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Recommendations for the descent of the Semois


River access code  

A. General principles   

Be responsible for your actions 

Take other river users and local residents into account. 

Respect and protect the environment. 

A.1. Be responsible for your actions 

Prepare your itinerary and locate the authorized embarkation/disembarkation areas. 

Be properly equipped, bring a mobile phone (emergency number 112) a waterproof pouch. 

Choose a place and sailing conditions corresponding to your technical and physical level. 

Respect the navigation periods and times. 

Park your vehicle in the places provided (some boarding areas have few parking spaces). 

For regular practice, remember to train in navigation techniques (information from the Belgian French-speaking canoe-kayak Federation )  

A.2. Consider other river users and local residents

  Sail in good agreement with the fishermen, if necessary stop sufficiently upstream and communicate to define the least disturbing passage. Avoid loud paddling.

  It is strictly forbidden to embark/disembark outside the official areas, respect private property and the meadows bordering the river.

  Follow any local instructions, respect the information from the Nature and Forests Department and the rental company. Get informed during the hunting season. 

Approach the technical passages at a good distance from the previous boat, do not interfere with the maneuvers of other boats. 

A.3. Respect and protect the environment

  Take away all your waste, including organic! What your boat was able to carry full, it can carry empty… And pack everything in a solid garbage bag: in the event of capsizing, your waste will not pollute the river.

  Do not throw any leftover food or liquid into the water. Do not swim if you have sunscreen on.

  Navigate calmly, do not disturb the tranquility of nature.

  Do not leave any trace of your passage, do not uproot a plant, do not make a dam with the stones of the stream. In the passages with very little water, do not let your boat scrape the bottom of the river; disembark immediately and walk behind your boat (a 5m rope attached to the back of the boat is useful).

  When embarking and disembarking, carry your boat, avoid dragging it on the ground so as not to damage the bank.

  And as a reminder, as everywhere in Wallonia: it is strictly forbidden to camp and make fires outside areas specifically designed for this. 


B. Memento Safety: dangers, communication, equipment.

 B.1. The dangers of the river

  In Wallonia, the main dangers that canoe-kayak practitioners encounter are trees and branches, dams, bridges and drossages. In all circumstances, it is strongly recommended to: not sail alone,

  • Move forward while carefully observing the course,

  • Do not sail alone

  • Stop to assess the difficulties ahead,

  • Communicate with other boats. 

  • B.1.1. Trees and branches 


It is common to have downed trees across the river. Depending on the configuration of the river and the strength of the current, these trees can represent a MORTAL DANGER. Avoid them by porting along the shore (it is then exceptionally tolerated to disembark outside an official area to circumvent the obstacle). Felled trees interfering with navigation must be reported to the waterway manager or by email

On many stretches, low branches extend above the water. When the water level is high, the current risks dragging the boat under these partially submerged branches which then become an inextricable trap, here too: DANGER.  

  • B.1.2. Dams

  Our rivers have a large number of dams, sometimes completely abandoned, sometimes fitted out with a kayak pass, sometimes also completely forbidden to cross. To find your way around, first remember this: a dam is a potentially very dangerous obstacle and must always be approached with the utmost caution. In the absence of a developed pass, it is recommended not to cross the dam with your boat at the risk of injuring yourself or damaging the equipment, and to carry out a short portage on the bank. Practitioners should also be very wary if they disembark in the river to cross the dam by directing their boat on foot (presence of concrete blocks, or even scrap metal, submerged).

  It is forbidden to enter the diversion channels and mill reaches. 

  • B.1.3. Bridges

  A bridge is an anthropic work, and as such, requires caution similar to that required for a dam. It is recommended to pass at a good distance from the piles and to be wary of submerged obstacles. 

  • B.1.4. Drossages 


As a reminder, a drossage is a place where the river makes a sharp bend and where the current comes up against the bank. In Wallonia, this configuration is most often found in the sections of alluvial plain, and is accompanied by a more or less significant deepening of the bank. A potentially dangerous circular eddy is then formed. 

Depending on the strength and speed of the current, a boat can be violently pressed against the shore. In the event of capsizing, the eddy presents a risk of becoming blocked.


B.2. Communicate between boats

  The terms "left/right" always refer to the side of the river when facing downstream (ie back to the source of the river).

  It is essential to agree on a communication code between boats before any outing. The signals below are very widely used without however being universal (source:

  In addition, as in any outdoor activity in an unsafe natural environment, it is strongly advised to appoint a leader responsible for formalizing the decisions of the group.  

  • B.2.1. Audible signals

  A short sound: to attract attention. Answer if all goes well: a hand tapping on the head. 

Series of short close sounds: danger, stop immediately and dock at the nearest possible place, wait for the leader's instructions. 

  • B.2.2. Gesture signals

  A vertical paddle (or arm): go exactly where I pass / follow me / go straight ahead. 

A paddle (or an arm) pointing obliquely upwards to the left or to the right indicates the direction of the passage (left/right). 

A paddle (or both arms) horizontally: impassable passage, stop. 


B.3. Recommended equipment 

To date, there is no official obligation for equipment and materials on board pleasure craft on non-navigable (but “kayakable”) waterways. However, to fully enjoy the pleasure of hiking on the water, and in complete safety, keep this in mind: 

The routes on our rivers are wild, the nearest village is sometimes a few hours walk away, and the Gsm network is not at all guaranteed on all sections. 

The weather is changeable: a descent started under a warm sun can end with 10° less in the rain.

Travel times vary greatly: during low water periods, it is necessary to plan frequent passages where you walk in the water while pulling your boat; in the spring, buttercups and other aquatic plants can slow you down considerably. In the event of capsize, you cool down very quickly, and this is reinforced by the shade and the wind (risk of hypothermia, especially for children). 

Even with little water, you can hurt yourself a lot if you capsize. The force of the current and the stones on the bottom of the water are a source of injury. On the sporty sections and at the crossings of the dam, do not hesitate to wear a helmet even if you are told that it is ridiculous: ridiculousness does not kill, unconsciousness, yes.  

The following minimum equipment is recommended by outdoor supervision professionals for a leisure canoe-kayak outing from April to September (sources: and Participants will find out from the clubs of the Federation, rental companies and specialized supervision structures to complete their equipment in the event of a sporting outing (helmet, neoprene suit, map, etc.): _cc781905-5cde-3194-bb3b- 136bad5cf58d_

  • Lifejacket (suitable size, to be strapped correctly to the body). Imperative for children under 12, recommended for all.

  • Mobile phone (to be carried, in a waterproof pouch).

  • Closed shoes (old sports shoes, or specific shoes eg canyoning).

  • Hat or cap (on the water, increased risk of sunstroke and sunburn).

  • Sunglasses (with the glare of the sun, it is sometimes impossible to see without sunglasses).

  • Spare clothes (including at least a sweater and a windproof jacket, even in summer).

  • Canister and waterproof bag (to store spare items).

  • Identity papers, card, rental phone number (if applicable).

  • Drink and food (with reserve).

  Spare paddle. 

It is prudent to equip your boat with flotation elements (to be fixed in the points).  

C. International River Difficulty Classification for Canoeing

 (White Waters International Classification - WWC)

The rivers are classified from I to VI according to their established technical difficulty, for rivers with natural flow, in period of normal flow. A course may include a one-off or temporary difficulty: it is then mentioned in parentheses, for example II(III) or II. felled, collapses,…). Navigating on natural rivers requires the canoe-kayak practitioner to be constantly careful and to master basic navigation techniques. An excellent technical mastery is required from class III.

In Wallonia, on the sections accessible all year round to touring enthusiasts (Lesse, Ourthe, Semois, Amblève), the difficulty does not exceed class I. On the sections accessible during the winter period, the difficulties are generally class II, possibly I. Class III difficulties are only encountered on sections accessible by derogation. But beware ! This classification is established for a "normal" flow: in the event of a high water level, with the speed of the current and the sinuosity of the courses, the difficulty can then rise by one degree due to the presence of unpredictable obstacles, on which we arrive very quickly (trees, rocks). In general, unnatural obstacles such as bridges and especially the many dams, active or collapsed, should be approached WITH THE MOST EXTREME CAUTION: water movements are violent there and dangers may be hidden (scrap metal, blocks concrete,…) 

Class I - Easy

Slow and regular course, small regular waves, small eddies, simple obstacles.

Examples: the Lesse from Houyet to Gendron, the Semois from Chiny to Chassepierre, the Viroin,... 

Class II - Moderately difficult (free passage)

Regular course, irregular waves, medium eddies, weak eddies and rapids, simple obstacles in the current. Small thresholds.

Examples: the Salm, the Our, the Houille, the western and eastern Ourthe,...

Class III - Difficult (visible passage)

Irregular high waves, large eddies, whirlpools and rapids. Blocks of rock, small falls, various obstacles in the current. 

Class IV - Very difficult (passage not visible from your boat, reconnaissance necessary)

Big continuous waves, powerful and fast rollers. Rocks obstructing the current, higher falls with rappels.

Class V - Extremely Hard (Unavoidable and Required Recognition) 

Waves, whirlpools, extreme rapids. Narrow passages, very high falls with difficult entrances and exits, dangerous rocks. 

Class VI - Limit of airworthiness (generally not possible)

Possibly navigable depending on the water level and the practitioners. Big risks.

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