How Can We Use City Rivers and Canals for Logistics Purposes?6 min read

The world of logistics is constantly changing. Transport companies never stop looking for new effective solutions that would help them to better allocate their resources, further develop their business, and, what is of great importance nowadays, have a milder environmental impact. Let’s see how can waterways in cities offer an effective alternative to the traditional delivery of freight by road. We will also dwell on the advantages and disadvantages of transporting packages by city waterways.

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Using city rivers and canals for logistics purposes

To date, one of the biggest logistics problems in cities around the world is increasing traffic congestion due to a growing number of vehicles on roads. As a result, transport companies are spending more and more time and resources on transporting goods and commodities, and the situation with urban air pollution is worsening, as the volume of exhaust gases is also rising. One of the alternative ways of delivering freight are waterways, especially in large cities.

Transporting goods and parcels by city rivers and canals

Let’s take a look at some of the illustrative cases of how using rivers and canals for logistics purposes in some large European cities is possible.


In the city of Utrecht in Holland, some of the transport companies have been using the waterways in order to deliver goods to approximately 70 companies located along the canals of the city for more than 20 years. For this purpose, the city authorities rent special boats to companies performing such deliveries. It’s worth noting that these boats used to run on fuel, but in 2010 they were replaced by electric, “pollution-free” boats.

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In another Dutch city, Amsterdam, municipal electric boats called City Suppliers are widely used to transport goods and commodities across the city using its considerable range of canals. As for the courier service providers, DHL – one of our reliable partners – is a good example of implementing a new logistics concept in terms of parcel deliveries in Amsterdam. DHL has created floating distribution centers in the form of special boats navigating the city canals and transporting packages to points from where couriers on special bikes or electric vehicles deliver them to their destination addresses, fulfilling in such way a last-mile delivery service.


It is interesting that even in the cities which do not have many canals, water freights are more and more widely used for logistics purposes. In Paris, for example, logistics companies use the River Seine to optimise the process of transporting goods and parcels throughout the city. A company named Vert chez Vous, a specialist in ecological and non-polluting urban logistics, is already changing the logic of urban distribution.

Since 2012, Vert chez Vous has been using its barge Vokoli on the Seine. The company performs on-the-water delivery services by storing goods on the barge and then transporting them to stop points where the delivery process is taken over and finalised by using electrical tricycles. Having up to 20 tricycles which can each transport up to 160 kg of goods at one time, the company delivers 1500 packages on average on each day of the week (except Sunday).

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One of the interesting examples of switching to transporting goods by city rivers can also be seen in London. In 2007, Sainsbury’s (the 3rd largest chain of supermarkets in the UK), instead of doing it by road, started to use barges on the River Thames to deliver goods from its distribution centre to its stores located in different parts of the city. The test was proved successful (including the delivery of time-sensitive goods) and, according to the company, delivering goods this way enables it to save up to about 350 thousand road kilometres per year.

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What are the advantages and disadvantages of delivering freight by waterways?

Among the main advantages of using city waterways to deliver goods and parcels are:

  • In the case of cities with a high level of traffic congestions, water freights allow the delivery companies to save time and money. Instead of using cargo vehicles that often get stuck in traffic jams on city roads, they can use electric boats that freely navigate the city waterways.
  • Large boats and barges can ship bigger volumes of freight than delivery vans and lorries. If a transport company has the possibility to switch from road to water freight, it can reduce approximately 2,500 lorry trips each year, which would make 300 thousand road kilometres per year on average.
  • Water freights usually provide a high level of safety for goods and commodities being transported this way, as the risks of accidents for this type of transportation are lower than for road deliveries.
  • Using water transport for the delivery of goods and parcels to citizens contributes to the improvement of air quality and reductions of traffic jams in cities, as fewer road vehicles are used. It also helps to reduce the global volume of CO2

As for Some of the disadvantages related to transporting goods and parcels by city rivers and canals, are we could note the following:

  • Water transport has a more limited area of coverage for freight delivery, so, for this reason, it is not always convenient to use.
  • When the level of traffic congestion in a city is low or when delivering goods outside a city, water transport is slower as compared to deliveries by road.
  • Another possible disadvantage of water freights in cities is a seasonal inconvenience: in winter some rivers and canals may freeze and in summer the water level may fall. In both cases, it may cause interruptions in the delivery chain of logistics companies.

To make a conclusion to this section, we could say that water freights have some drawbacks that should be always taken into account. At the same time, they can be an efficient alternative method of transportation for some logistics businesses, at least when not replacing the existing methods of delivery but contributing to them.

The importance of reliable and cost-effective logistics services

We at Eurosender are aware of the importance of high-quality, flexible and affordable logistics services and, in particular, transportation services for businesses and individuals. Given this, our goal is to provide our clients the access to best practices and services in this field. Eurosender is always open and ready to assist you should you need any transportation services, or should you have any logistics issues. Discover our door-to-door delivery services and make us your reliable partner!