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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 Edit or translate this description.
Group: Waterways
  • way - (blank)
  • way - main_stream
  • way - side_stream
  • node - spring
Status: approvedPage for proposal

A waterway relation is a collection of all unclosed ways of a unique watercourse (the ways with tags waterway=*). The purpose is to have only one element with all common informations about this watercourse (name in different languages, wikidata, wikipedia, ref, destination) instead of having these informations on each way (with probably some ways with missing informations).

On each way you will put only the kind of the waterway (stream, river, canal...) and specific informations of this specific way (intermittent=yes, width=*...). If you add a name=* on this way, the name will appear on the map (therefore no name means nothing on the map, usefull if the waterway is going through a lake and you don't want to have the name of the rivers and streams in the middle of the lake).

If you have names in different languages in the waterway relation + a name on one specific way, the name on the map will be the name in the specific language of the user, if any, or the name in English if name:en=* is defined.


Key Value Description
type waterway (mandatory)
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=* 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:lg * Name of the waterway in the specific language lg.
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, Cambogian...)
destination * (optional) Name of the river, sea or ocean which this waterway flows into.
wikipedia * (optional) Links to wikipedia pages
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
ref:gnis * (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.
relation tributary Zero The waterway relations of tributary waterways (i.e. ones whose destination=* is the name of this waterway relation).
To avoid. Misleading, mixes up data about separate watercourses, see Talk:Relation:waterway
area riverbank or
Zero The waterbody (area) of the river.

To avoid. Not approved, not frequently used 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 redondant (and missing) informations on all the ways of the watercourse.

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