The dangers and laws regarding swimming in rivers and canals

With more hot weather on its way, it can be tempting to jump in for a quick swim to cool off.

If you’re new to the Netherlands, it’s important to note that it’s not only dangerous to dive into rivers and canals, but in many places, it’s also prohibited.

Past casualties

In May 2017, a 14-year-old boy from Helmond was run over by a jet ski whilst swimming in the Well near Zaltbommel. He died instantly.

Unfortunately, it was not the first time that the river took a victim. In 2012, there was also an incident where a young 22-year-old Pole went for a swim and never returned.

A spokesperson from Rijkswaterstaat stated that 11 people in in the province of Gelderland alone died as a result of swimming in rivers and canals in 2016. 

Furthermore, the number drowning incidents that occur in rural areas are not normally tracked.

People swimming in large rivers like the Waal, Rhine, Lek, IJssel and Maas are taking huge risks, the spokesperson stated. 

The six biggest risks

The six biggest risks of swimming in rivers and canals include:
Swimmers are barely visible to passengers on barges
A large boat cannot stop or swerve at the last moment 
Swimmers are quickly sucked in by the strong undercurrent of passing boats
Swimmers are not strong enough to withstand the strong currents of rivers, canals and whirlpools
Swimmers risk getting hypothermia with the fluctuating temperatures of the water

It is also very dangerous to jump off of bridges. Due to murky waters, it is not easy to assess the depth nor detect if there are any objects that might obstruct the way.


For those who are not put off by the risks, swimming is not only dangerous in many places, it’s also prohibited. 

You may risk a fine of 140 euros if you swim:
in the fairway of rivers 
in ducts 
around waiting areas or moorings
near a bridge, lock, weir or near large buoys 
ferry routes
in and around ports 
high-speed areas
in places specifically designated as off limits

Warning signs

It is not illegal to swim in rivers or canals, but it is strongly discouraged by the police and Rijkswaterstaat, who often send out an annual warning. 

In fact, Rijkswaterstaat has launched a new campaign, which can be found on their website, to spread awareness about the dangers of swimming in canals and rivers; a popular choice, especially when the beaches are too busy. 

Still keen to go for a swim in the river? Then first check out the official swimming website. There is also an app. 

Kiri Scully


Kiri Scully

Raised a global citizen, to an Irish father and American mother, Kiri has lived and worked in five countries over three continents. Fuelled by culture curiosity at an early age,...

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