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Logo. Feature : Waterways
One example for Feature : Waterways
Areas of water including rivers, canals, streams, lake and reservoirs


Waterways include linear water features such as rivers, canals and streams, as well as water areas such as lakes, reservoirs and docks. Related features include barriers to navigation such as locks, weirs, dams, and rapids.

See Inland navigation for details about navigation of inland waterways and Whitewater sports for details about tagging for canoeing/rafting; also Water management for more details about water managed for human use, including water in pipes, water treatment plant etc and Marine/Marine navigation for information about the sea and navigation at sea.

The main types are waterway=river, waterway=canal or waterway=stream, waterway=drain and waterway=ditch.

Please do not be daunted by all the options, just creating a simple way tagged only with waterway=river is a great start; adding a single additional tag is also useful. Leave others to add all the related tags if they so wish.

Linear water features: rivers, canals, streams, etc.

All rivers, canals and streams should normally be represented as a linear ways. Those ways used should point in the direction of water flow and connect with other linked waterway features to create a routable network.

The main types of natural waterways waterway=river, waterway=stream and waterway=tidal_channel. The main artificial waterways are waterway=canal, waterway=drain, waterway=ditch and waterway=pressurised.

See waterway=* for a precise classification of values and how to use them.

Artificial waterways: pipe and open flow waterways

A difference is made between Open-channel flow (free flow) and Pipe flow waterways. river, canal, ditch are open-channel features with different purposes while pressurised is intended to be used where water flows under pressure without air in the conduit, such as in a man_made=pipeline or tunnel=flooded.

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=* suitable for open-channel flow.

Artificial waterways ending nodes can be completed with inlet=* and outlet=* to respectively describe intakes and outfalls.


It is possible that a waterway ends in a sinkhole without meeting another waterway. Using natural=sinkhole and sinkhole=* on a node of the stream, especially on the last one, will then explain to data consumers why the stream vanishes instead of meeting another one

Additional tags

Tidal sections of a waterway can be tagged with tidal=yes and if it is seasonal (a yearly cycle) use seasonal=*. For intermittent sections/areas use intermittent=yes. If a stream starts as as spring, the node can be tagged with natural=spring. The name=* tag is used to hold the name to the watercourse, and wikipedia=* for a link to a related Wikipedia page.

Tagging longer or more complex rivers is done by using multiple successive ways member of waterway relation.


Waterways can have different purposes. Since waterway=* is dedicated to the nature of the water course, it is recommended to use usage=* to give the purpose man made ones.

Here are the appropriate values for water:

LOADING TAG LIST... (If you do not see this tag list, you need to enable JavaScript)
This table is auto-generated. See Template:Taglist for a documentation on it.

This list can be completed as needed.

Wide rivers, lakes, reservoirs and islands

In addition to a linear description of the watercourse, the water surface area for wider rivers can be defined in one of two ways. For rivers, create an area feature for each section (not too long) of the river and tag it as a river area (using natural=water+water=river). Each river areas section should be "glued together" (sharing two nodes or a common way where they are joined).

Similarly, the area of a canal is mapped as natural=water+water=canal.

At certain points along a larger river the area may become a lake or reservoir which can be mapped as such.

Lakes are tagged with natural=water+water=lake, reservoirs as natural=water + water=reservoir. Previously lakes were mapped as natural=water and reservoirs as landuse=reservoir.

Enclosed areas of water for shipping and other craft where the water level can be controlled by lock-gates or similar should be tagged with waterway=dock. It is a matter of judgement sometimes as to where a section of water is a wide river or a long thin lake/reservoir.

Islands in lakes/ponds etc should be tagged with the appropriate landuse=* or natural=* and will ideally be described as a 'inner' area by a multipolygon. Islands can in turn contain lakes and stream etc as well as other features.

Waterfalls, rapids and whitewater sports

For conventions and proposals for mapping waterfalls see waterfalls.

For whitewater, rapids and water sports (especially kayak and rafting) see WikiProject Whitewater Maps (overview) and Whitewater sports for the actual tagging.

Man-made structures

Where a river or stream goes under a road, railway or similar the upper way should be tagged with bridge=yes and layer=1, alternatively tag the watercourse with tunnel=culvert and layer=-1. Where a canal is carried over an aqueduct the way should be tagged with bridge=aqueduct.

The tag man_made=pipeline is used with waterway=pressurised for pipelines which are completely filled with water without air.

Use man_made=pier for structures projecting out over the water and add a mooring=yes tag if boats can be moored alongside.

Other features:


See Coastline for details of how to map the border between land and the sea, together with natural=beach, natural=cliff and natural=wetland to describe the shoreline. See marine navigation, harbour and leisure=marina for features relating to shipping.



See also