Police and Emergencies

In cities and towns police duties are carried out by the Police Municipale (wearing blue uniforms). The countryside and smaller places are covered by the national police force of Gendarmes (blue trousers, black jackets and white belts). Both should be addressed with courtesy if you want their help and particularly if they should want yours.

To call the police or gendarmerie in an emergency dial 17, for the fire services or pompiers (who are also paramedics in rural areas) dial 18.

To call an ambulance dial 15.

There is a new European emergency number for those in distress and unable to specify their location, or communicate their location. The number to dial is 112.

At a recent meeting of the Cruising Association Inland Waterway Section Clifford Mickleburgh offered the following advice for emergencies....

“In general calls to 112 are free. When mobiles are used, if the signal is poor it will automatically seek a better signal from another provider. The emergency operator also has the ability to find the location of the mobile but in some countries this may take some time (over a minute) so it is important that you do not end the call until the operator gives permission.

On larger waterways unless visibility is very good it is prudent to hoist a radar reflector, and in the event of bad visibility this can be helpful to assisting craft.

Rivers can be winding so it may be of little use to state that you are heading in a particular compass direction, better to say you are heading upstream (montant) or downstream (avalant).

In France note that the fire fighters (sapeurs-pompiers) have rescue and medical experience, and often despatch a smaller faster vehicle to first assess scene and call in other resources as necessary. In larger inland ports they also have fire-fighting boats and rescue dinghies. They also have trained divers. This would be the preferred way to seek assistance in France unless you are very close to a manned lock with a known VHF channel or telephone number.

Note that the VNF (the navigation authority responsible for most but not all French canals) has a single contact number 0800 863 000 from which calls are routed to the appropriate local office, but we have no experience of how quick or efficient this is. ”

return to top of page