COVADEM – Cooperative Depth Measurement of The Fairway

Context of Transport Climate Action

Water levels of canals and rivers can vary over the year. Although some electronic charts are available, precise and up-to-date information is often missing. Exact knowledge of the waterway’s depth plus a prediction of its depth for a number of days ahead can help captains of inland vessels to decide how much freight they can load for an optimal transport. ‘Optimal’ is taken to mean: loaded with sufficient under keel clearance, ensuring the ship will pass unimpeded and that the transport is safe. An optimally loaded vessel improves the financial position of the captain and will result in less CO2 per ton freight moved.

The Covadem project (COoperative naVigable DEpth Measurements – Coöperatieve vaardieptemetingen) is aimed at sharing current navigable depth measurements, which are measured on board of ships, giving real-time insights to water depths.



In the COVADEM project, inland waterway vessels are equipped with a basic on-board computer to read the data from existing sensors, such as the echo-sounder, loading gauges, GPS and optionally, the fuel gauges and then compile the data into a message and send this to shore. Based on these measurements, the current measured keel clearance is converted into the current water depth of the route being navigated. These current navigable depth measurements are made available to shipmasters so that, in future, these data can be used for predicting the water depths of the route to be navigated. This will help shipmasters navigate more efficiently.



Covadem was developed as part of a programme of the Dutch Ministry of Infrastructure and the Environment in cooperation with logistics chain partners to strengthen the role of inland navigation in the logistics sector: the Impulse to the development of Dynamic Traffic Management on the waterway network in the Netherlands (IDVV) programme.

In the pilot project measurement systems were installed on 40 ships. Measurement data was collected from these ships and validation and combined with results of hydrological and hydrodynamic models of research partners. The results were in anonymised form with the entire fleet. This way a very actual overview of water levels is realised that, if appropriately connected with existing models, holds the promise to be reliable as well as sufficiently comprehensive.


  • Better ship utilization due to optimized loading of the ship. This leads to lower emissions per tonkm.
  • Furthermore, Covadem lets ship owners navigate a more efficient route. This is because sailing on deeper water consumes less fuel.

Potential for scaling up

The aim of the Covadem consortium is to extend the principle to Europe as a whole. To enable this, more ships should become a part of the program and equipped with the measuring systems.

The principle of sharing real time data can be applied in other transport markets as well. An example, which is used already in road transport, is sharing mobile location data to have real time insights in congestion.

Selected references



Europe: Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands






Europe, Mitigation, Freight, Technology


Marin, Connekt, Buck Consultants, Autena Marine, Deltares, the Directorate-General for Public Works and Water Management and Bureau Telematica Binnenvaart


Meeuwis van Wirdum