Many marinas on the German North Sea coast lie in the mudflats and, in view of unpredictable weather and the tide cycles, approach by boat is not always possible. Deep tidal creeks are mostly signposted quite well. Often, tidal sandbanks lie at the mouth of the creeks where heavy swell may come up before stormy winds. Dangerous ground swell might be running in certain places and at certain times. Tidal charts and up-to-date nautical charts are indispensable. The latter also include nature reserves and national parks.
Baltic Sea (Western Baltic Sea & Southern and middle Baltic Sea)
The Baltic Sea offers a variety of cruising grounds: from costal grounds to Bodden lagoons which basically are protected inland waterways. Your vessel, equipment and crew qualifications need to be compatible with the area you intend to cruise. Navigating on the basis of up-to-date nautical charts is a must, especially in regions with shoals and shallows. Boats operating in the Baltic Sea with permanently installed toilets are required to have a holding tank. When visibility closes in as you are skippering a vessel in the area of application of the German Inland Waterways Code, you need to use radar (if your vessel has operational radar), have your radio set turned on, and comply with all other rules for navigating in restricted visibility.
Rivers Eider & Treene
The Eider-Treene-Sorge riverscape is considered the jewel of Schleswig-Holstein’s inland. You can get ideas for your next holiday on the water in ADAC’s cruising guide for the cities of Rendsburg, Friedrichstadt and Tönning which are framed by typical green lowlands and marshes. Read more
Mecklenburg Lake District
The Mecklenburg Lake District as well as the Brandenburg Lake District and the Berlin rivers and lakes are Germany’s largest connected water sports cruising grounds. On some lakes and lake-like expansions no navigation is allowed at night between 22 and 5hrs. Sailing is not permitted on many fairways. Speed limits between 5kph and 25kph apply in this region. Make sure to take enough fuel for your journey, since the supply network is patchy.
Potsdam and Brandenburg Havel lakes
Its mix of riverscapes, lakes and numerous small channels makes the river Havel a hugely popular destination for water sports enthusiasts. Running just a stone’s throw west of Berlin, along 180 river kilometres you will find everything you could ever want for your water holidays. This river cruise is perfect for combining boating with land trips. Read more
Idyllic landscapes and a wealth of spectacular sights along its roughly 700km journey through Germany make the river Elbe perfect for recreational boating.
The river Rhine and its tributaries form an important north-south connection in Europe. For travelling these cruising grounds you will need timely information about the rivers and route sections. Up-to-date route information is provided by the German Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) in its ELWIS database (German only).
On this German federal waterway, most bridge heights between Kelheim and the border to Austria are 6m above the highest navigable water level. When you’re in the vicinity of locks, pay close attention to entry and exit lights and adhere to all posted signs.
Navigation on Lake Constance is subject to the Regulation on Navigation on Lake Constance (German only) adopted by the countries bordering the lake. All watercraft excepting boats without motor and shorter than 2.5m need to be registered. To operate a pleasure craft on Lake Constance, you need a category A or D Lake Constance boating licence. Holders of a skipper qualification for inland/coastal waters issued by one of the countries bordering Lake Constance can apply once a year for a one-month licence. For further information about water sports on Lake Constance visit the Lake Constance district office’s website (German only).
You are required to carry the following documentation:
- Depending on the cruising grounds: Skipper qualification for inland waters or costal waters
When cruising with your own or a boat you borrowed from a friend you additionally need:
- A valid international pleasure craft licence or other proof of boat registration (not mandatory for coastal waterways)
- Proof of ownership or boat owner’s power of attorney
- Proof of VAT payment (EU)
- Evidence of boat liability insurance cover
If you have maritime radio equipment on board:
- Restricted Certificate in Radiotelephony – VHF for navigating on inland waterways or Short Range Certificate (SRC) or Long Range Certificate (LRC) for maritime navigation.
- ATIS or MMSI number certificate
Entry and exit by boat
Usually, there are no customs or border controls at the EU’s internal borders in the Schengen area.
Any vessel arriving from a non-Schengen country must fly the Q flag and directly proceed to a port of entry for passport and customs clearance.
There are no special rules to bear in mind when entering with a boat by land.
If you are borrowing the vessel you are skippering from a friend, you should carry an authorisation and a copy of the valid boat registration from the country of origin, e.g. the international certificate for pleasure craft (ICP) issued by ADAC.
ADAC nautical tourism has prepared an authorisation template (Vollmacht) in four languages.
For free navigation around the waters of the EU a recreational craft (owned by an EU citizen) must have Union goods status. This is usually the case where the boat was bought in the EU or imported into the EU and released for free circulation.
Boats that do not have Union Goods status need to undergo customs procedures for the temporary duty-free admission or for free navigation in the EU by means of a customs declaration.
Proof of VAT payment (EU)
All EU boat owners need to prove VAT payment for their boat, provided the boat was first used on or after 1 January 1985 (Directive 92/111/EEC of 14 December 1992). Such proof (e.g. original invoice with VAT shown, confirmation by an authority or, if applicable, T2L document) needs to be produced upon request.
International certificate for pleasure craft
Documents that may serve as official proof of a boat’s registration include the certificate of registration (e.g. International certificate for pleasure craft issued by ADAC, the flag certificate, the water and shipping authority’s number plate.
Licence for operators of pleasure craft
Skippers 16 years of age and older are allowed to operate a pleasure craft – unlimited in length – up to an effective output between 3.69kW and 11.03kW (15hp) on German coastal waters and coastal waterways for private purposes without a licence. Youths under 16 years of age may operate vessels up to 3.68kW (5hp) accompanied only.
No licence is required for skippers 16 years and older to navigate vessels under 15m long on inland waterways, if the effective engine output does not exceed 11.03kW (15hp) and the vessel is not used for commercial purposes.
This rule does not apply on the river Rhine. This rule does not apply on the river Rhine where the horsepower limit for boating without a licence is 3.68kW (5hp). On Lake Constance, a boatman’s licence is not mandatory for boats up to 4.4kW (6hp).
Skipper qualifications which German citizens have acquired in a country outside Germany are normally valid in that country only and formal acceptance in Germany is not possible.
Pleasure craft skippers residing outside Germany may operate a boat for recreational use on German waters for one year with their national licence. For longer stays they need the German licence for operators of pleasure craft.
In certain German cruising grounds you can operate a pleasure craft without the required skipper qualification for inland waters.
This kind of permit is available for renting houseboats not longer than 15m with valid third party liability insurance, carrying up to 12 people and allowed to drive at a speed of 12kph. You can obtain the permit from the charter provider after taking part in an introductory course of minimum 3 hours. The permit is only granted for the inland waterways and the duration shown in the certificate.
Operation and use
To operate a radio, you need to obtain a ship station number (call sign) from the German Federal Network Agency.
On small watercraft (<20m long) navigating inland waterways radio equipment is not mandatory. Exceptions: for navigation in restricted visibility or high water also pleasure craft need to be equipped for inter-ship communication.
If a pleasure craft has maritime radio equipment on board, the skipper or a crew member must hold the required radiocommunication licence. Also, you need to carry the Germany section of the current handbook for VHF radios on inland waterways (Handbuch Binnenschifffahrtsfunk – Regionaler Teil Deutschland [German only]). This may also be an electronic copy, provided reading access is possible at all times.
For coastal navigation, you need the radio operator’s certificate appropriate for the radio installation you have on board. In most cases, pleasure craft skippers will only need the short range radio operator certificate (SRC).
You can find further information on skipper qualifications and radiocommunication licences in the ADAC brochure on skipper licences (German only).
While in Germany no statutory equipment requirements exist for pleasure craft used for recreational boating, there are recommendations for nautical equipment. By the practice of good seamanship, carrying safety equipment is a matter of course.
To find out which position lights, day shapes and sound signalling equipment you need for navigation after sunset and in poor visibility, please consult the applicable steering and sailing rules and equipment regulations for inland and coastal waterways. ADAC and the German water sports industry federation compiled an overview over the recommended minimum equipment for pleasure boats and yachts.
Directive 2013/53/EU on recreational craft and personal watercraft specifies certain design categories for boats and the related safety requirements. The manufacturer’s Declaration of Conformity or the CE marking will tell you the design category of your boat. While construction according to a specific design category does not imply any limitation to certain cruising grounds, this provides clear information about the acceptable operating environment of a yacht (4 categories).
The equipment of a recreational craft depends on the environment in which it will be used:
This category covers extended cruises in areas where winds may exceed wind force 8 (Beaufort scale) and the significant wave height (mean of one third of the highest waves) is 4 m and above, but excluding extreme weather conditions.
Designed for a wind force up to, and including, 8 and significant wave height up to, and including, 4m.
Designed for voyages in coastal waters, large bays, estuaries, lakes and rivers where conditions up to, and including, wind force 6 and significant wave heights up to, and including, 2m may be experienced.
Designed for voyages in sheltered waters, small bays, small lakes, narrow rivers and canals where wind forces of up to, and including, 4 and significant wave heights of up to, and including, 0.3m may occur, with occasional waves of 0.5m maximum height, e.g. generated by passing ships.
Please make sure that all safety equipment is regularly checked and serviced. This especially applies to emergency distress equipment. For inspection schedules and best before dates see the manufacturer’s specifications. Further information on emergency distress equipment is also available from the German association of manufacturers and importers of life-saving and rescue equipment (German only).
For navigation in coastal waterways and the open sea the following distress signals are mandatory:
- Explosive signal fired at intervals of about a minute
- Continuous fog horn sounding
- Orange smoke signal
- Morse code ›SOS‹ by any signalling method
- Signal sent by radiotelephony consisting of the spoken word ›MAYDAY‹
- International Code Signal of distress indicated by N.C. (November, Charlie)
- Square flag and ball
- Red star shells or red hand flares or red parachute flare
- Signals transmitted by an emergency position-indicating radio beacon
- Slowly and repeatedly raising and lowering arms outstretched to each side
- Waving a red flag or other suitable red object in a circle by day, or a red light by night
- Repeated long sound signals or bells
- Emergency call by radio telephone
Environmental and ambient water protection
Nature reserves/environmental protection
- Please respect the ›10 golden rules of conduct‹ for recreational boaters in nature.
- Do not drive into grass fringes, reed beds, bankside trees and, generally, waterway banks where vegetation is lush and dense. Stay well clear of sandflats, mud or gravel bars which often provide resting places and sanctuary grounds for birds. Also, avoid shallow waters, especially when there are water plants that might provide spawning grounds.
- Keep a sufficient minimum distance from densely vegetated waterway banks, reed beds and bankside trees. On large rivers you should stay between 30 and 50m clear off the waterway banks. Keep a safe minimum distance, if possible 100m or more, from bird flocks on the water surface.
- In nature reserves, make sure to abide by the regulations and guidelines. In many nature reserves, water sports are prohibited altogether, or allowed in specific periods or under certain conditions only. Under no circumstances must wild water canoeists disturb the river bed by removing large rocks.
- Be particularly considerate in ›Wetlands of International Importance‹. These areas serve as a habitat for a wide range of unique plants and animals and are particularly worthy of protection.
- Always land at designated access points. Otherwise select places where you are sure you cause no damage.
- Never approach reed beds and other dense embankment vegetation from land. You might unwittingly intrude into, and cause damage to, the habitat of birds, fish, small animals and plants.
- Do not land near seal banks in mudflats to avoid disturbing the animals or causing them to desert the area. Leave a distance of at least 300 to 500m from seal resting places and bird flocks. Make absolutely sure to continue near the marked channel or fairway. Drive slowly.
- Observe and photograph wildlife from a distance.
- Help to keep the water clean. Do not throw litter or rubbish in the water and, especially, do not discharge toilet waste. Take your litter and waste oil to designated collection sites in the harbour. Always use the sanitary facilities at land. Do not leave your engine running while your vessel is idling. Do not leave your engine running while your vessel is idling to avoid polluting the environment unnecessarily with exhaust gases.
- Make yourself familiar with the rules and regulations applying along your route before you set off. Pass on what you learned and set a good example to encourage youth and other water sports enthusiasts to be more eco-friendly in their behaviour.
Steering and sailing rules for pleasure craft
Navigation and collision prevention rules
Duty of care You should generally take every precaution to prevent damage to, or interfere with the safe operation of, other vessels or even endanger lives.
Before setting off you need to designate a person to perform the ship master’s functions (Rule 2 COLREGS). This person must be adequately licenced for the type of waters you intend to enter (cf. skipper qualification) and be on board at all times while the vessel is in motion.
In addition, the ship master is responsible for ensuring compliance with the steering and sailing rules. The helmsman of a boat operating under motor power (5hp and more) needs to be 16 years of age or older, while for sailing yachts a minimum age of 14 applies.
The International Regulations for Preventing Collisions at Sea (COLREGS) provide the international safety standards on the open sea and also apply in coastal waterways. On the heavily-trafficked coastal waterways of the Federal Republic of Germany other legislation applies as well: the German Traffic Regulations for Navigable Maritime Waterways and the boating regulations for the rivers Ems and Leda (German only). Complementing the above regulations are the notices to mariners issued by the relevant government agencies in Germany. Amendments or publications are available from the German Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency at (www.bsh.de) or the ELWIS database of the German Waterways and Shipping Administration (WSV) (bot sites German only).
Overview of the most important COLREG rules
Steering and sailing (Part B/Rules 4-19)
Conduct of vessel in any condition of visibility:
- Look-out: Ensure appraisal of the situation and of the risk of collision (Rule 5)
- Safe speed: Ensure that the vessel can be stopped at all times to avoid collision (Rule 6).
- Risk of collision: Avoid a collision by all available means on board (Rules 7/8).
- Narrow fairways: Keep to starboard and cross without impeding other vessels (Rule 9).
- Traffic separation schemes: Proceed in the appropriate traffic lane, keep clear of a traffic separation zone, avoid crossing traffic lanes (Rule 10).
Conduct of vessels in sight of one another:
- Overtaking: Keep out of the way of the vessel being overtaken (Rule 13).
- Head-on situation: Alter course to starboard – pass on the port side of the other vessel; when two power-driven vessels are crossing, the vessel which has the other on own starboard side shall keep out of the way (Rules 14/15).
- Action by give-way vessel: take early action (16)
- Action by stand-on vessel: keep course and speed (Rule 17). Action by stand-on vessel (Rule 17)
- Responsibilities between vessels: A power-driven vessel underway shall keep out of the way of vessels restricted in their ability to manoeuvre, vessels engaged in fishing and sailing vessels (Rule 18).
Conduct of vessel in restricted visibility:
- Proceed at a safe speed adapted to the prevailing conditions of visibility; avoid change of course to port or towards a vessel in close-quarters situations (Rule 19).
Lights and shapes (Part C/Rules 20-31)
Visibility of lights, power-driven vessels underway, vessels towing and pushing, sailing and rowing vessels, fishing vessels, vessels not under command or restricted in their ability to manoeuvre, pilot vessels, vessels anchored and aground, seaplanes.
Sound and light signals (Part D/Rules 32-37)
Sound signalling equipment, manoeuvring and warning signals, sound signals to be used in restricted visibility, signals to be used to attract attention, distress signals. Further information is available at www.bsh.de (keyword: ›Lichterführung‹ [light signals on vessels])
On German inland waterways the provisions of the German Traffic Regulations for Navigable Inland Waterways (Binnenschifffahrtsstraßen-Ordnung [BinSchStrO]) and the marine police regulations for the rivers Rhine, Mosel and Danube apply as amended from time to time.
As a small watercraft operator you are required to give all other vessels sufficient space for continuing on their course and manoeuvring. So as a general rule, small watercraft need to give way to all other vessels. To the conduct between vessels the following rules apply:
- With vessels approaching one another, crossing or overtaking, pleasure boats need to give way to starboard for vessels exhibiting a blue flashing light.
- Small watercraft under motor power need to give way to small vessels that are not power-driven.
- Small watercraft that are neither power-driven nor under sail are required to give way to sailing vessels.
- Give-way vessels need to alter their course to starboard in time when two vessels are approaching one another. This can be indicated by sound signals.
Head-on and crossing situations
If two small watercraft under motor power approach one another so as to involve risk of collision, the vessels are required to give way as set out below:
- When the two vessels are meeting on reciprocal or nearly reciprocal courses, each shall alter her course to starboard so that each shall pass on the port side of the other.
- When the two vessels are crossing, the vessel which has the other on her own starboard side shall keep out of the way. This also applies to small watercraft that are neither power- driven nor under sail.
In a crossing situation involving risk of collision, two small sailing vessels need to give way as set out below:
- When each has the wind on a different side, the vessel which has the wind on the port side shall keep out of the way of the other.
- When both have the wind on the same side, the vessel which is to windward shall keep out of the way of the vessel which is to leeward.
Have the mooring lines ready and keep your distance from power-driven boats. When anchoring, you are required not to impede the passage or safe passage other vessels. You need to consider wake, wash and fluctuating water levels. No mooring is admitted at navigation buoys or pilings.
During periods of restricted visibility, all vessels are required to use radar and proceed at a safe speed adapted to the state of visibility, the density of traffic and the prevailing conditions. You need to maintain a listening watch on channel 10 or any other channel assigned by the authorities and radio other vessels to communicate safety-relevant issues.
Vessels and towed or pushed convoys without operational radar need to proceed to berthing or mooring without delay when visibility closes in.
Without a permit issued by a competent authority, small watercraft are permitted to lie docked at a berth on German inland waterways for a maximum of three days only.
- Small watercraft that cannot use locks, water slopes or boat lifts will be passed through locks in groups or granted lockage together with other vessels.
- Vessels fitted with radio can book individual lockage, density and situation of traffic as well as impoundment measures permitting.
- Approaching a lock, you must reduce your speed and you may not overtake. Adhere to the locks’ traffic light signals. Large vessels always have the right of way.
- Boats that do not intend to pass through the lock must not berth in lock approaches or lock flights.
Light signals on vessels
At night and in poor visibility you are required to show the prescribed lights. As a general rule, you are required to use lanterns certified by the German Federal Maritime and Hydrographic Agency (BSH). Further information is available at www.bsh.de (keyword: ›Lichterführung‹ [light signals on vessels] German only)
On most German inland lakes motor boating is not permitted. To protect the environment, preserve nature and the drinking water supply, personal watercraft must not be used in many lakes and reservoirs. Permits for recreational boating are often restricted by the land manager or local authorities or are subject to special requirements. We recommend to seek information locally and obtain a permit prior to using your boat.
Water sports liability insurance is not mandatory, but highly recommended. ADAC offers comprehensive water sports insurance coverage for boat owners and skippers.
Further water sports activities
Water scooting, water skiing
On coastal waterways, personal watercraft and water scooters must obey the speed limit of 8kph (4.3kn) near areas obviously dedicated to swimming within 500m from shore outside the fairway. Water scooters are to reduce the speed so as to exclude any risk, hazard or obstruction and cause as little disturbance as possible to swimmers.
On inland waters, water skiing and water scooters are permitted only in dedicated areas that are posted with blue signs. Outside these areas, water scooters must be kept on straight course only (e.g. for tours or trips). Water scooters are to enter locks only if this is in line with the locking requirements.
Water scooting, water skiing and towing toys is not permitted in the fairway, unless in the areas marked by appropriate visual signs or authorised by the marine police authorities.
Water scooters and passengers are required to wear life vests approved to DIN EN 393 or buoyancy aids with a rating of at least 50 Newton.
As a rule, water skiing and water scooting are permitted only by day and in good visibility. The German water authorities may also limit the times where water skiing and water scooting is permitted.
On German inland waterways no windsurfing and kitesurfing licences are required.
Near areas obviously dedicated to swimming or designated as swimming zones kite and sail surfers need to keep a minimum distance of 50m from the boundaries of the swimming zones and all persons swimming. Kite or sail surfing in the fairway is forbidden.
ID or identity card for EU citizens and citizens of Andorra, Liechtenstein, Monaco, San Marino and Switzerland. All other tourists need a passport, some with visa.
Valid national driving licence and vehicle registration certificates. For non EU nationals visiting Germany: international driving licence, international vehicle registration certificate, international Green Card or other proof of third party liability insurance.
EU pet passport documenting a valid rabies vaccination, identification of the pet by a microchip or tattoo. The import of certain dog breeds is prohibited and in some German states you are required to muzzle your dog or have it on a lead in public.
50kph in built-up areas. 80kph for passenger cars outside build-up areas and on motorways, 100kph for vehicle & trailer combinations with a maximum authorised mass of up to 3.5t and exceptional authorisation (and with prescribed marker board).
Make sure the propeller is properly protected before each trip. The unprotected propeller of a vessel carried on a trailer is a potential hazard. Therefore, the propeller needs to be covered so as to prevent the risk of cuts. Non-compliance with these provisions when towing a boat is subject to a fine.
Rules of the Road
On two-lane roads, no overtaking of buses approaching a bus stop with their hazard warning lights blinking. Pass stationary buses at walking speed (applies to overtaking and oncoming traffic). Use mobile or car phone with hands-free car kit only or when the engine is not running. In the winter, use adequate tyres. Many German cities have low emission zones where you might not be allowed to enter.
Car plus trailer must not exceed 2.55m in width and 18m in length, with a maximum overhang (e.g. mast) of 20.75m. Drawbar trailers: 2.55x12m.
Vehicle-trailer combinations whose dimensions exceed the allowed limits require special authorisation. You can usually obtain this authorisation and further information from the local district offices or road traffic licensing departments. The office or department issuing the authorisation also has discretion to decide whether or not additional safety items (marker board, additional lamp, etc.) are required for a vehicle carrying long loads.
Safe transport of pleasure craft
Baden-Wurttemberg police have put together a brochure about the safe transport of pleasure craft (German only).
Blood alcohol limit
0.5‰ A zero limit applies to novice drivers during their two-year probationary period or as long as they are under 21.
Landline (Germany): Phone: 0 180 2 22 22 22 (€0.06/call in the landline network)
Mobile phone network (In Germany): Phone: 22 22 22 (charges depend on carrier/provider) for 24h roadside assistance by ADAC. If you use the emergency roadside telephone on the motorway, expressly ask for ADAC.
Where assistance is provided by ADAC mobility partners, members of partner clubs will be charged with the applicable ADAC rate.
European emergency phone number 112
In any situation that may present a danger to life and limb of the crew or if the overall safety of the vessel cannot be maintained without help, you need to put out a distress call without delay (MAYDAY) (also see www.seenotretter.de).
Vessels equipped with marine VHF-FM radio call channel 16 and 70 (DSC) and the frequency 2,187.5kHz (DSC) BREMEN RESCUE RADIO (24h), call sign: Bremen Rescue.
The DGzRS (German Maritime Search and Rescue Association) operates the emergency number +49 421 53 68 70 around the clock. Also the maritime rescue coordination centre is available on speed dial 124 124. Please notice that the speed-dial number can be reached from the German mobile network only and subject to clearance by the network provider! Putting out a distress call via mobile phone should be an exception, since mobile phone network coverage out on the open sea is limited.
On inland waterways, call channel 10 or the channel of the Nautical Mobile Service/lock VHF service.
VAT is 19%.
Yacht charter and houseboat rental in Germany
You can explore numerous attractive inland and coastal waters in Germany with chartered houseboats, sailing vessels or motor yacht. The most important are listed below:
Baltic Sea yacht charter
The Baltic Sea offers a variety of boating regions: from coastal waters to Bodden lagoons which basically are protected inland waterways. These cruising grounds are ideal for less experienced skippers. We recommend you head there between May to September for the best conditions For further information on Baltic Sea charter click here (German only).
Hiring a houseboat in the Mecklenburg lake district or on the river Müritz.
The Mecklenburg lake district is probably Germany’s leading cruising region. In this area of canals and lakes you cruise past fields, forests and idyllic towns – highly attractive due to its variety. The cruising grounds where a charter licence is all it takes to operate a houseboat include popular waters like the river Müritz, lake Plauer See or the Müritz-Elde waterway. You need no pleasure craft licence and can ‘set sail’ after 3 hours of instruction. For further information on charter in the lake district and the river Müritz click here (German only).