If Seine-Maritime is a department, Seine-Fluviale is not one: therefore the answer is not on the administrative level. One could then imagine that the distinction between Maritime and Fluviale comes from the influence of the tides on the water level of the Seine...

What difference between Seine Maritime and Seine Fluviale ?


Seine-Maritime department stands north of the Seine river, on its mouth

Photo : © Shakki CC BY



"Fluvial" in French is an adjective that mentions a relationship with rivers and more precisely broad rivers. In French, a « riviere » is the equivalent of a river, a generic term for water flowing inside in a country. But in French, we make the difference between a river and a « fleuve » that ends in the sea. "Fleuve" is generally used to designate large or wide rivers, but in reality you also have small "fleuves" of a length of a few kilometers between their source and their mouth in the sea. In France, the five main « fleuves » are: the Rhine, the Rhone, the Loire, the Seine and the Garonne. But the smallest "fleuve" in France is "La Veules" in Normandy and more precisely in Seine-Maritime: 1,146 meter long. Incidentally, the village built along this small river is also one of the oldest villages of Seine-Maritime, since we find traces as from the fourth century. Its name: Veules-les-Roses.


The "fleuve" Veules runs through one of the oldest village of Normandy aside the Channel

Photo : © Openstreetmap.org CC BY 2.0


To return to our sheep, the influence of the tide on the level of the Seine :

Basically it is not stupid since the level of the Seine is influenced by the tides up to Poses, 40 km upstream of Rouen: either the first lock when going up the Seine from its mouth. But that's not the explanation either ...


The locks of Poses are located 40 km upstream of Rouen, 80 km from Seine Bay

Photo : © Google Maps


Limits of Rouen Port Authority

As bizarre as it may seem this distinction between Maritime and Fluviale falls under the authority that manages navigation on the Seine. But as odd things are rarely exceptions here, the second thing to know, and that can surprise the neophyte, is that the port authority of Rouen (and consequently the influence of the Harbour Authority of Port of Rouen) extends from the mouth of the Seine, Honfleur on the left bank, to this famous border between Seine Maritime and Seine Fluviale.

Opposite on the mouth, on the right bank, it is the port authority of Le Havre which manages the port of Le Havre, it goes without saying, but also the fluvial or river navigation on the canal which connects the bridge of Tancarville with the Port of Le Havre . This canal allows the river navigation on the Seine to reach Le Havre without having to face the maritime elements that require technical specificities to avoid accidents : the freeboard height is one of first factors differentiating a barge from a vessel.

So in practice, a vessel comes under the control of the port authority of Rouen as soon as it crosses the entrance of the Seine in its estuary. The same goes for ships, river boats and barges that leave the port of Honfleur. A barge that leaves Le Havre via the canal linking Le Havre to bridge of Tancarville leaves the port authority of Le Havre when it gets out the locks of Tancarville downstream from the Tancarville bridge and returns under the port authority of Rouen. The area of influence of the Port of Rouen begins at Honfleur on the left bank and Tancarville / Radicatel on the right bank. But where does it stop? I give you a clue as an image.


The Gustave-Flaubert motorway lift bridge west of Rouen

Photo : © Tours-in-Normandy.fr


The Gustave Flaubert Bridge


Before the construction of the Gustave-Flaubert motorway lift bridge above, the bridge that served as the border between the Seine Maritime and the Seine Fluviale was the first bridge under which vessels could not pass : the bridge Guillaume le Conquérant, which historically allowed to get the RN 138 national road to the heart of Rouen even before the A13 (Paris / Rouen / Caen) was built, then its exit ramp (A138) towards Rouen.


The Flaubert Bridge separates in practice the Seine Maritime from the Seine Fluviale

Photo : © Tours-in-Normandy.fr


The Law says William the Conqueror Bridge

On paper, the bridge William the Conqueror has remained this border since as the name suggests, the rising bridge Gustave Flaubert allows to pass a maritime traffic. But in fact, the number of times in the year this bridge is operated makes it in the daily newspaper the new border between Maritime and Fluviale. Fortunately, the Armada takes place from time to time to remind us that it is getting up ! !


The major part of the Armada takes place between bridges Flaubert and G. le Conquerant

Photo : © Google Maps


Built between 2004 and 2008, the Gustave-Flaubert Bridge is thus historically the last bridge to have been built over the Seine between Rouen and Le Havre. Although it does not belong to the category of bridges in maritime format at first, it is nevertheless capable of leaving vessels getting under when necessary.

Entered service on September 25th, 2008, its total length is 670 meters. The central part that can rise is 120 meters long and consists of two separate sections of traffic 18 meters wide each, for a unit weight of ... 1300 tons. Or 2 x 1300 tonnes in 120 meters long by 18 wide that can reach a height of 55 meters above the level of the Seine at high tide. The double piers of the bridge culminate each at 85 meters in height which make it the third highest buildings of the agglomeration of Rouen after the towers of the Notre-Dame Cathedral as well as the administrative tower Saint-Sever.

Like its three predecessors, the Gustave-Flaubert Bridge entered the Book of Records when it was commissioned in 2008 as the "highest motorway lift bridge" in the world . Record that it still seems to hold, unlike his fallen predecessors. But at what price: EUR 137 million total estimate with access ramps on both sides, 1 million Euros annual maintenance costs to get up virtually only on the occasion of the Armada ... Even if in 12 minutes ! !

But for these prices above stated, there are still positive aspects: studying to divert road traffic that previously arrived directly in the center of Rouen, its initial estimate of traffic was 50,000 vehicles per day including a quarter of 190,000 daily trucks that passed through the other bridges of Rouen previously. In 2017, the 60,000 vehicles / day mark was exceeded, a logical consequence of the entry into service in February 2015 of the A150 motorway junction. This junction A150, monster of Loch Ness for a while, makes it possible to connect Rouen to Yvetot by the motorway, by unloading the historic D6014 (continuity of the RN14 Paris / Rouen) which allowed to make Rouen / Le Havre by the north of the Seine , across the « Pays Cauchois ».

Until the entry into service of the A150, to connect Rouen and Le Havre, the fastest route was to take the A13 south of the Seine (left bank) while Le Havre and Rouen are both on Right Bank !


The logo of the pilot station on river Seine for deep sea vessels

Photo : © pilote-seine.fr


Whether on the Seine Maritime or the Seine Fluviale, the vessels must take a French pilot familiar with the rules of Maritime and Fluviale navigation, specificities of the Seine related to its meanders, its water currents (and its currents of air!) whatever their destination, as long as it weighs more than 500 GRT (Gross Registered Tonnage). In practice, there are subtleties related to the kind of the vessels.


M/V PATRICIA SCHULTE - IMO 9294185 - YOB : 2006 - Flag Cyprus - 222 m x 30 m - draugth : 7.80 m

Photo : © Vessels-in-France.net


To get up to Rouen from the mouth, it takes about 8 to 10 hours (depending on the speed of the vessel and its maneuverability in fresh water) and two pilots : the station is halfway downstream from the mouth Brotonne bridge. For vessels wishing to go ahead the Gustave-Flaubert bridge, they embark a pilot in Rouen to go upstream of Rouen. Of course, the maximum fluvial format of the Seine does not allow any vessel to go up the Seine beyond Rouen. The gauge restrictions are of three types :

  • The size of the locks, or more exactly their width. Between Rouen and the north of Paris (Gennevilliers) there are five locks with a maximum available width of 11,50m.
  • The second gauge restriction concerns the air draught, that is to say the total available height between the water level of the Seine and the underside of the crossings of the various bridges : between Rouen and Gennevilliers, the air draught is 7.50 m. [which is very far from the air draught of the maritime bridges before Rouen - minimum 50 meters ! !]
  • Finally, the draught, which on a river network is much lower than in a maritime network : between the mouth of the Seine and Rouen, the draught is 10.30 m ; from Rouen and downstream from Paris, the available draught is 4 m in the best weather conditions.


River transport as an ecological reflex is still a mirage

The Seine, "river network at Grand Gabarit", means in practice an equipment that can be used either from Le Havre to Compiègne by taking off at Conflans-Sainte-Honorine or from Le Havre to Montereau-Fault-Yonne if you continue straight ahead at Conflans: either 180 x 11.5 x 4 m. Beyond the destinations / limits raised, the dimensions of the locks are the main obstacle, or more exactly, the non harmony of the network beyond these points poses problem.


This 19th century pictures is still uptodate nowadays


On the Seine beyond Montereau, the width of the locks falls to 9.5 meters while on the Marne lock width falls to 7.6 meters. Worse if we continue to Burgundy (and its cellars), we come across locks 5 meter wide ... and 38.5 meter long.. which is the historic Freycinet standard (above picture).


But figures can't be discussed

Once you have married all these parameters, you realize that the proportion of vessels capable of navigating the French river system is extremely thin and not in step with reality. On average, the coasters that go up the Seine beyond Rouen very rarely exceed 100 meters long whereas the Seine is known as Grand Gabarit fluvial upstream of Paris (Montereau-Fault-Yonne) : that is to say, the maximum allowed river convoys are 180 m long by 11.50 m wide, 4 m draft, 7.5 m air draft, which makes us a total of average transportable capacity of 3,200 tons displaced at one time. A quick conversion gives us :

  • 107 30-ton trucks that disappear from our roads, 1.8 km of trucks in single file !
  • 36 wagons of 90 tons of unit cargo, ie a complete train of goods with 2 locomotives minimum against a single pusher !



As a reminder, 1 km of motorway costs, in France and on average, 6.2 million Euros to build  !

But EVERY year, 1 km of motorway costs 70,000 to 100,000 Euros in maintenance, depending on its traffic. Costs to which must be added the costs of surveillance (patrollers, video surveillance) as well as intervention costs of emergency services. As a reminder also, in France, a highway patrol driver is the victim of an accident every 3 days ! (Figures from SETRA)


On the navigation time side, we have :

  • 20 hours to connect Le Havre to the Paris Terminal Gennevilliers downstream of Paris in a river convoy, an axis that has become strategic in terms of the modal shift of container transport
  • 44 hours to connect Nogent-sur-Seine to Rouen, another strategic axis but in the field of cereals transport this time.



* Images of Epinal (title of the last picture) is a french formula meaning "popular 18th / 19th century print depicting traditional scenes of French life". Why Epinal ?


Related articles :

What is a "maritime" bridge ?

Freycinet, who is it ?