Schelde area working language

Use of either Dutch or English is a compulsory requirement for all communication between waterway users in the Schelde area and for communication with the maritime traffic control. Failure to comply with this regulation constitutes a criminal act. The compulsory working language helps ensure safety on the river. The Westerschelde is one of the busiest waterways in the world. If the crews aboard different vessels are unable to understand one another, dangerous situations may arise.

In recent years, the port has seen a large number of inland cruise ships docking in Ghent. Via these cruises, some 20,000 passengers deboard in Ghent each year. A significant portion of the inland cruise ships are from Germany and Switzerland, and their captains and skippers speak a variety of languages. When they call in North Sea Port, however, they are required to communicate in either Dutch or English for the purposes of shipping assistance. 

Joint Announcement 

In 2011, the Dutch and the Flemish authorities published a Joint Announcement on the official languages of communication for inland waterway passenger vessels in the area of jurisdiction of the Common Nautical Authority, i.e. the CNA (the Western Scheldt, the Ghent-Terneuzen Canal and the river Scheldt to Antwerp). This announcement stipulates that the languages to be used when communicating with the traffic coordination centres and other ships by radiophone are Dutch or English.More information on topics such as the compulsory working language and the VHF marine radio zones can be found on the CNM (Common Nautical Management website. 


In order to ensure the safety of passengers, the master or skipper must have an adequate command of one of these official languages. After all, several hazardous traffic situations have occurred in the past as a result of insufficient language skills. For this reason, there is now an explicit requirement that captains and skippers aboard all vessels have sufficient active and passive language skills – meaning both listening and speaking – in Dutch or English. This is also stipulated in various Dutch and Belgian shipping regulations. 

See also the flyer below, which is being distributed to inland waterway passenger vessels. This also includes the original text from the Belgian Official Gazette in three languages (Dutch, English and German).