Kiel Canal



The German Nord-Ostsee-Kanal internationally known as the Kiel Canal connects the Northsea in the German Bight with the Baltic Sea, running over a length of 98.26 k. The canal begins at the Brunsbüttel locks and ends in the locks at Kiel-Holtenau. Within the canal there only two lock systems, one each at the terminal points. This site publishes an editorial on the Kiel canal with information and photographic images.


This site is an editorial and image gallery on Kiel Canal.


kiel canal
Kiel Canal near Brunsbüttel
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General Information on Kiel Canal


Sailing from Hamburg into the Baltic Sea was a lengthy operation in the 19th centruy. In order to shorten sailing time from the North Sea to the Baltic Sea a solution was needed. A possible option was to built a canal between Brunsbüttel (North Sea) and Kiel Holtenau (Baltic Sea). The plan became reality.


Construction of the Kiel Canal begun in 1887 and after 8 years the canal was completed in 1895. Because of the canal becoming a success story first extension works became necessary between 1907 and 1914. From 1965 onwards a second phase of extension works on the canal followed.


In contrast to inland canals, the locks at Kiel Canal do not have to overcome fall heights but only serve the proctection of the canal bed. Kiel Canal does not have any height differences, though the canal was built without the use of sheet pile walls. Without lock systems the tidal amplitude of the North Sea would create ocean currents towards the North Sea thereby damaging the canal walls. The Baltic Sea on the other side, does not have a significant tidal amplitude, meaning at Kiel level the tidal amplitude hardly measures 20 centimetres. The reason for that is that a marginal sea such as the Baltics are not much affected by tides, whereas the North Sea, at Brunsbüttel, creates an average tidal amplitude of about 3 metres. Without the locks the canal would suffer from substantial trouble.



Key Data for Passage of the Canal


The maximum depth of the Kiel Canal is 13 metres, with the medium depth being 11 metres. However, the ship's maximum draft dependes on the individual dimensions of the ship, which are given below:

  • Length = 235 metres, width = 32.5 metres = draft of  7.0 metres or
  • Length = 193 metres, width = 20.0 metres = draft of 9.5 metres or
  • Length = 160 metres, width =27.0 metres = draft of 9.5 metres

All ships with a draft exceeding 3.10 metres and all ships from traffic group 2 (= barges with a length exceeding 65 metres and all larges ship types) have to take a ship's pilot on board during the passage of the canal.


Leasure and recreational ships and boats, meaning all ships and boats which do not serve commercial purposes, are only allowed to use the Kiel Canal during daylight and on days with clear sight, without a ship's pilot. Boat operator must ensure that berths are reached before sunset.



Ship's Pilots in the Kiel Canal


All commercial ships / seagoing ships are required to take sea pilots on board during the passage of the canal. During the passage the sea pilots take the helm. Sea pilots are usually ship captains or nautical officers, though, during the passage the captain of the ship still reamins the skipper.




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Kiel Canal at Brunsbüttel Locks - A container feeder leaves the locks heading for Hamburg



Kiel Canal - Brunsbüttel Locks


Kiel Canal branches off the river Elbe at river kilometre 696.35, which is the end of the Elbe estuary and the beginning of the North Sea. Locks entrance fire at kilometre 0.38.


The new double locks system at Brunsbüttel measures 310 metres in length and 42 metres across, with a permissable draft of 9.50 metres and 10.40 metres respectively.


The old lock measured a length of 125 metres and 22 metres accross with a permissable draft of only 6.00 metres.


In all, Brunsbüttel locks have 4 lock chambers available.


The Federal Waterways and Shipping Administration has ordered another 5th lock chamber to enhance capabilities. The 5th lock is currently under construction. The new chamber is geared to serve an increase in traffic and most of all to accept much larger ships:


Chamber length: 360 metres

Width: 45 metres

Maximum permissable draft: 11 metres

Maximum width of the ship: 44 metres


The flood gates of the lock are built as sliding gates, as is the standard at Brunsbüttel.



Operating Times at Brunsbüttel


The locks are operational for shipping 24/7.


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Freight ship leaving Brunsbüttel locks - a tug from Bremen Port is arriving to enter locks
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Container feeder moving into Brunsbüttel locks heading for Hamburg
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A Port of Bremen registered tug moves out of the locks into the canal to support ships entering the locks



Bridges crossing Kiel Canal


Both road and railway traffic cross  the Kiel Canal every day. In order to accommodate ships passing through the canal the bridges have to have a fixed minimum height, which lead to the building ten so-called high bridges. The high bridges are listed as follows in the order of their locations at the canal, starting at Brunsbüttel:

  • Brunsbüttel High Bridge - road bridge - canal kilometre 6.12 - length 2826 metres - clearance above: 44 metres
  • Hochdonn High Bridge - railway bridge - canal kilometre 18.78 - length 2218 metres - clearance above: 42 metres
  • Hohenhörn High Bridge - motorway bridge (BAB 23) - canal kilometre 24.88 - length 390 metres - clearance above: 42 metres, width 28 metres
  • Grünenthal High Bridge - road and railway bridge - canal kilometre 31.12 - length 405 metres - clearance above: 42 metres
  • Rendsburg High Bridge - road and railway bridge - canal kilometre 6.12 - length 2486 metres - clearance above: 42 metres
  • Rade High Bridge - motorway bridge (BAB 7) - canal kilometre 62.20 - length 1498 metres - clearance above: 42 metres
  • 1st High Bridge Levensauf - road and railway bridge - canal kilometre 68.11 - length 180 metres - clearance above: 42 metres
  • 2nd High Bridge Levensau - road and railway bridge - canal kilometre 93.58 - length 365 metres - clearance above 42 metres
  • 1st High Bridge Kiel Holtenau "Prinz-Heinrich Brücke" - road bridge - canal kilometre 96.10 - length 445 metres - clearance above: 42 metres
  • 2nd High Bridge Kiel Holtenau "Olympia Bridge" - road bridge - canal kilometre 96.62 - length 518 metres - clearance above: 42 metres

Under all bridges the permissable height for ships passing under the bridges is 40 metres above water level.



The Tunnel under Kiel Kanal


Rendsburg Tunnel offers both car drivers and pedestrians alike the option to cross under the canal. The car tunnel was opened in 1961 and measures 1278 metres in length. Since 1965 the pedestrian tunnel is open to the public. Pedestrians can reach the tunnel over lifts and escalators. The pedestrian tunnel measures a length of 130 metres.



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Container feeder en route to Kiel



Ferries crossing Kiel Canal


In Kiel Canal ferries connect between the banks of the canal and are free of charge for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. The decision to make the service free to the public goes back to German Emperor Wilhelm II, and is still remains valid up to our times, much to the delight of the users.


The ferries are listed below in the order of their occurrance in the canal:

  • Brunsbüttel - canal kilometre 2.10
  • Ostermoor - canal kilometre 4.40
  • Kudensee - canal kilometre 7.40
  • Burg - canal kilometre 14.80
  • Hochdonn - canal kilometre 19.10
  • Hohenhörn - canal kilometre 24.00
  • Fischerhütte - canal kilometre 35.60
  • Oldenbüttel - canal kilometre 41.20
  • Breiholz - canal kilometre 49.90
  • Rendsburg - canal kilometre 62.70
  • Nobiskrug - canal kilometre 65.30
  • Sehestedt - canal kilometre 75.30
  • Landwehr - canal kilometre 86.80
  • Kiel Holtenau - canal kilometre 97.30


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Brunsbüttel ferry crossing Kiel Canal
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Tug entering Brunsbüttel locks coming from the North Sea



Vantage Points at Kiel Canal


There is a lot to see and to discover at Kiel Canal. Where are the best possible vantages points? Actually there are more than enough. Just check the countryside and you will find something high enough to overlook the canal. There are so many places where one can sit down and watch the traffic. However, there some interesting locations which are well worth visiting and widely known to the public:

  • Viewing platform at Brunsbüttel Locks
  • Viewing platform at Holtenau Locks
  • Beneath the Hochdonn Highbridge (parking on both sides of the motorway allows people to walk back und watch the canal from beneath the bridge.
  • Rendburg railway bridge
  • The world's longest bench alongside the canal in Rendsburg (road: Kanalufer) measuring a length of 575.75 metres
  • The ship greeting system at Rendsburg railway bridge.


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Container Feeder in Kiel Canal
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Kiel Canal - High bridge Hohenhörn (motorway bridge A 23)
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Container Feeder approaching high bridge Hohenhörn
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Container feeder at high bridge hohenhörn



Kiel Canal - Kiel Holtenau Locks


The locks at Kiel Holtenau consists of two double lock systems, named Little Lock Holtenau (German: Kleine Schleuse) and Large Lock Holtenau (German: Grosse Schleuse). The little is the original lock system at the time of the canal opening in 1895.


Key data on the lock systems:


Kleine Schleuse Kiel Holtenau:

2 chambers

length: 125 metres

width: 22 metres

Locking time between 15 and 30 minutes


Grosse Schleuse Kiel Holtenau

2 chambers

length: 310 metres

width: 32 metres

Locking time from 20 to 25 minutes


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Kiel Holtenau Locks
kiel holtenau locks
Impressions at Kiel Canal
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Water police boat in the Bay of Kiel close to Holtenau Locks

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Ship waiting to enter Holtenau locks
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Ship sailing into Bay of Kiel after leaving Holtenau Locks
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Container feeder entering Holtenau locks heading for the Baltic Sea
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Looking into Holtenau Locks
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Kiel Canal - looking into Holtenau locks
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Sliding gate closing at Holtenau Locks
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