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The Kiel Canal as an international waterway

Locks at Kiel-Holtenau
Locks at Kiel-Holtenau

The Kiel Canal (or Nord-Ostsee-Kanal) is the busiest manmade waterway in the world; an average of one hundred ships pass through it every day. The canal crosses Schleswig-Holstein, linking the North Sea and the Baltic. This shortens the journey through the Skagerrak and round the northern tip of Jutland by 250 nautical miles. Today almost all international freight traffic - mainly container ships - sails from and to the Baltic through this canal.

Container ship on the way to Brunsbüttel
Container ship on the way to Brunsbüttel

Pilot stations in Kiel-Holtenau
Pilot stations in Kiel-Holtenau

The Kiel Canal, with its massive locks in Kiel-Holtenau and Brunsbüttel on the river Elbe is 98.637 kilometres long, and it takes six to eight hours to sail through it. It has a maximum bottom width of 90 metres, and its 11 metre depth means that ships drawing 9.5 metres can sail along it.

Navigating the Kiel Canal makes heavy demands on the ships’ crews, so for safety reasons ships from a certain size upwards are obliged to take on a pilot and a canal steersman to advise the captain in transit. They are collected from the lock buildings and taken to the ships by small, bright red, very seaworthy pilot boats. The service is available round the clock for 365 days per year, and is organized by the Pilots’ Fraternity and the Canal Steers men’s Association.

Pictorial material: Landeshauptstadt Kiel, Behrenbruch, Kieler Stadtarchiv,
Stadt- und Schifffahrtsmuseum

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