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Public-images-osm logo.svg waterway
Nau im Langenauer Ried 600x450.jpg
The waterway tag is used to mark rivers or other kind of waterways. Edit this description in the wiki page. Edit this description in the data item.
Group: Waterways
Used on these elements
may be used on nodesmay be used on waysmay be used on areasshould not be used on relations
Documented values: 34
Useful combination
Status: de facto


The waterway key is used to describe rivers, streams and boat-yards with a flow of water from one place to another.


See also: Waterways, Relation:waterway

By definition, a waterway is assumed to have a direction of flow. The direction of the way should be downstream (from the waterway's source to its mouth).

For small waterways, a way indicating a direction of flow and its path is sufficient. When a waterway becomes wide enough (preferably 5m or 16.5ft), mapping the area it flows through is desired.

If a waterway way is known to not have water flow year round, it should always be tagged with intermittent=yes. (Non-permanent flow can be further described with the seasonal=* tag to describe when a flow of water exists, but intermittent=yes should still be present in these cases.)

If a waterway is named from its source to its destination, it's strongly suggested that all of its ways be placed in a waterway relation. Doing this allows Nominatim to group the ways together and return exactly one named result per named waterway that exists in OpenStreetMap.


The main waterway=* values are distinguished according to the flowing regime as follow:

Free flow Pipe flow
Man made Open air culvert flooded tunnel pipeline
canal (useful water) pressurised
drain (superfluous water)
Natural Open air cave

The only questions to ask to get the difference between Free flow and Pipe flow is Does water flow inside a closed space and can air get inside the conduit? If yes, the water can't be pipe flow and you'll have to choose for an according waterway=* value from the table.
Even if waterway=* values can be refined or replaced, it would be really nice to preserve the distinction between free/open channel and pipe flow features. It's really important data for water management and resource planning.

When mapping some human made water channeling features, remember to describe particular intakes and outfalls with inlet=*, outlet=* and man_made=outfall.

Key Value Element Comment carto Rendering Photo

Natural watercourses

waterway river way A river is a wide, natural watercourse that flows from a source to an ocean, sea, lake or another river. For narrow naturally-formed waterways, see waterway=stream.
Nau im Langenauer Ried 600x450.jpg
waterway riverbank area Sometimes used for larger rivers in addition to waterway=river, to define an area between the opposite riverbanks. Also see water=river with natural=water.
waterway stream way A naturally-formed waterway that is too narrow to be classed as a river. An active, able-bodied person should be able to jump over it.
waterway tidal_channel way A natural tidal waterway within the coastal marine environment with bi-directional flow of salty water which depends on the tides.
Tidal creek - - 952646.jpg

Man made waterways

waterway canal way An artificial open flow waterway used to carry useful water for transportation, waterpower, or irrigation. (Other languages).
Grand Union Canal.jpg
waterway pressurised way A waterway where water is flowing in a fully enclosed conduit and subject to pressure; this includes gravity-driven penstocks and siphons and pump-driven pipelines, for example.
Pipeline penstocks.jpg
waterway drain way An artificial free flow waterway used for carrying superfluous water like storm water or industrial discharge, usually lined with concrete, stones or similar.
Example Drain.jpg
waterway ditch way An small artificial free flow waterway used for carrying superfluous water for drainage purposes, usually unlined.
Forest ditch.JPG
waterway fairway way A navigable route in a lake or sea marked by buoys. The navigable area marked by the buoys can be mapped with seamark:type=fairway.
1109 Fairway Szczecin-Swinoujscie.jpg
waterway fish_pass way A  fish pass, also known as a fish ladder, a fishway or fish steps, is a structure on or around artificial barriers (such as dams and locks) to facilitate diadromous fishes natural migration.
Fischtreppe Isar bei Pullach.jpg


waterway dock node area An 'enclosed' area of water used for building or repairing ships.
Base layer water.png
F-124 im Dock.jpg
waterway boatyard nodearea Boat yard – a place for constructing, repairing and storing vessels out of the water.
Boatyards, Rhyll.jpg

Barriers on waterways

waterway dam way area A wall built across a river or stream to impound the water. A dam normally does not have water flowing over the top of it.
Dam node.svg
Amagase Dam.jpg
waterway weir node way A barrier built across a river to control speed and depth. Water can still flow over the top.
Weir node.svg
Alifakovac Miljacka.jpg
waterway waterfall node A waterfall, use in combination with natural=cliff
Waterfall near Keldur.JPG
waterway rapids node A natural barrier, formed by a fast-flowing, often turbulent, section of the watercourse.
Karvionkoski rapids.jpg
waterway lock_gate node To mark the position of gates at each end of a lock. Alternatively, for smaller locks use a single lock=yes node in the middle of the lock.
Lock gate node.svg
waterway sluice_gate node A sluice gate is a movable gate to control water flow.
Ss sluice2.jpg

Other features on waterways

waterway turning_point node A place to turn the driving direction for vessels, where the boats are longer than the river/canal is wide. Use maxlength=* to denote the maximum length of the vessel.
waterway water_point node A place to fill fresh water holding tanks of a boat.
waterway fuel node area A place to get fuel for boats.

Some additional attributes for waterways

intermittent yes way Indicates that the waterway is sometimes dry and sometimes contains water.
seasonal yes, spring, summer, autumn, winter, wet_season, dry_season way Indicates that a waterway has a seasonal (yearly cyclic) flow, usually flowing continuously for at least some part of the year.
Four seasons.jpg
destination name way Name of the body of water the linear feature flows into.
lock yes way (node) A lock is used for moving boats between waterways at two different levels. Can tag either the section of the way between the gates (detailed) or just a single node in the waterway (less detailed).
mooring yes, private, no way A length of bank where boats are explicitly permitted to moor. maxstay=* should be used for timing information.
Lamanage La Rochelle.jpg
usage transmission, irrigation, headrace, tailrace, penstock way A waterway=canal may have one (or more; separate with semicolons) uses.
tunnel culvert way (node) A short tunnel usually installed under roads, railways or building. Its size doesn't allow human to get inside and is as narrow as the structure is supposed to go under. For streams passing under a road in culverts use tunnel=culvert+layer=-1 on the section of stream passing under the road. Don't use either of these tags for streams passing under bridges.
tunnel flooded way A long (> 100 m) tunnel where flowing water or other fluid prevent humans from safely walking inside despite its appropriate diameter or size. Water inside can be pressurised or not, used in combination with any waterway=* linear value. waterway=*.
Waterway free flow tunnel.png
bridge aqueduct way A bridge which conveys an artificial waterway over a road, valley, or another waterway.
Pont du gard.jpg
waterway user defined node way All commonly used values according to Taginfo
This table is a wiki template with a default description in English. Editable here.

Possible tagging mistakes

See man-made waterways above for better alternatives.

If you know places with this tag, verify if it could be tagged with another tag.
Automated edits are strongly discouraged unless you really know what you are doing!
If you know places with this tag, verify if it could be tagged with another tag.
Automated edits are strongly discouraged unless you really know what you are doing!
If you know places with this tag, verify if it could be tagged with another tag.
Automated edits are strongly discouraged unless you really know what you are doing!
If you know places with this tag, verify if it could be tagged with another tag.
Automated edits are strongly discouraged unless you really know what you are doing!
If you know places with this tag, verify if it could be tagged with another tag.
Automated edits are strongly discouraged unless you really know what you are doing!