Also known as Der Nord-Ostsee-Kanal (NOK), or, before 1948, the Kaiser-Wilhelm-Kanal. British boats are probably going to be transiting for the first time from west to east, which is the way this description is laid out. NB - although yachts are allowed to proceed with sails up, they must have the motor running at all times. Fuel is available at Cuxhaven (automatic dispenser using credit cards and so available 24 hours a day), and also on the Northern bank a mile or two past the lock at Brunsbuttel. It would also be inadvisable to use the genoa if there is any possibility of blocking your forward view. An AIS receiver is useful, because you can see the larger ships approaching whilst they are still out of sight round a bend.
If you are leaving from Cuxhaven (and you almost certainly will be), then you need to make sure that you leave while the tide is on the flood, since it runs very fast in the Elbe. If neither lock is open, then you MUST wait on the eastern or upstream side of the river by the northern bank. If you hang about elsewhere, you are in danger of being fined by the water police. It is not unusual to wait for an hour or more.
Even if a lock is open, that does not mean to say that you can enter. There is an occulting white light situated between the two locks, and you may enter only whilst this light is flashing. If in doubt, follow the locals. Once in the lock you may have other problems: the floating pontoon you tie onto has very little freeboard, and your fenders need to be right down at water level (see picture below). The pontoons may be wet and slippery, particularly near the end which leads into the river, so you should be careful when you jump off, as it is a long way down. A further annoyance is that you tie on using rings rather than cleats, which is much more tedious and time-consuming.
Once through, you are on your way. It is 60 nautical miles to the other end. You are not allowed to travel during the hours of darkness (and you can find out from the website what these hours are at any particular date). If you wish, you can spend the night at the small harbour immediately to your left as you come out of the lock at Brunsbutell. This is quite convenient, but it can get very crowded towards the evening in the middle of the season. There are a few small stopping off points along the first part of the journey, which have a few moorings using posts, but the two main stopping points are at the Gieselau canal, approximately halfway, or at Rensburg, two thirds of the way. The anchorage at the Flemuder See near the far end has been closed, as it is being used as part of the operation to renovate the northern end of the canal.
The moorings at Gieselau are about half a mile down from the main canal and consist of wooden staging where you can tie alongside. There are no facilities apart from a toilet. The moorings are by the lock which leads into the Gieselau canal, but currently the lock is out of action, and it is not clear whether it will ever be repaired. Rensburg has a marina with box moorings. The town is quite attractive and useful for shopping.
One hazard to be aware of the little ferries which cross from side to side taking local traffic. There will be a sign a kilometre beforehand warning you of the ferry, and they also broadcast on AIS.
Finally you arrive at the locks at Holtenau. This is where you pay. You need to climb a ladder (and you need to be fairly agile to do so) up to the kiosk where you pay for your passage (there may be an automatic machine, but it seems that it frequently breaks down). The fee is very reasonable – for a 10 metre boat, it was €12.
Once out at the other end, there are plenty of marinas to choose from (although the British Kiel Yacht Club has now closed and is no longer available).
** There is an excellent official guide to the canal which can be downloaded here . Kiel Canal website in English.**