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Public-images-osm logo.svg waterway
Osm element relation.svg
used for waterways to build a unique object for each river Edit or translate this description.
Group: Waterways

  • way - (blank)
  • way - main_stream
  • way - side_stream
  • node - spring
Status: approvedPage for proposal

The purpose of waterway relations is to have an object for each river. Common tags like references, wikipedia pages, international names, only need to be added once.

Later the waterway relations can be used to form watersheds.


Key Value Description
type waterway
waterway=* [river, stream, canal, drain, ditch] 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=* attribute.
name=* * Name of the river
the international name tags name:en=, name:de, ... are recommended for large waterways. When a river gets multiple names (f.e. because it passes in multiple language regions), use all different names in the name tag, ordered from source to mouth, and split by hyphens. The individual sections can still get their localised name for that section.
destination=* * (optional) Name of the river, sea or ocean in which this waterway flows into.
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: de.wikipedia
ref:regine * (optional) In Norway you can add the regine reference: de.wikipedia
ref:gnis * (optional) In USA you can add the gnis reference: en.wikipedia
ref:gnbc * (optional) In Canada you can add the gnbc reference: en.wikipedia
ref:gwlnr * (optional) In Switzerland you can add the gwlnr reference: de.wikipedia
wikipedia * (optional) Links to wikipedia pages
wikidata * (optional) ID Qxxxx of the waterway in Wikidata
length * (optional) Total length of river in km (lacks verifiability)


Object type Role Recurrence Description
way None or
One or more Any kind of waterway ways. They usually have a waterway=[river, canal, stream, drain, ditch] tag.
way side_stream Zero or more waterway=river, waterway=canal, waterway=stream... a branch of main stream that returns to it.
node spring Optional natural=spring The spring of the river.
area riverbank or
Zero or more Not approved, not frequently used and controversial - see Talk:Relation:waterway
The waterbody (area) of the river. This can consist out of the area enclosed by riverbank ways, or natural=water+water=* (multi)polygons. When a river passes through a lake or reservoir, the lake might also be added as a waterbody to this relation.
note: this is just a documentation of use, and no vote happened on this member usage.
The role riverbank has been used since much longer time, but for exactly the same purpose (they point to relations or closed polygons with the approved waterway=riverbank tag).
Since december 2014, the role waterbody also appeared. There may also exist similar roles such as canalbank, and so on. For now these roles in waterway relations are just documentary, but not checked and enforced.
When these roles are pointing to multipolygonal relations, the members should avoid listing giant polygons in their members.

See also

Related pages