Rhineships A TradBoat Source Page

Photo galleries

The photographs in this TradBoat special were taken in the summer of 2004, on the Middle Rhine between Koblenz and Rhudesheim.  They are a cross section of Rhine traffic in this beautiful region and include both carrying and passenger craft.   The sheer size of the vessels in this area is astonishing, and in endless variety. To go directly to the Photo Galleries click here or scroll down through the galleries for a description of the Middle Rhine

About the Middle Rhine.

We have included an introductory piece setting the scene for the Middle Rhine with a little of the history of trading on the river, photographs of some of its spectacular castles, and a gallery of  river marks. We also include a short  list of sources for those who might be interested in going to the area, and glossary of useful German words.  Start here 

         The Photo Galleries           

Goethe - the last of the paddle ships in the KD Fleet
Click on any of the thumbnails for a larger
view.  Go to a Goethe Source page here

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Goethe coming into Kamp-Bornhofen on her morning run upstream Goethe working upstream Contrasts in size.  Goethe  works past a modern containership  below the Loreley Goethe's elaborate paddle box and smart livery

Containerships -  Containerschiffes – with extending wheelhouses
Click on any of the thumbnails for a larger view

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Container ship, hotel ship and passenger ferry. 
Container traffic with Stolzenfels castle in the background.
The extended mast carrying the bridge deck.
Note cars on deck
Containers three high in the Loreley approach.
Bridge deck high






Specialised tankers -  Tankmotorschiffes –for liquids and gases
Click on any of the thumbnails for a larger view

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Tankship approaching the Loreley gorge. Note green navigation mark Margaux  based in Rotterdam in the Middle section A pair emerging from the Loreley gorge. They will change to push mode Another overhead view. This ship is approaching the Loreley
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An LP Gas ship approaching Lahnstein about a kilometre above Koblenz This shot illustrates the sheer length of these vessels.  Compare with lorry behind Another LP gas ship with a little more built up freeboard. Stolzenfels in the background Less  freeboard in this example.  Again Stolzenfels in the background











General cargo vessels - Motorgütershiffes – in wide variety  
Click on any of the thumbnails for a larger view

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Modern vessel, radar equippd;, this is a tank ship Cargo of every sort.  Here is a load of srarp metal An older style smallish cargo vessel of Dutch origin Working down, these vessels are over 8 0metres in length 
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Entering a bend in the riv,  castle ahead in the shadow Family comforts include a sensible playpen for the toddler Peter's bow purpose built to push a dumb vessel ahead of it Passing Stolzenefels castle. Little freeboard










Small craft, tugs and various ferries
Click on any of the thumbnails for a larger view

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The Loreley tug working upstream in to the Loreley Gorge This little passenger boat works the waterfront in Koblenz Car ferry linking 
St Gaorhausen with St Goar (in the background)
A small passenger ferry carrying people and bicycles from Lahnstein






     About the Middle Rhine  

    The Rhine  - where it comes from and where it goes


The Rhine has its source in Switzerland and runs Northwards and then West into the sea on the Dutch coast at Rotterdam, some 1320 kilometres.  On the way it passes through Switzerland, France, Lichenstein, Germany and Holland. It is navigable from Basle (Basel) in Switzerland, to Rotterdam, a distance of about 820 kilometres.  Compare this to, say, the River Thames which is navigable for about 150 miles all told.  

         The Rhine is divided into six sections:   

Alpine Rhine – Source to Lake Constance  
High Rhine – Lake Constance to Basle (Basel)  
Upper Rhine – Basle to Bingen  
Middle Rhine – Bingen to Bonn  
Lower Rhine – Bonn to the Dutch border  
Bovenrijn – Dutch border to Rotterdam

         The Romantic Rhine (Middle Rhine)

The photographs were taken in the area Koblenz - Bingen. This section of the Rhine passes through heavily wooded valleys and vineyards clinging to the steep slopes.  The road runs along the river on both sides with charming townships along the way.  There are no bridges for some distance above Koblenz but car and passenger ferries are frequent and well marked.

The Rhine has always been a great commercial highway.  For example about half the timber used in Holland came down the river in vast rafts or flüßels.  In mediaeval times the Middle Rhine was largely controlled by  the great landowners on either bank.  They charged tolls of the trading vessels, and were prepared to use force to back up their demands.  Their castles appear at every turn of the river and give the Middle Rhine its romantic appearance today.     

Nowadays the river traffic is continuous and works seven days a week except on church feast days.  The ship handling is of the highest order. To watch large passenger vessels crossing at high speed from one landing place to another is to see it at its best.  

Getting upstream  

The problem for Rhine traffic has always been the upstream journey particularly in the shallowish and  fast flowing sections of the Middle Rhine, and in the  Loreley gorge.   

Trading vessels sailed or were  hauled upstream by teams of men and horses until the Middle of the 1800s when the first steam tugs came into use.  Steam had been introduced to the Rhine in 1824 when Der Seeuw travelled past Koblenz and up to Kaub where it was halted by flooding.  By 1827 a regular passenger service was in operation.    

Steam tows began in 1829 with Herkules, a Dutch vessel which worked upstream to Cologne and later Mainz.  Because most of this section of the Middle Rhine is comparatively shallow it was, and is, difficult to use the conventional deep drafted tug anywhere other than in the Loreley gorge.  

(This tug is used today to assist vessels through the Loreley gorge.  There is a photographs of her at work  in our Photo Gallery,  in  the Small Craft Gallery, click here)

Steam Paddle Tugs

By 1850 shallow draft steam paddle tugs (sidewheelers) were coming into service, each capable of hauling up to six barges.  These Radschleppdampfers were common on the river and continued into this century, the last of them going out of commission in the 1940s, although steam was gradually replaced by diesel. 

          Cable tugs  

In the late 1800s a cable tug was introduced between Bonn and Bingen.  The remarkable double ended vessel picked up a rope cable and ran it over a series of steam powered rollers. The model in the Rhein-Museum Koblenz shows clearly how it worked.  However, it was soon found that the cable ropes rotted and the vessel was withdrawn in 1905, although similar vessels continued in service on minor waterways using chain instead of rope.

Self propelled vessels - selbsfahren

By the late 1940s tugs were being replaced by specialised self propelled (selbsfahren) commercial vessels of six main types.  Click here for the Photo Galleries.  

        Signs and signals on the river

          Distance markers and Traffic Signals


Marker boards are set up to give the distance downstream in kilometres, from zero at Basle (Basel).  This is an example at 544 K with a German railway building in the background. (Railway lines run along both sides of the river in this region but don't impede the view because they are between the road and the hillside.)

500 Metres.

Between the kilometre markers there are boards carrying a black cross on a white background.  These  mark 500 metres.  This one is clearly visible against the dark background. 

 Kilometre marks are often painted on walls alongside quays. 

Traffic signals  

Signals at the difficult Loreley gorge,  warn traffic of the size of vessels in each section.  Since a towed pair might be something like a quarter of a mile long they are obviously essential.

As you will see from the photograph the system makes use of illuminated panels on which sets of bars are displayed as well as a set of "traffic lights"






















Traffic travels on the right and the fairways are marked with green buoys  (on the right going upstream) and red buoys on the left.  

    Blue Boards  


Blue Boards


Any vessel changing sides – that is travelling on the “wrong” side of the river for a time - puts up a blue board so that oncoming vessels are warned of the change of course.  

This blue board is displayed well forward above Goethe's wheelhouse but boards on commercial carrying vessels are usually well aft.



    Depth indicators - Pegelstände


Depth Indicators

In the upper reaches, at Kaub and Bingen water depth  gauges (Pegelstände) have been set up to advise skippers of the actual depths on a daily basis.  This one is at Kaub (this is a paper model  bought at the Rhein-Museum The current minimum depth of the river is displayed in centimetres, and the Pegelstände also broadcasts to skippers each day. (Note. A number of real time depth indicators for the Rhine and Mosel may be found on the internet sometimes called 'water guages'.)


    Sources of information  


    Rhein-Museum - Koblenz

This museum is on the East bank of the Rhine at Koblenz and is approached from Koblenz by way of the spectacular Pfaffendorfer Bridge. 

It is one of the best set out museums which we have visited either in the UK or Germany.  The staff are endlessly helpful.  If you don't read German the desk will provide you with "crib" sheets in English.  It is permitted to take non-commercial photographs but courteous to ask first.  The history of Rhine traffic is set out in separate rooms and the models used are of superb quality.  They include the astonishing rope laying steam tug shown here, models of the vast  Rhine timber rafts -  and a wide variety of Rhine craft from early times to date. 

Rhein-Museum Koblenz, Charlottenstraße 53 a 
              56077. Koblenz    Web: www.rhein-museum.de


Flöße und Schiffermuseum 
Kamp-Bornhofen is a small township about twenty kilometres above Koblenz on the East bank of the Rhine.  The museum is in the red brick Rathaus which faces the river.  This is a  small museum and whilst open on a regular basis, can be visited only on  a few days each week.  However it is packed with models and memorabilia of Rhine traffic and is particularly strong on the development of timber rafts (flößer) which were assembled close by.  It should certainly be visited in addition to the Rhein-Museum at Koblenz

Address: Rheinuferstraße 34 (in the Rathaus) 
              56341 Kamp-Borhofen  Tel: 06773/573

Loreley Centre

The Loreley Visitor Centre is in the superb open country above the Loreley gorge.  It is approached by a winding road which climbs up the hillside immediately upstream of St Goarshausen, and there is plentiful car parking.  The Centre covers all aspects of the Rhine including its geology and botany in its excellent  educational centre.  After visiting the Centre you may walk along the path which runs along the top of the Eastern cliffs of the gorge where there are high vantage points for photographers.    

Address: Besucherzentrum Loreley. Auf der Loreley 576346 St Gorshausen
               Web: www.besucherzentrum-loreley.de


“Rhineschiffart – gestern und heute  (Rhine ship travel yesterday and today)”

This book is available in most bookshops in the area but only in the German edition.  However it is heavily illustrated and with the aid of a dictionary for non-German speakers, provides an excellent summary of these extraordinary vessels from earliest times, as well as much useful information about the Rhine signalling systems.  In 2004 it cost €9.90, approximately £6.95.  

Author: Karl-Heinz Lautensack  114 pages colour and black and white illustrations.  Many photographs both historic and modern vessels. Published by: Verlag Lautensack 55413 Weiler bei Bingen.  ISBN 3 00011331 8

KD Lines

A history of the Koln - Dusseldorfer Line is available from most of their riverside booking offices.


Dampfgüterschiffe - steam powered general cargo
Flößer - huge rafts of timber, formerly traded to Holland
Mindestfahrrinnentiefe - literally the minimum travel depth
Gütersmotorchiff - motorised general cargo vessel
Motorschleppboote - motorised tug
Pegelstände - building where water level is measured 
Personendampfer - a steam powered passenger ship
Personenschiff - a passenger carrying vessel powered by diesel or similar
Radschleppboote - a side wheel tug.
Radschleppdampfer - steam paddle tug.
Schubschiffe - independent pusher units, capable of pushing huge loads
Wassertief - water level

 © Charles Smith Publications.  Brought on line: 27/9/04. Updated: 06/01/2023