The French Waterways are beautifully maintained; however the Voies Navigables de France (VNF) does not maintain canals and locks out of the goodness of their hearts. A portion of the funding for the canals comes from pleasure boat licenses. A pleasure boat license may be acquired at any VNF office, or very easily online at the VNF website (you must be able to print). A vignette is provided that must be adhered to the boat in a visible location for lock keepers to see; suggested starboard side. Vignettes may be purchased for 1 day, 3 days, 30 days, (specified dates) or 1 year and prices are calculated based on the vessel’s overall length. Vignettes are required within any French, inland waterway (so far as I can tell). I’ve purchased vignettes for Detour per month at a cost of 140.60 Euros. Considering nearly every stop we have made along the way has been free of charge (haltes, pontoons, & shorelines), this is a small toll to pay for monthly rent! I’ve printed the vignette, enclosed it into a document sleeve, and affixed it to the starboard side of our dodger via tying with string. I first adhered it to the dodger with scotch tape, then when I switched vignettes I not only learned that the scotch tape was damaging to vinyl but I also learned that trying to remove scotch tape sticky residue with the rough side of a sponge is also damaging to vinyl. I stick-ty-fied and then scratched it. How does this stuff persevere in offshore climates if it can’t handle a hearty cleaning!? Anyway, ability to remove the vignette is nice because it also keeps it out of rain and dew when we are not traveling. This is important for the life of the vignette because it is difficult to find printers to print a new vignette if the current one gets ruined.
The Rhone River locks are managed by Compagnie Nationale du Rhone (CNR); hydroelectric company. However, the vignette is technically required on the Rhone. For us, the VNF management of canals and locks began in the Saone River. From our experiences in the rivers and canals thus far, the VNF has been visibly present. Workers are grooming the shorlines, lock keepers are tending locks, and as for automatic locks when a problem arises the VNF is quick to respond (and that’s saying A LOT in French time). The one challenge we have faced is receiving accurate information from the VNF. Although VNF maintains a website which is relatively easy to navigate, information is not always accurate pertaining to lock closures. Overall, we’ve been pleased with our interactions with VNF employees and with the condition of the rivers, canals, and locks.