoyant watercraft

A ship is a large watercraft that travels the world's oceans and other sufficiently deep waterways, carrying passengers or goods, or in support of specialized missions, such as defense, research and fishing. Historically, a "ship" was a sailing vessel with at least three square-rigged masts and a full bowsprit. Ships are generally distinguished from boats, based on size, shape, load capacity, and tradition.

Draft (hull) the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel)

The draft or draught of a ship's hull is the vertical distance between the waterline and the bottom of the hull (keel), with the thickness of the hull included; in the case of not being included the draft outline would be obtained. Draft determines the minimum depth of water a ship or boat can safely navigate.

Beam (nautical) width of a ship at its widest point measured at its nominal waterline

The beam of a ship is its width at the widest point as measured at the ship's nominal waterline. The beam is a bearing projected at right-angles from the fore and aft line, outwards from the widest part of ship. Beam may also be used to define the maximum width of a ship's hull, or maximum width including superstructure overhangs.

Vessels using waterways vary from small animal-drawn barges to immense ocean tankers and ocean liners, such as cruise ships.

Animal Kingdom of motile multicellular eukaryotic heterotrophic organisms

Animals are multicellular eukaryotic organisms that form the biological kingdom Animalia. With few exceptions, animals consume organic material, breathe oxygen, are able to move, can reproduce sexually, and grow from a hollow sphere of cells, the blastula, during embryonic development. Over 1.5 million living animal species have been described—of which around 1 million are insects—but it has been estimated there are over 7 million animal species in total. Animals range in length from 8.5 millionths of a metre to 33.6 metres (110 ft). They have complex interactions with each other and their environments, forming intricate food webs. The kingdom Animalia includes humans, but in colloquial use the term animal often refers only to non-human animals. The study of non-human animals is known as zoology.

Barge flat-bottomed boat, built mainly for river, canal transport of heavy goods, usually pushed by tugboats

A barge is a shoal-draft flat-bottomed boat, built mainly for river and canal transport of bulk goods. Originally barges were towed by draft horses on an adjacent towpath. Today, barges may be self-propelled, usually with a slow-revving diesel engine and a large-diameter fixed-pitch propeller. Otherwise, "dumb barges" must be towed by tugs, or pushed by pusher boats. Compared to a towed barge, a pusher system has improved handling and is more efficient, as the pushing tug becomes "part of the unit" and it contributes to the momentum of the whole.

Tanker (ship) ship designed to transport liquids or gases in bulk

A tanker is a ship designed to transport or store liquids or gases in bulk. Major types of tankship include the oil tanker, the chemical tanker, and gas carrier. Tankers also carry commodities such as vegetable oils, molasses and wine. In the United States Navy and Military Sealift Command, a tanker used to refuel other ships is called an oiler but many other navies use the terms tanker and replenishment tanker.

Example of classification of inland waterways

The European Conference of Ministers of Transport established in 1953 a classification of waterways that was later expanded to take into account the development of push-towing. Europe is a continent with a great variety of waterway characteristics, which makes this classification valuable to appreciate the different classes of waterway. There is also a remarkable variety of waterway characteristics in many countries of Asia, but there has not been any equivalent international drive for uniformity. This classification is provided by the UN Economic Commission for Europe, Inland Transport Committee, Working Party on Inland Water Transport. A low resolution version of that map is shown here.

Classification of European inland waterways, adapted from UNECE Map of European Inland Waterways, 4th ed., 2010 Classification Waterways UNECE.jpg
Classification of European inland waterways, adapted from UNECE Map of European Inland Waterways, 4th ed., 2010

See also

The European waterway network, differentiating waterways by Class (I to VII) UNECE-European-waterways-2012.jpg
The European waterway network, differentiating waterways by Class (I to VII)
Air draft distance from water to the highest point on a vessel or lowest point on a bridge span, etc.

Air draft is the distance from the surface of the water to the highest point on a vessel. This is similar to the "deep draft" of a vessel which is measured from the surface of the water to the deepest part of the hull below the surface, but air draft is expressed as a height, not a depth.

Flume human-made channel for water

A flume is a human-made channel for water in the form of an open declined gravity chute whose walls are raised above the surrounding terrain, in contrast to a trench or ditch. Flumes are not to be confused with aqueducts, which are built to transport water, rather than transporting materials using flowing water as a flume does. Flumes route water from a diversion dam or weir to a desired materiel collection location.

Great Lakes Waterway System of channels and canals in the Great Lakes

The Great Lakes Waterway (GLW) is a system of natural channels and canals which enable navigation between the North American Great Lakes. Though all of the lakes are naturally connected as a chain, water travel between the lakes was impeded for centuries by obstacles such as Niagara Falls and the rapids of the St. Marys River.

Related Research Articles

Canal Man-made channel for water

Canals, or navigations, are human-made channels, or artificial waterways, for water conveyance, or to service water transport vehicles. It can be thought as an artificial version of a river.

Saint Lawrence Seaway Locks & canals in the USA and Canada

The Saint Lawrence Seaway is a system of locks, canals, and channels in Canada and the United States that permits oceangoing vessels to travel from the Atlantic Ocean to the Great Lakes of North America, as far inland as Duluth, Minnesota at the western end of Lake Superior. The seaway is named for the Saint Lawrence River, which flows from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean. Legally, the seaway extends from Montreal, Quebec, to Lake Erie and includes the Welland Canal.

Maritime transport transportation on water surface or through water entity, using watercrafts

Maritime transport, fluvial transport, or more generally waterborne transport is the transport of people (passengers) or goods (cargo) via waterways. Freight transport by sea has been widely used throughout recorded history. The advent of aviation has diminished the importance of sea travel for passengers, though it is still popular for short trips and pleasure cruises. Transport by water is cheaper than transport by air, despite fluctuating exchange rates and a fee placed on top of freighting charges for carrier companies known as the currency adjustment factor (CAF).

Port maritime commercial facility

A port is a maritime facility which may comprise one or more wharves where ships may dock to load and discharge passengers and cargo. Although usually situated on a sea coast or estuary, some ports, such as Hamburg, Manchester and Duluth, are many miles inland, with access to the sea via river or canal.

Waterways in the United Kingdom

Waterways in the United Kingdom is a link page for any waterway, river, canal, firth or estuary in the United Kingdom.

Ship canal

A ship canal is a canal especially intended to accommodate ships used on the oceans, seas or lakes to which it is connected, as opposed to a barge canal intended to carry barges and other vessels specifically designed for river and/or canal navigation. Because of the constraints of accommodating vessels capable of navigating large bodies of open water, a ship canal typically offers deeper water and higher bridge clearances than a barge canal of similar vessel length and width constraints.

Cargo ship ship or vessel that carries cargo, goods, and materials onboard from one port to another

A cargo ship or freighter ship is a merchant ship that carries cargo, goods, and materials from one port to another. Thousands of cargo carriers ply the world's seas and oceans each year, handling the bulk of international trade. Cargo ships are usually specially designed for the task, often being equipped with cranes and other mechanisms to load and unload, and come in all sizes. Today, they are almost always built by welded steel, and with some exceptions generally have a life expectancy of 25 to 30 years before being scrapped.

Riverboat watercraft designed for inland navigation

A riverboat is a watercraft designed for inland navigation on lakes, rivers, and artificial waterways. They are generally equipped and outfitted as work boats in one of the carrying trades, for freight or people transport, including luxury units constructed for entertainment enterprises, such as lake or harbour tour boats. As larger water craft, virtually all riverboats are especially designed and constructed, or alternatively, constructed with special-purpose features that optimizes them as riverine or lake service craft, for instance, dredgers, survey boats, fisheries management craft, fireboats and law enforcement patrol craft.

Merchant ship civilian boat or ship that transports cargo or carries passengers for hire

A merchant ship, merchant vessel, trading vessel, or merchantman is a watercraft that transports cargo or carries passengers for hire. This is in contrast to pleasure craft, which are used for personal recreation, and naval ships, which are used for military purposes.

The modern terms short sea shipping,marine highway and motorways of the sea refer to the historical terms coastal trade, coastal shipping, coasting trade and coastwise trade, which encompass the movement of cargo and passengers mainly by sea along a coast, without crossing an ocean. 'Deep-sea shipping', 'intercontinental shipping' or 'ocean shipping' refers to maritime traffic that crosses oceans. While 'short-sea shipping' is the term used in Europe, the United States also has used the term, 'marine highway'.

Shipping line business that transports cargo aboard ships

A shipping line is a business that transports cargo aboard ships.

The Nicaraguan Ecocanal is a proposed project in Nicaragua to build a shallow-draft waterway connecting the inland Lake Nicaragua with the Caribbean Sea via the San Juan River in the south of the country. The main aim of the waterway is to provide a maritime alternative to the lengthy overland journeys that are presently required to import and export containerised cargoes through the ports of Puerto Cortes in Honduras and Puerto Limon in Costa Rica.

Eurasia Canal canal

The Eurasia Canal is a proposed 700-kilometre-long (430 mi) canal connecting the Caspian Sea to the Black Sea along the Kuma-Manych Depression. Currently, a chain of lakes and reservoirs and the shallow irrigation Kuma-Manych Canal are found along this route.

National Waterway 3 National waterway of India

The West Coast Canal or National Waterway No 3 is a 168-km stretch of this inland navigational route located in Kerala, India and runs from Trivandrum to Kasargod and was declared a National Waterway in 1993. In addition to the main stretch, Champakara and Udyogmandal canals are navigable and connect the industrial centers of Kochi to Kochi port Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) under the Ministry of Shipping is coordinating the task for developing, monitoring and administering national waterways. It is the first National Waterway in the country with 24-hour navigation facilities along the entire stretch.It has been extended to Kozhikode as per National Waterways Act, 2016.

Türkmenderýaýollary is a state-owned operator of waterways and river-ports in Turkmenistan. The company operates 1,013 km (629 mi) of river-ways on Amu Darya and Karakum Canal.

Blue sign used by inland waterways vessels when performing a special manoeuvre or passing on the starboard side

A blue sign or blue board is used by inland waterways vessels within the Trans-European Inland Waterway network when performing a special manoeuvre or passing on the starboard side. On navigable waterways vessels normally pass each other on the port-side, so the display of the blue sign and flashing white light signal intention to pass each other on the starboard-side. This process is known as blue boarding or historically blue flagging.

Water transport in India has played a significant role in the country's economy and is indispensable to foreign trade. It has the largest carrying capacity of any form of transport and is most suitable for carrying bulky goods over long distances. It is one of the most cheap modes of transport in India, as it takes advantage of natural track and does not require huge capital investment in construction and maintenance except in the case of canals. Its fuel efficiency contributes to lower operating costs and reduced environmental impact due to carbon. India has 14500 km of inland waterways. Out of which only 5685 km are navigable by mechanised vessels.


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    The objective of the “Blue Book” is to establish an inventory of existing and envisaged standards and parameters of "E-waterways" and ports in Europe and to show, on an internationally comparable basis, the current inland navigation infrastructure parameters prescribed on the Agreement on Main Inland Waterways of International Importance