Amsterdam’s waterways including the canals, drawbridges and locks are managed by Waternet on behalf of the City of Amsterdam and the Amstel, Gooi & Vecht water board.
To make the waterways safe and accessible for all vessels, including inland barges and tour boats, a number of rules have been established pertaining to navigation and mooring.
Ahoy! Speed limit
Whatever your type of boat, you may navigate the canals freely, just keep in mind that the speed limit for the city waterways is 6 km/h. If your boat causes excessive wash even when travelling at 6 km/h, you are requested to further reduce your speed. Also, take into account the many bridges with low clearance, usually less than two metres, depending on the (variable) water height.
You may dock your vessel anywhere in the city, except for certain clearly-marked locations such as under bridges, in narrow waterways, in junctions, or by rescue steps. Docking sites may not be claimed, except in the case of houseboats with permanent mooring permits.
On 23 May 2019, the "12+ rule" was put into place, limiting the number of passengers on a pleasure craft to 12 people plus a skipper. This means that groups of 12 or more people will need to ensure they are boating in a licensed passenger vessel with a skipper. The rule was put into place to help manage overcrowded and noisy boats motoring through the canals.
As of 1 January 2017, two-stroke outboard motors older than 2007 are not permitted for use within Amsterdam. If you've purchased your motor after 2007, then there's no need to worry. However, older outboard motors must at least comply with the European regulation 2003/44/EC. The only exception to this ban are on the main city waterways, such as the Amstel route or Kostverloren route.
All boaters using Amsterdam's canals are expected to help keep the waters clean. Amsterdam’s canal ring has been recognised as a UNESCO World Heritage site; the canals are also part of the city's vibrant centre where so many people live. All boaters should respect this. Make sure you always have a bin bag with you and don’t throw any waste overboard.
If you moor your boat within city waters you are required to pay binnenhavengeld (an annual harbour fee), based on the length of your craft. After paying the harbour fee, you will receive a sticker which you need to place on the port (left) side of your vessel. You can pay the harbour fee at the Waternet head office or at one of the four havengeldposten (harbour fees offices) - see useful addresses below.
If your boat does not have a harbour fee sticker or it is moored in a prohibited location, you can be fined, based on the length of your craft. Your boat may also be towed away, in which case you will be required to pay a towing fee.
Pleasure boats longer than 12 metres may not be moored in Amsterdam. It is possible to obtain an exemption from the authorities for the Centre District, but this is only given for historical crafts.
If you have a larger vessel and plan to navigate the larger canals in transit from the IJ to points south, via for example the Kostverlorenkade, one of the city's main waterways, you will need to keep in mind the hours the city's drawbridges are in operation; during rush hour many are closed.
A great way to show off the city to visiting family, friends or associates is to take them on a canal boat tour. Or why not enjoy a Sunday afternoon by packing a picnic and renting a boat for a few hours. Follow this link for a list of boat rental companies.
On 30 April 2011, Waternet launched the ultimate app to help you get the best out of your time on the waterways of Amsterdam. Alongside a boating map with routes through the city, up-to-date information about the waterways and opening times of bridges and locks, you can also create a profile for your boat to let your boating friends know where you are (and see where they are).
In time, additional functions will be introduced including a one-to-one chat function that will let you chat with people on other boats via the app. The app is available to download in the Apple App Store and Google Play Store.
Rules of the water
Here's a quick overview of the rules that every boating party must abide by when navigating Amsterdam's canals.
- Keep to the right-hand side of the canal
- Give right of way to boats approaching from the right, and to professional vessels like canal cruise operators or freight transporters
- Keep to the maximum speed limit of 6 kilometres per hour
- Signal your direction clearly
- When approaching bridges, make sure you’re visible to other vessels
- Slow down and be extra alert when passing another vessel
- Never drink alcohol when operating a vessel
- Moor your boat safely and secure to a mooring or bollard
- Never moor under a bridge
- Don’t make too much noise on the waterways and avoid amplified music
The Waternet headquarters are located at Korte Oudekerkerdiijk 7, 1091 AC Amsterdam, open weekdays from 09:00 to 11:00. Telephone: 0900 9394 (local rate).
You can also pay the harbour fee at these four locations:
Westerkeersluis (open 24 hours a day) Van Diemenstraat 422 1013 CR Amsterdam Tel: 020-624 1457
Nieuwe Meersluis (open 24 hours a day) Jaagpad 42a 1059 BP Amsterdam Tel: 020-615 5115
Oosterdoksdraaibrug (open 06:00 - 22:00) Oosterdokskade 100 1011 AE Amsterdam Tel: 020-422 7372
Amstelsluis (open 06:00 - 22:00) Amstel 300 (opposite the Royal Theatre Carré) 1017 AN Amsterdam Tel: 020-622 5113.
You can find the full list of boating rules and regulations on Waternet’s website.