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Public-images-osm logo.svg waterway
River Scarpe waterway location.jpg
Used for waterways to build a unique object for each river Show/edit corresponding data item.
Group: Waterways
  • way - (blank)
  • way - main_stream
  • way - side_stream
  • node - spring
  • node - mouth
Status: approvedPage for proposal

The purpose of a waterway relation is to have a single object describing a river or other waterway. Most tags can be added once to the waterway relation instead of being added and maintained on each segment. The relation includes all ways that make up the river, including side streams.

Each way must be tagged with waterway=*, and can also have additional tags describing the individual way (e.g. intermittent=yes, width=*, ...). Tags describing the waterway as a whole should go only on the relation (e.g. wikidata=*, destination=*, ...).

The relation should obviously be tagged with name=*, as well as name:*=* for names in other languages. Because not every renderer supports waterway relations, each way should also be tagged with the local name=*. Short segments may have different names (e.g. a section of rapids) or no name (if it passes through a lake), and these can be tagged accordingly. Also, the local name of the waterway may change as it passes through different countries or regions that speak different languages, in this case tagging each way with the local name becomes more important, and the relation should have an appropriate mutlilingual name.


Key Value Description
type waterway (mandatory)
waterway river, stream, canal, drain, ditch (recommended)

Subtype of the waterway relation similar to waterway=*
Hint: if the waterway starts as a stream and becomes larger, then use the tag of the largest waterway (e.g. river). This is purely informational, the stream members still need their own waterway=* tag.

name * Name of the waterway.
When a river gets multiple names (e.g. because it passes through multiple language regions), use all different names in the name tag, ordered from source to mouth, and split by slashes (the character "/"). The individual sections can still get their localised name.
name:xx * Name of the waterway in the specific language, where xx is an ISO language code.
The international name tag name:en=* is recommended for large waterways or when the name tag is in a language not every people can read/sound it (Chinese, Japanese, Russian, Khmer...).
destination * (optional) Name of the river, lake, sea, ocean... into which this waterway flows.
wikipedia * (optional) Link to the wikipedia page (when several pages in several languages are available, choose the page with the best/complete description).
wikidata * (optional) ID Qxxxx of the waterway in Wikidata
length * (optional) Total length of the waterway in meter.
To avoid. The information is or should be in wikipedia and/or wikidata. To have the information in different places means probably different values.

Reference tags

Key Value Description
ref * (optional) Any kind of reference or use the specialized tags below. (See discussion for more alternatives)
ref:sandre * (optional) In France you can add the Sandre reference: see French waterways wikiprojet for explanations. Sandre official Website or fr.wikipedia
ref:fgkz * (optional) In Germany you can add the  FGKZ reference
ref:regine * (optional) In Norway you can add the  regine reference
gnis:feature_id * (optional) In USA you can add the  gnis reference
ref:gnbc * (optional) In Canada you can add the  gnbc reference
ref:gwlnr * (optional) In Switzerland you can add the  gwlnr reference


Object type Role Recurrence Description
way None or
One or more Any kind of waterway ways. They must have a waterway=[river, canal, stream, drain, ditch] tag.
way side_stream/
Zero or more A branch of main stream that returns to it. They must have a tag waterway=*.
node spring Optional natural=spring The spring of the river.
node mouth Optional The place where the river ends. Could be the junction with another river, a sinkhole...
wayrelation tributary/
Zero A watercourse (tributary) can join another watercourse, or a watercourse can split into two different watercourses (distributaries). If needed, use queries to gather tributaries of a watercourse (example).

To avoid. Misleading, mixes up data about separate watercourses, see Talk:Relation:waterway.
If it is truly two different watercourses, don't mix them in one relation, or if it is the same watercourse (example, a river in a delta before to end into a lake or a sea), use the role side_stream.

area riverbank or
Zero The waterbody (area) of the river.

To avoid. Not approved and controversial, see Talk:Relation:waterway.
The purpose of a waterway relation is not to have a collection of all elements of a watercourse but to put together elements to avoid redundant (and missing) informations on all the ways of the watercourse.

Possible tagging mistakes

See also

Related pages


displays rivers in wikipedia maps
Scanner for waterway relations
“OSM Waterway analyses”. 
Statistic for waterway related relations
“OSM Relation Hierarchy: planet_waterways”.  (outdated, datas are from 2010 to 2013)
Overpass Turbo query to display the tributaries of a given river