How do you easily navigate the Rhône and other waterways in France? Introducing Navi, an application launched by VNF to help you plan your journey with complete peace of mind, both before and during your river trip. Here’s a handy zoom to help you get to grips with the mobile application.

Pleasure boats

Sailing on the Rhône and in France?

France’s waterways, with their 8,500 kilometres of canals, rivers and streams, represent an essential part of the country’s heritage. Not only are they vital arteries for the transport of goods, they are also major tourist attractions.

Historically, these routes have been at the heart of the economic and industrial development of many French regions, linking towns and facilitating trade. Today, they continue to play a major role in both freight transport and leisure activities, and are as much a part of the country’s landscape as ever.

With the advent of digital technologies, the inland waterways sector had to keep up with the times. Voies Navigables de France (VNF), the public body responsible for managing this network, has therefore developed the Navi application. This innovative application aims to modernise and simplify the use of inland waterways by providing real-time information to users. Navi is part of a digitisation initiative aimed at facilitating river navigation while contributing to more efficient and secure management of the network of waterways accessible to inland waterway users.

In this article, we take a look at the services offered by the application, its functions for users and some practical tips on how to make the most of it. From route planning to up-to-date information on navigation conditions, Navi is an indispensable tool for boaters and river transport professionals. Find out how this application can transform your boating experience on France’s waterways, making navigation safer and more practical.

A brief history of waterways

Since ancient times, waterways have played a central role in the development of commercial and cultural exchanges in France and Europe. The Romans and successive lords and kings gradually stimulated the development and expansion of this network, creating canals to link river basins and facilitate the transport of goods. In the 17th century, under the impetus of Colbert, major works were undertaken, culminating in emblematic infrastructures such as the Canal du Midi, a UNESCO World Heritage Site. These works made it possible to overcome natural barriers and connect regions, stimulating local and national economic development.

development of river navigation in France, Antoine Beyer
The major phases in the development of river navigation in France, Antoine Beyer

Current role of waterways

Today, the French river network is one of the densest in Europe, with more than 8,500 kilometres of navigable waterways spread across the country, and around 5,000 kilometres actually in use. This network plays a crucial role in a number of areas:

  • Freight transport
    Inland waterways are a more environmentally friendly alternative to road transport, reducing CO2 emissions and road congestion. Every year, millions of tonnes of goods are transported by inland waterway, contributing to more sustainable logistics.
  • Tourism and leisure
    River tourism is booming. Cruises on canals and rivers offer a unique way to discover France’s cultural and natural heritage. Boaters, both local and foreign, appreciate the tranquillity and beauty of the landscapes they pass through.
  • Water management
    Waterways also play a key role in the management of water resources, particularly for agricultural irrigation, flood prevention and the supply of drinking water.

Key statistics

A few figures illustrate the importance of France’s waterways:

  • Total length: The French river network covers 8,500 kilometres, including canals, rivers and navigable streams.
  • Goods traffic
    In 2023, around 43 million tonnes* of goods were transported by inland waterway in France. That’s the equivalent of 2,700,000 lorries and 390,000 fewer tonnes of CO2 emissions.
  • River tourism
    The sector generates more than €725 million in annual sales, with thousands of pleasure boats in circulation and hundreds of thousands of tourists embarking on various cruises every year.
  • Locks and engineering structures
    The network includes more than 1,800 locks, as well as numerous engineering structures such as canal bridges and tunnels.

France’s waterways are a major asset for the country, combining economic, environmental and tourist functions. Their efficient management and modernisation are essential if we are to meet current and future challenges.

The Navi application, developed by Voies Navigables de France (VNF), is part of this approach to promoting and facilitating the use of waterways.

The Navi application by VNF

The Navi application was born of the desire of Voies Navigables de France (VNF) to modernise the management and use of French waterways. Faced with the development of digital technologies and the growing need for accurate, real-time information, VNF set about developing a tool capable of centralising and disseminating data for users of the waterways. The main aim of this tool is to facilitate navigation, improve safety and optimise the experience of pleasure boaters and river transport professionals.

The application was developed in collaboration with river navigation experts, IT engineers and potential users. This participative approach has enabled us to design an intuitive application that is tailored to the real needs of users. Launched a few years ago, the application is constantly evolving to incorporate new functions and improve its performance.

Main functions

The Navi application features a host of functions designed to meet the varied needs of waterway users:

  • Real-time navigation
    It offers an interactive map in real time, showing the position of boats, locks, mooring areas and port infrastructures. Users can track their progress and plan their journeys with precision.
  • Lock information
    The application provides details of the status and operation of locks, including opening times, any closures or works, and estimated waiting times.
  • Safety alerts
    It sends real-time alerts about navigation conditions, such as flooding, strong winds or incidents on the network. These notifications enable users to react quickly and ensure their safety.
  • Route planning
    Users can plan their journeys taking into account current and forecast conditions. The application suggests optimised routes based on distance, journey time and specific constraints.
  • Nearby services
    This indicates the services available nearby, such as refuelling stations, drinking water points, restaurants and shops. This feature is particularly useful for boaters looking for comfort and convenience.

Accessibility and compatibility

The Navi application is available on several platforms, guaranteeing widespread adoption among users:

  • Available at
    It is available as a free download on all major mobile platforms, including iOS (Apple App Store) and Android (Google Play Store).
  • Compatibility
    The application is compatible with most recent smartphones and tablets, ensuring smooth operation on both mobile phones and tablets. An internet connection is required for it to work.
  • Terms and conditions of use
    You do not need to create a user account to use the application. It is simple and straightforward to use once the application has been installed.

This Voies Navigables de France application represents a significant advance in the management and use of waterways. By offering comprehensive real-time functionalities, it simplifies navigation and improves user safety.

How to use Navi: a practical guide

And now let’s get down to the nitty-gritty of making this application the digital guide to your river journey.

Navi, the application
Navi logo

Installation and first start-up

To start using the Navi application, just follow a few simple steps:

Download

  1. Go to the App Store (for iOS users) or Google Play Store (for Android users).
  2. Search for “Navi – Voies Navigables de France” and download the application.
  3. Once installed on your device, open the application and grant the necessary permissions so that it can access your location and send you real-time notifications, if you wish.
Navi on the Google Play Store

Terms and conditions of use

  • When you first open the application, you must accept the terms of use, after reading them if necessary, and clicking on the button at the bottom of the screen, I accept the terms of use.

Choice of river basin

The next step is to choose your default navigation basin or activate geolocation. You will then be able to change the basin without difficulty. If you activate the geolocation function, you’ll be able to see directly which basin you’re in when you’re sailing.

Once you have selected your catchment area, the application’s home page appears, in this case for the Rhône et Saône area.

Are you ready? Now you’re ready to use Navi and set sail on France’s rivers and canals!

Interface and functions

The interface is designed to be intuitive and easy to use, even for beginners. Here is a description of the main sections of the application.

Application main menu

Interactive map

  1. The map is the central element of the application. It displays your current position in real time, as well as the different waterways, locks, ports and points of interest nearby.
  2. You can zoom in and move the map around to explore the surrounding areas.
  3. Specific icons indicate locks, mooring areas, refuelling stations and other useful infrastructures, so it’s up to you to choose what you want to display.

Route search and planning

  1. Use the search bar to find specific places, such as locations, ports, locks or points of interest.
  2. Enter your starting point and destination to plan a route. The application will suggest optimised routes based on current conditions and forecasts.
  3. You can also add intermediate stages for a more detailed itinerary.

Information and notices to skippers

  1. It provides real-time updates on navigation conditions, including water levels, lock closures and works in progress.
  2. Safety alerts, such as flood warnings or high winds, appear automatically on the main screen, and you can set up notifications to receive these alerts directly.

For notices to skippers, you can choose the type of notice (stop navigation, restriction, vigilance, information) and the geographical area you are interested in according to your route.

It is also possible to consult general and tourist news, always linked to the waterways, from the home page, in the dedicated section where the latest headlines are displayed.

Other

Latest sections accessible from the navigation bar at the bottom of the screen, Others.

Here you can configure your preferences (home screen, scales, map customisation), as well as directly access news, navigation regulations and other documentation (e.g. calendar of locks).

The general terms and conditions of use and legal notices are accessible from this area.

Finally, you can also make suggestions or contact VNF, with a link to postal and telephone contact details, a contact form and a map of the organisation’s locations throughout France.

Benefits of the application for users

Navi offers real comfort and enhanced safety for all sailors, with a number of key benefits.

Safety and prevention

One of the main benefits of the application is its positive impact on the safety of waterway users. It provides important information in real time, helping to prevent accidents and ensure safer navigation:

  • Real-time alerts
    It sends instant notifications of adverse weather conditions, high water levels, and incidents such as collisions or obstructions. These alerts enable users to react quickly and take the necessary steps to avoid danger.
  • Information on locks and engineering structures
    Knowing the condition and operation of locks, canal bridges and tunnels is essential for smooth navigation. It informs users of opening times, temporary closures and maintenance work, reducing the risk of delays or dangerous situations.
  • Position tracking
    The real-time tracking function allows navigators to know their exact position at all times, making it easier to navigate even in poor visibility conditions.

Optimising journeys

The Navi application helps users to optimise their journeys, saving time and improving efficiency:

  • Route planning
    Thanks to its advanced planning capabilities, it offers optimised routes based on current and forecast navigation conditions. Users can avoid high-traffic areas or locks under maintenance, reducing journey times.
  • Calculating journey times
    It estimates journey times, taking into account waiting times at locks and weather conditions, enabling users to plan their journeys more accurately.
  • Fuel savings
    By optimising journeys, Navi helps to reduce fuel consumption, which is both economical and good for the environment.

An easier user experience

The application is designed to make the navigation experience more comfortable for all types of user:

  • Intuitive interface
    The application is easy to use, even for people less familiar with mobile digital tools. Its clear interface and well-organised functions make it easy to navigate.
  • Comprehensive information
    It centralises all the information needed for successful navigation, eliminating the need to consult several sources. Users can access data on nearby services, tourist points of interest, and port infrastructure all in one place.

The application offers many benefits to users of France’s waterways, improving safety, optimising journeys and providing a high-quality user experience. Whether you’re an amateur boater, a professional river transport operator, or a tourist keen to discover France’s canals and rivers, Navi is an essential tool for navigating with complete peace of mind.

Download NAVI

And to start using VNF‘s digital tool, here are the links to download the application, depending on your device:

Along the Rhône