Cruising grounds

North Sea

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

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

River Elbe

Idyllic landscapes and a wealth of spectacular sights along its roughly 700km journey through Germany make the river Elbe perfect for recreational boating.

River Rhine

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).

River Danube

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.

Lake Constance

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).


Necessary paperwork

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.

By sea

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.

By land

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 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.

Customs declaration

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.

Boat papers

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.

Skipper qualification

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.

Charter permit

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.