Opened in 1895, the Kiel Canal is one of the world's busiest artificial waterways. Sixty miles (98 kilometres) long and thirty-six feet (11 metres) deep, the canal links the North Sea with the Baltic and saves international shipping the long detour around the stormy Skagerrak.
Vessels heading east from the North Sea into the Baltic enter the canal at Brunsbüttel and complete the transit at Kiel-Holtenau, or vice versa. At both ends, there are locks to adjust the water level of the waterway to that of the ocean. The procedure at the lock gates requires the full concentration of the crew, as the ropes must be held very tightly to prevent ships and harbour walls from being damaged. A complicated signal system regulates traffic; maximum speed allowed is eight knots. It is mandatory for ships to employ a canal pilot for the transit. These pilots know the canal like the back of their hands, not only by day, but even more important, by night. The high cost involved in shipping makes it no longer feasible to stop traffic at sunset, as was done before the canal was equipped with night lighting. Transit time normally is between eight and nine hours.
While it is of no importance for tankers or freighters whether they travel through the canal in daylight or during the night, cruise vessels prefer a daytime transit to ensure that guests may enjoy the sights. At certain places, the canal is only 528 feet (158 metres) wide, which brings fields and meadows into close range. A connection between both shores is maintained not only by ferries, but also by a number of bridges. You may want to be on the lookout for the one at Rendsburg. Its special feature is the aerial ferry suspended from the bridge by steel ropes, which is the only such transportation in Europe to carry pedestrians, cyclists and cars across the waterway.
Be out on deck and enjoy this leisurely transit through one of Northern Europe’s most important waterways.