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Traffic in the Saimaa Canal

Information on traffic in the Saimaa Canal and Lake Saimaa is provided by the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency's fairway unit. Regulations, guidelines and communications concerning canals and canal traffic are also reported in the Notices to Mariners publication.

Traffic season

The natural open water season in Southern Saimaa and the Saimaa Canal is on average 211 days. As most of the ships that travel in the canal and on Lake Saimaa have been inspected for winter traffic, the traffic season has recently been extended to 9.5–10 months, starting at the beginning of April and ending at the end of January. During the traffic season, the Saimaa Canal and other deep-water canals are operational 24 hours a day.

Ship size

Vessels of the following dimensions may operate in the Canal without special permission:

Length: 82.50 m
Width: 12.60 m
Draught: 4.35 m
Mast height from water surface: 24.50 m
However, the draught of a vessel that is towed may be 4,50 m

In the Saimaa Canal, pilotage is required on all vessels that are over 35 metres in length. 

Special permits for oversized vessels

Vessels that exceed the aforementioned dimensions slightly can be issued a permit for access to the canal, provided that the vessel is otherwise suitable for canal traffic in terms of its structure and characteristics. In addition, a one-off special permit may be issued for an oversized vessel or vehicle carrying an exceptional load. The permits are granted by the Finnish Transport Infrastructure Agency's fairway unit.

Special regulations for towing and timber floating traffic

Traffic rules and regulations contain more detailed provisions, for example, on the permitted dimensions of towing queues and timber boards that run on open channel sections.

Speed and transit time

The maximum permitted speed in the canal is 9 km/h for ships with draught exceeding 3.9 m. Ships with a smaller draught than this may travel speeds from 9 and 18 km/h depending on the draught of the vessel and the dimensioning of the fairway. The transit time of the canal lock section (Mälkiä-Brusnitchnoe) is 5-8 hours depending on how busy the canal is and the size of the vessel.

Traffic rules and regulations

Traffic in the Saimaa Canal and other canals must comply with general maritime legislation and regulations on inland waterways, as well as special traffic rules, such as:

Markings in fairways

The signalling systems for the Saimaa Canal entry fairways, Saimaa Canal and Saimaa fairways are sufficient to ensure that ships run 24 hours a day.

Entry fairways

Entry fairways are marked with shining signs, light buoys and signs with lateral markers in accordance with the international A system. Entry route markings are carried out by the Russian authorities.

Saimaa Canal

The signalling devices used in the Saimaa Canal are signalling lamps that are orange on the western edge of the canal and green on the eastern edge, as well as signs, line boards, shining signs and radar reflectors in accordance with the international system.

Saimaa fairways

The signalling of the Saimaa fairway is a combined cardinal and lateral system in accordance with the international A system.

VHF traffic channels in Saimaa traffic

The VHF maritime radio telephone network is in use for waterway traffic in the Saimaa Waterway area. VTS radio traffic, call: SaimaaVTS, VHF channel  9. All vessels and passenger ferries over 20 m in length must listen to VHF channel 9 while in the Saimaa Canal and the deep-water channel network area. While in the Saimaa Canal, you must listen to VHF channels 9 and 11 and on Lake Saimaa to channels 9 and 16.

Remote use of the Saimaa Canal, Taipale Lock (Varkaus) and Konnus Lock (Leppävirta), call: "Lock Name", VHF Channel 11.

Saimaa maps

In addition to the necessary maps, the nautical charts published on the Saimaa river basin area and canal also contain other information that increases maritime safety. The scale of the Lake Saimaa inland waterway maps is 1: 40,000 and the scale of canal maps running from Vyborg to Lake Saimaa is 1: 10,000. The canal maps are in both Finnish and English.


Access allowed to merchant vessels from all countries.
Commercial shipping complies with normal international maritime regulations, and no non-standard documents are required of ships or their crew.


The entry and exit checks carried out by Russian border authorities on the Saimaa Canal take place at Pälli Lock. A similar entry inspection by Finnish authorities is carried out at the Nuijamaa Customs Pier.