What are the rules for inflatable boating on Swiss rivers?
When the weather in Switzerland gets hot, people across the country take to the water to swim in or paddle on local lakes and rivers. One of the most typical Swiss pastimes during the summer is to use inflatable boats to float down certain waterways at a slow, relaxed pace. So, to help budding navigators, here's all you need to know about inflatable boating (Böötle) in Switzerland.
Böötle: A typical Swiss summer pastime
A Swiss staple of recent years, as soon as the water temperature gets above 23 degrees celsius, the residents of the alpine nation take to the water to float down rivers in inflatable boats. The most popular river routes include the Limmat (Wipkingen Park in Zurich to Dietikon), the Rhine (Stein am Rhine to Schaffhausen), the Aare (Thun to Bern) and the Reuss (Gisikon to Bremgarten).
Alongside being a refreshing way to pass the time, a float downstream also offers a brand new and unique view of the places you pass. While most tend to bring their own inflatables, many companies have set up shops to offer boat rentals and even guided tours of each river.
All you need to know about inflatable boating on Swiss rivers
While it is a fun and relaxing thing to do, a trip on an inflatable should not be taken lightly. Wild streams, currents, undercurrents and rolling waves are all possible while out on the water, so it's very important to familiarise yourself with all the safety precautions you need to take.
To make sure you have the best and safest experience possible while out on the water, here are some important rules to follow when rubber boating down Swiss rivers.
What are the requirements for rubber boats in Switzerland?
According to the Inland Shipping Ordinance, rubber boats (Gummiboote) are allowed to be used to float down certain sections of rivers in Switzerland. Inflatables of any kind are permitted - although the police advise against using air mattresses, tyres and inflatable animals as they can be difficult to manoeuvre.
Inflatables that are less than 2,5 metres long do not have to be registered with the local authorities. Floatation devices longer than 2,5 metres have to be registered and licenced with the local boat registration office. Do bear in mind that the weight limit stated on the side of the boat should not be exceeded during your trip.
Inflatables must contain the contact details of the owner
Once you have your boat, you have to make sure it is well-equipped for the journey downriver. First, and arguably most importantly, the inflatable itself must be clearly labelled with the owner’s name, address and ideally a mobile phone or landline number.
While it may seem odd, the emergency services say this policy is designed to help save lives. If your inflatable is found abandoned, for example, rescue workers are more able to confirm your whereabouts or declare you a missing person.
Life jackets for every participant
Second, it won’t win you any beauty contests, but every person on the inflatable must have access to a lifejacket. While it is not mandatory to wear the lifejacket during the trip, it is still recommended by the Swiss Life Saving Society (SLRG). Police have also told the Tages-Anzeiger that fines of up to 50 Swiss francs can be issued for each missing jacket.
Authorities recommend you look for a life vest that automatically turns people onto their backs in the water. They must also be the right size for every participant.
Inflatable boats must be manoeuvrable
Finally, the boat must be manoeuvrable, meaning it needs to have oars or paddles of some description.
Choosing the right river to boat on in Switzerland
Next, make sure you pick the right place to go boating. Bear in mind that on sections of river that are not deemed “navigable”, boating is done at your own risk - meaning some rivers like the Thur should be avoided. Beyond the four routes noted above, be sure to check whether the river you have chosen is navigable.
Learn your route and prepare for obstacles
Certain sections of navigable rivers will also be off limits to inflatable boats - the section of river from Lake Zurich to where the Limmat meets the Sihl, for example - so check your route online to make sure you are not in a restricted area. Also bear in mind that even legal routes may have obstacles to overcome, such as the Höngger Weir in Zurich, which will mean you will have to get out of the water and bring your boat overland to the next entry point.
If you have not completed the route before, the SLRG recommends that you explore the river beforehand on foot. This will help you identify hazards like rocks, weirs, bridges, piers and harbours. It's also important to identify where to get out of the water.
Maps for inflatable boating on Swiss rivers
Some handy online maps are also available for some routes. Here are the ones for:
If it’s your first time ever taking an inflatable boat down the river, it is highly recommended that you bring someone along who knows the river well. They will be able to help guide you through obstacles and tell you when to get out.
Check the current and the weather
Checking the conditions before you set out is also important. The SLRG advises against people taking to the river when the water level is high - after rain for example - as the current may be stronger than anticipated.
Finally, be sure to check the weather conditions and UV index for the day. Intermittent swimming breaks often fool people into thinking they are not becoming sunburned, and with shade hard to find when on the river, applying sunscreen regularly is a must. Make sure to also bring a good supply of drinking water.
Common questions about river boating in Switzerland
Now, with your boat equipped, jackets stowed and sunscreen applied, it’s time to hit the water!
What are the navigation rules for Böötle?
Once you are in, it’s important to bear in mind that rubber boats do not have right of way on the river and must be kept away from motorised craft, so it is advised to keep to the banks of the river when possible. For safety reasons, it’s also not advisable to tie floats together, as manoeuvring can become difficult. It’s also important to say that you should never tie yourself to an inflatable craft, even when out swimming.
Can you take a swim while boating?
During the trip, you are able to take a dip in the water, so long as you are a strong swimmer and someone is there to keep control of your inflatable. Be sure to check for any upcoming hazards before you go in, and make sure the depth is sufficient.
Are Swiss river routes signposted?
Luckily, on the most popular routes upcoming hazards and directions are clearly marked, sometimes in English. Instructions in these locations need to be followed in order to stay safe. Also, bear in mind that the signs will also point to the next (or last) time you are able to get out of the water.
Can you drink alcohol while river boating?
Finally, while there is officially no blood alcohol limit for drivers of small inflatable boats, the police say that the craft still needs to be controlled by an “able-bodied” person. The police are known for carrying out random checks on the water, and if they find that your ability to drive is impeded, you may be reported.
Böötle: A great activity for summertime
Despite the fair number of rules to follow, floating down Swiss rivers in inflatables is a fun, relaxing and engaging pastime that shouldn’t be missed. For more information, here is the guidance from the SLRG (in English), the BFU (in German) and the Federal Office of Transport (in German).