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4 Things That Affect The Design Of A River Ship

11th June 2019

Eagle-eyed cruisers will have noticed that river ships are very different from ocean ones, especially when it comes to the design. As well as generally catering to a smaller number of people, river vessels have many more limitations placed upon them that affect how they can look and the dimensions to which they are built.

Here are just a few things that have an impact on the design of a river ship.


Danube Bridges

When you’re sailing through the oceans, you don’t tend to encounter many bridges, but this is a common occurrence when gliding along Europe’s rivers. In fact, the stretch of Danube within Germany alone has more than 150 bridges connecting the two banks. All of these crossings mean that river ships cannot be too tall otherwise, there would be very few routes they could take.

This typically limits your average river vessel to just two or three decks, giving them plenty of room to manoeuvre. Or, like some technologically advanced ships now do, they incorporate a retractable bridge to provide a little more deck space.



Another thing that river ships have to navigate that ocean vessels don’t (unless you’re sailing the Panama, Kiel or Suez Canals) is locks. Enabling you to change water level, locks are an important part of many waterways, but they also put restrictions on the width of a river ship. Because of this, most are confined to around 38 feet, allowing them to traverse the narrow locks without issue.

However, depending on where the ship will be sailing, there are some exceptions to the rule. Some vessels will be slightly wider if the locks on the river allow for it, but some new additions are breaking all the rules. Crystal Mozart and AmaMagna are both built to be double the width of their counterparts, offering much more space and facilities on board but limiting them to the lock-less Lower Danube.

Water Levels

Rhine Low Water

Something a bit more unpredictable that needs to be considered in the design process is the draft of the ship. Rivers across the world can vary in terms of water level depending on the weather and the season. It makes sense that a reduction in water level can affect your river cruise, but too much water is also not a good thing.

The draft of a ship is the distance between the water line and the bottom of the hull. This has to be taken into account during the design to ensure that the vessel can continue to sail when there’s a drought or downpour. Obviously, it also impacts the height, which we already know needs to be restricted.

Many ships are custom-built to traverse certain rivers where water levels are known to be particularly low. The Douro, Upper Mekong and Red River are some examples where cruise lines can offer a certain level of exclusivity by building their ships to reach places others can’t.

Port Size

Ships Side By Side

The fantastic thing about river cruising is that you get to dock in the heart of each destination. Without having to take a coach to the city centre or climb aboard a tender to make your way to shore, you’ll be left with much more time to explore the port, but this comes with limitations. The smaller towns and villages that are often part of a river cruise itinerary do not have the facilities or capability to deal with large vessels. This is yet another reason why there is a standard design in terms of length and width. It means that you get to see fantastic places that aren’t always on the traditional tourist routes.

In fact, docking in port is often where the uniformity of river cruise ships comes into its own. The similar dimensions of each vessel mean that they can be moored up side-by-side (allowing for more to arrive at the same time) and cruisers can simply walk through or over the other ships to get onto dry land.

To discuss the options we have available or to book your next river cruise, call our friendly team on 0800 954 0064. Alternatively, you can sign-up to our mailing list to stay up to date with all the latest news and offers.

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