Rules and regulations for Amsterdam boat owners

“Twenty years from now, you will be more disappointed by the things you didn’t do than those you did. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from safe harbour. Catch the wind in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

— Mark Twain, Great American Writer

Amsterdam is one of the most attractive cities in the world to have a boat. Travellers usually call it the “Venice of the North” but we think its fair to say that Venice is actually the “Amsterdam of the South”, if you know what we mean.

If you are reading this, chances are you want to own a boat in Amsterdam. Here a small list with some rules and regulations for boat owners. They might be interesting to read before you become Amsterdam’s next Captain.

On finding your first boat
If you want to become a boat owner in Amsterdam, most likely is that you’ll need a boat. We’ve written down some pointers on how to think about finding yours. Read “Tips for buying a boat in Amsterdam”.

A special license is only necessary for boats longer than 15 metres or capable of speeds faster than 20 kph. If you are planning to pilot something smaller and slower than that, you are already good to go.

Cruising around Amsterdam is a lot of fun but requires some initial skill and experience. We encourage you and your family to take some boat safety and operations courses to learn the rules of the canals, and build your skills and confidence as a boat Captain. The more you know, the safer you’ll be. When it comes to boats, there is nothing more practical than a good theory. Knowing the theory will not only make you feel safer, but also keep everyone around you safe as well. The guys from Waypoint Amsterdam provide several theory and practical courses on learning how to pilot your boat. Vaarschool Amsterdam has been teaching people how to pilot boats in Amsterdam, since 1984.

Harbour fee
Amsterdam’s waterways are managed by Waternet. Waternet is the water company for Amsterdam and the surroundings. They supply you with tap water and take care of the discharge of waste water. They also make sure to keep your feet dry by maintaining the water level and keeping the surface water clean. They are also in charge of making the waterways safe and accessible for all vessels, including inland barges and tour boats.

If you plan to moor your boat within city waters you are required to pay an annual harbour fee (Binnenhavengeld). This fee runs from 1 January to 31 December and it’s not prorated. Is calculated having two aspects in mind:

  • Square meters: the total square meters of your boat. (Width x Length)
  • Motor type: The annual fee has two rates, an environmental and a regular one.
    • Having an electric motor makes you fall under the environmental one, which reduces the annual the fee.
    • A gasoline based motor makes you fall under the regular rate, which increases the annual fee.

With these two elements in mind, you can calculate your annual harbour fee. Check out the 2016 rates here.

After paying the harbour fee, you will receive a sticker which you need to place on the port (left) side of your vessel. This allows Waternet to check if you have paid or not.

You can pay the harbour fee and ask for your sticker online or at the Waternet head office or at one of the four havengeldposten. If your boat does not have a harbour fee sticker or it is moored in a prohibited location, you can be fined between 10 and 17.60 euros per metre, 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 of 182 euros and a storage fee of 0.90 euros per metre.

You may moor your boat anywhere in the city, except for certain clearly-marked locations such as under bridges, in narrow waterways, in junctions, or by rescue steps. It is important to know that docking sites may not be claimed, except in the case of houseboats, which have permanent mooring permits. Having said that, there is still a “Gentleman’s agreement” around this. If you choose a spot, make sure to give clear indications that there is actually a boat in there. If someone takes your spot, you should be able to reach an agreement of understanding to let the person know you usually have your boat mored there.  Remember that for boats above 12 meters length, you should be thinking in mooring in a marina.

If you decide to moor your boat inside the city, know that you need to insure it apart. The Binnehavengeld does not cover any type of insurance. Experience tell us that boats with outboard motors are not insured, as there is a big risk in their motors being stolen.


  • Speed – Whatever your type of boat you have, you need to have in mind that the speed limit for the city waterways is 7.5 km per hour.
  • Height –  Take into account the many bridges have low clearance, usually less than two metres, depending on the (variable) water height.
  • Right of way – Just like cars in the Netherlands,  always cruise starboard (Right). Boats coming from your right also have priority. Commercial traffic, including tour canal boats, always have the right of way. Be aware of the latter, they go really fast and can surprise you in any corner. 
  • Lights – Switch on the lights of the boat at dusk or in darkness, so that your vessel is clearly visible. You should have a 360 white lamp if your boat is smaller than seven meters and add a green/red bifocal on the bow, if over that length.
  • Safety – Approach all bridges and canal junctions slowly, in a way that you are visible to any oncoming traffic.
  • Alcohol and drugs – It’s not allowed to pilot your boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Accidents do happen. 
  • Music – Loud music on board is not allowed, specially on small canals on residential area, where you can get thrown buckets of water. (Been there, received some.)

Bridges and locks
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 Kosteverlorenkade, 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. There are some interesting places that you can reach via a lock, like Sloterplas or. For these to open, you need to wait or call. You don’t need to pay extra.


If the information you received from us was useful, please consider sharing with your friends and loved ones.

If you want to warm our hearts, contemplate tweeting your love to @ahoyamsterdam, sharing on Facebook, or leaving a comment at the end of this pageIt’ll soothe our souls, and trust us, it will also get you good karma.

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