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I'm thinking about sailing a part of the Danube, alone, on a self-built raft. I have no experience sailing rivers on any serious basis.

I'm considering a raft for a number of reasons:

  • It's cheap.
  • It provides more space than a boat.
  • I can easily take a bicycle.
  • It's more easily replaceable in case of theft than a boat (plus, who would want to steal a raft?).
  • There are no worries about selling it or transporting it after the journey has completed.

However, the portion of the river that I want to sail is used by commercial freight traffic. My worry is that using a vehicle with little steering and no engine can lead to life-threatening situations with river freight ships, like this one, and cruise ships. I imagine getting caught in their suction can be very dangerous.

Has anybody here attempted something similar, or have some river experience?

Are there traffic lanes on European rivers, so it might be possible to do this if you stay close to the bank?

Who would I talk to to find out whether this is a completely idiotic plan, or somehow feasible without risking your life too much?

Naturally, I would sail during daytime only. I can swim of course, and I'm prepared to wear a life vest at all times if so recommended.

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You're going to run into problems finding a place to tie it up, assuming you want to get off occasionally (in addition to all the other problems). –  victoriah Jan 24 '12 at 20:04
    
@victoriah yeah, that is an issue too. Although the river looks relatively friendly and seems to have lots of small branches, and there are many harbours (if they accept rafts next to all their yachts, of course. :) –  Pekka 웃 Jan 24 '12 at 20:13
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How do you plan to manouver it into a harbour? Just wondering. –  victoriah Jan 24 '12 at 20:13
    
@victoriah I would have to have some way to steer the whole thing, and some way to maneuver it manually for short distances (ie. paddles). That's going to be a different topic, building it –  Pekka 웃 Jan 24 '12 at 20:15
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Well, +1 for being incredibly brave! –  victoriah Jan 24 '12 at 20:17

2 Answers 2

There are rivers and channels which forbid sailing without an engine running! In Europe there are several countries which have by themselves more than one law system. But as every law, they are written in a book. Ask in a boating shop (or tourist information point) for more localized information and buy that book of law. In several countries that is a requirement by law.

Indeed stay away from the suction at backs but also at fronts and be aware that such ships you posted can't see 300, 500 or even 1000 meters ahead by the dead angle they have and can't manoeuvre quickly. Ships do not have brakes.

"I can swim of course": This doesn't mean anything if you sail. Too much can happen that makes you unable to swim. A life vest is the one that will turn your face up and has a collar on which your head will float if you're unconscious (those ugly ones) and not the swim vests (less ugly) that only give a feeling of safety.

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I've never taken an unpowered, hand-built raft out onto a commercial river, but I do have experience under sail and under power on the Columbia River in the United States. What I know about maritime law, tradition and etiquette might not be exactly what they expect in Europe, but I imagine the principles are much the same.


In most cases, a craft without a motor has the right of way. On your raft, you'd be free to use the width of the river channel as you saw fit.

However, large ships with deep drafts, like river cruisers or river barges, are typically confined to a particular lane in the river. Their right to use the lane supersedes your right of way as an unpowered craft. You would have to make way.

If you're passing another vessel on equal terms, say coming head on with a small powerboat, tradition dictates that both you pass each other port-to-port. The left side of your vessel passes the other ship on its left; aim your raft to the right of vessels you're passing head-on.

You might consider posting red and green lights on your port and starboard sides, respectively. For that matter, you might even consider building a mast and flying a flag to increase your visibility. Just don't fly anything with an established meaning, like diver-down, or the NATO alphanumeric flags. Your country of origin, upright, would be enough.

You should talk to cruise ship captains and lock masters on the river for more advice about the Danubue in particular. The Danube has locks, and the lock masters decide if and when a vessel can enter the lock. I have no idea if a lock master would allow a hand-built raft into a lock, but if you're considering it, you should ask in advance.

The cruise ship captains operating on the Danube could give you more practical advice about the nature of the river and your responsibilities on the Danube.

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This is great info. Thanks very much! –  Pekka 웃 Jan 24 '12 at 22:04
    
Great advice! I don't know about Danube, but from experience I know that on many small rivers in Europe, small hand built raft are usually allowed into locks. One warning: Danube gets quite large in its lower part, and is supposed to have currents that can be quite dangerous to small water crafts, so be very careful. Talking to people who know the river is definitely very good advice. –  Jan Hlavacek Aug 30 '12 at 22:41

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