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  • Writer's pictureDieter Peschkes

Guide to Transiting The Kiel Canal

Updated: Nov 1, 2023

At approximately 60 miles long, the Nord-Ostsee-Kanal (North Sea-Baltic Sea Canal) or Kiel Canal as it is most commonly known, is the route most often used by yachts visiting the Baltic Sea and is frequently used by Oceantrax on yacht deliveries.

For many people, navigating inland waterways can be quite daunting, especially when shared with large commercial vessels, however it need not be. To help aid a smooth passage we have put together this brief guide from our experiences.

Firstly, for the average pleasure yacht there is little to worry about when it comes to height or depth restrictions. Vessels with an air draft of 40 metres are permitted to use the canal, well above the height an average pleasure yacht will need. The depth is kept at 11 metres which again is far beyond the requirements of the average yacht, although close to the edge it can be less and in certain places signs will indicate a minimum distance to stay away from the bank because of shelving.


It is worth noting that the tide combined with river flow can be quite strong in the Elbe, so timing your approach to and from the canal is essential if you have an underpowered vessel.

The small vessel lock is the furthest east, although there is a small chance you could be directed into the commercial ship lock depending on how busy it is and if there is space available. If you are directed into the commercial ship lock, beware of turbulence from larger vessels’ props as you enter. Allow any larger commercial ships to enter first unless told differently by the lock keeper.

Brunsbüttel Small Craft Lock
Brunsbüttel Commercial Ship Lock

There is no waiting dock outside of Brunsbüttel Lock. The waiting area is to the east of the approach boundary staying clear of pilot boats and commercial shipping. The lock keeper will have seen you on their camera and will open the lock gates. Ensure you are on the correct VHF channel (13) and watch for the signal lights:

  • Single red light, entry is forbidden.

  • Flashing white light, proceed in to the lock.

Be aware that the pontoons in the lock are very low, only fractionally above water level and there are no lines set up, so you must have lines ready to tie off to rings on the floating pontoons. Fenders should be at water level. You will notice some yachts will actually have fenders in the water lying on their sides.


There is an 8kts speed limit throughout the canal and yachts may only transit during daylight hours and not in reduced visibility. Official daylight hours vary according to the time of year and at the time of writing are:

01 Jan. to 15 Jan. 07.30 to 17.00 hrs

16 Jan. to 31 Jan. 07.30 to 17.30 hrs

01 Feb. to 15 Feb. 07.00 to 18.00 hrs

16 Feb. to 28/29 Feb. 06.30 to 18.30 hrs

01 Mar. to 15 Mar. 05.30 to 19.00 hrs

16 Mar. to 31 Mar. 05.00 to 19.30 hrs

01 Apr. to 5 Apr. 04.30 to 20.00 hrs

16 Apr. to 30 Apr. 04.00 to 20.30 hrs

01 May. to 15 May 03.30 to 21.00 hrs

16 May. to 31 May 03.00 to 21.30 hrs

01 Jun. to 30 Jun. 02.30 to 22.00 hrs

01 Jul. to 15 Jul. 02.30 to 22.00 hrs

16 Jul. to 31 Jul. 03.00 to 21.30 hrs

01 Aug. to 15 Aug. 03.30 to 21.00 hrs

16 Aug. to 31 Aug. 04.00 to 20.30 hrs

01 Sep. to 15 Sep. 04.30 to 20.00 hrs

16 Sep. to 30 Sep. 05.00 to 19.30 hrs

01 Oct. to 15 Oct. 05.30 to19.00 hrs

16 Oct. to 31 Oct. 06.00 to 18.30 hrs

01 Nov. to 5 Nov. 06.30 to 17.30 hrs

16 Nov. to 30 Nov. 07.00 to 17.00 hrs

01 Dec. to 31 Dec. 07.30 to 17.00 hrs

Full details can be found on the official guide for pleasure vessels can be found here.

This does not apply to craft making for the approved berths in Kiel-Holtenau Lock approach and Brunsbüttel recreational craft berth, or to craft locking out to the Elbe after notifying the lock keeper. If in any doubt the lock keeper can be contacted on Brunsbüttel: +49 (0) 4852/885-252 Kiel: +49 (0) 431/3603-152.

Once in the canal transiting is relatively straight forward, although you may be in close proximity to large commercial vessels and there are numerous car ferry crossings to be aware of. There are signs on the bank of the canal warning of the approaching ferry crossings.

All vessels are required to keep a VHF listening watch and channels are designated to areas of the canal. These are:

  • VHF channel 13 (call Kiel Canal I) Brunsbüttel lock area

  • VHF channel 2 (call Kiel Canal II) Brunsbüttel – Breiholz reach

  • VHF channel 3 (call Kiel Canal III) Breiholz – Kiel-Holtenau reach

  • VHF channel 12 (call Kiel Canal IV) Kiel-Holtenau lock area

Yachts must transit the canal under power, although sails are permitted to aid propulsion. Tacking however is prohibited. Vessels that can keep 6kts can transit within a day, even on the shortest of winter daylight hours. If it is not possible to complete the transit during daylight hours there are places where pleasure craft can berth or anchor for a night.

These can be found at:

  • Brunsbüttel recreational craft berth north side of the canal just past the lock. This berth can suffer from wash from passing commercial vessels.

  • Berth in the turning area of Dückerswisch siding – north side (km 20.7), maximum draft 2.40m.

  • Berth before Gieselau lock– (entrance at km 40.5), maximum draft 2.40m. Canal fees can also be paid here at the lock keeper’s office.

  • Berths in Lake Obereider. Possibly the best stop if you need provisions, fuel, yacht services or if you just want to stop for a few days break. The town of Rensburg offers most things a visiting yacht could need including bars, restaurants and good rail links. (entrance at km 66)

  • Berths in Lake Borgstedt (entrance at km 67.5)

  • Berths in Lake Borgstedt (entrance at km 70). Head to the bridge middle section in Lake Borgstedt air draft of 22m. There are power lines at the entrance of the lake also with 22m air draft.

  • Recreational craft in Lake Flemhude (entrance at km 85.4)

  • Kiel-Holtenau (km 98.5) Pass through Holtenau lock in to the Baltic immediately to the north. Yachts arriving at night can wait here until daylight hours to enter the canal. There are limited facilities here, with no shore power and there can be wash from passing vessels entering and leaving the canal. There is a berthing fee which can be paid at the pay machines. Canal fees can also be paid at the same machines by card or cash.

Arcona on delivery at Gieselau lock


At arrival at the Holtenau end of the canal the small/pleasure craft locks are to the north of the commercial ship locks. However at the time of writing this lock is closed for maintenance and will probably be for some time, so yachts are directed to the bigger commercial lock and will be passing through with large shipping. The pontoons here are the same as Brunsbüttel, very low and again care should be taken when passing large ships due to turbulence from props. In Brunsbüttel and Holtenau locks there are ladders however these are only there for emergencies and should not be used for any other reason.

Holtenau Lock

If you know you will be at the entrance to the canal outside of the operational daylight hours, it can be worth considering a marina close by rather than Brunsbüttel recreational craft berth or the berths just outside the lock at Holtenau, both of which have limited facilities and can be effected by wash from passing shipping.

The options at the Brunsbüttel end are limited. For the purpose of a yacht delivery, Cuxhaven is our preferred option with several places available including LCF Cuxhaven and Segler-Vereinigung however it should be noted that Segler-Vereinigung closes from October 31st to 1st of April every year.

There is also the possibility of berthing in the heart of Cuxhaven. However if you are planning on spending one night before entering the canal in the morning, the above marinas are a better choice as they allow easy access without having to pass through lock gates or swing bridges. Cuxhaven to the canal entrance is approximately 15 miles up the river Elbe. If you catch the tide right this can be completed very quickly, however if you get it wrong it can be a long and slow motor.

At the Holtenau/Kiel end the choices are better with a wide range of marinas close to the entrance and minimal tide to account for. Again for the purpose of a yacht delivery we tend to choose the closest to the canal entrance so we can start our transit as soon as daylight hours allow. For this we have found Sporthafen Stickenhörn Marina perfect.


All yachts must pay to use the canal. Sometimes it is possible to pay at the recreational craft berth just inside the lock at Brunsbüttel if there is an inspector present. The fee can also be paid in the office at Gieselau Lock or at the control tower at the Holtenau Locks. At the time of writing neither of these locations accepts cards.

There are also two pay machines at the recreational craft berth at Holtenau which take both cash and card payment (although from past experience occasionally card payment is not functioning).


Owner & Manager of Oceantrax Yacht Deliveries


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