River Cruises: How to Deal With Low Water Issues


River Cruises - How to Deal With Low Water IssuesRiver Cruises: How to Deal With Low Water Issues

Let me show you how to deal with possible low water issues concerning European river cruises.

First, remember that irresponsible media headlines are designed to sell newspapers and don’t necessarily convey the whole truth.

We received a deluge of phone calls and emails after a particular publication wrote an article entitled, “Europe’s Drought Could Signal the Death of River Cruising.” And further, in the same article, they proclaimed that “the Rhine is so low that commercial shipping is unsustainable.”

I find Chicken Little reporting to be negligent.

But alas, let’s set a few things straight.

The Facts Regarding River Cruising and Possible Low Water Issues

It is a fact that Europe is experiencing a sweltering summer with very little rain. As a result, the river levels in some spots are pretty low and are indeed interrupting river cruises in some locations.

The Rhine is 765 miles long, and the Danube is 1,771 miles long.

Because these rivers cover vast distances, what is true in one part of the river is not valid for the whole.

If the water was low in Amsterdam and Cologne, Germany got a thunderstorm producing three inches of rain; a wave of water would be headed to Amsterdam, raising the water levels. Yet, on the other end, Basel, Switzerland, wouldn’t participate in rising water levels.

Sadly, the media tends to focus on one troubled area and communicate as if this was confirmed for the whole.

Let’s bullet point a few facts:

  • Required Water Levels – There is a sailor’s blessing that says, “may you always have the wind in your sails and a hand-width of water below your keel.” What we all need to know is that there only needs to be a hand-width of water below the keel of these ships to sail.
  • Ship Swaps – If there is a spot in the river where there isn’t a hand-width of water below the keel, then most river cruise lines will do a ship swap on either side of the problem. Let’s say you are coming upon a low spot on the Danube in Passau. Chances are, there’s another ship coming from the other direction on the river. If so, the cruise line will have you go explore for the day, and they will move your luggage from one ship to the other, and off you go around the problem.
  • Avoid the Hot Summer Months – While this isn’t the perfect answer, you can avoid many low water issues by simply avoiding the hot summer months. For example, Carol and I prefer to do our river cruises in April. The crowds are not there yet, the temperatures are mild, and we’re not likely to encounter low water issues.
  • High Water Issues – While this article is speaking about low water issues, it is also possible to experience high water issues if a particular region receives a lot of rain in a short time. While this is not as big an issue, a ship swap is a viable solution.

“But,” you say, “what if I can only travel in the summer months?”

Well, come with proper expectations and buy a “cancel for any reason” travel insurance policy. If you’re concerned about water levels a few weeks before your travel date, exercise your travel insurance for a future cruise voucher.

Lastly, understand that low water levels can correct very quickly.

European scientists have river-level monitors all up and down these rivers. And with the locks and dams they’ve built, they can avoid many of the problems. But as I mentioned above, these river cruise ships are built to sail on these rivers and don’t require much water. And, it only takes one good rain storm for the problem to resolve itself.

I was communicating with a client currently sailing on the Danube. They’ve not had any significant issues, but the ship’s captain has delayed their sailing today for a few hours as a wave of water is coming from upstream due to a thunderstorm upstream.

Also, don’t be alarmed today with low water issues if your cruise is over a month away. Sit tight, monitor the situation, and exercise your cancelation options (if you bought them) if you’re a few weeks away and are still concerned.

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