Generaldirektion Wasserstraßen und Schifffahrt
Abteilung Schifffahrt
Am Propsthof 51
53121 Bonn

Phone: +49 228 70 90 - 0
Fax: +49 228 70 90 - 90 10

Brigitte Stoll
Phone: +49 228 70 90 28 20

Undine Meyer zur Heyde
Phone: +49 228 70 90 43 00


Cabotage Approval

Cabotage is the fee-based carriage of passengers or goods with a foreign-flagged vessel from one place to another within German territory using German coastal waters (12 nautical mile area).

Shipping companies require a cabotage approval by the der Generaldirektion Wasserstraßen und Schifffahrt (GDWS) at Bonn for such transports with a ship flying a non-EU flag (except for Norway). The details are stipulated in the German Verordnung über die Küstenschifffahrt, sec. 2 para. 2 (KüSchV – Ordinance on coastal shipping).

In contrast, there are no cabotage restrictions for vessels flying an EU flag; no approval is required.

Cabotage applications

The application for a cabotage approval must be submitted to the GDWS by the shipping company at the latest 5 working days prior to the date of transport – either via the online form or via e-mail (application form). An automatic calendar function is integrated into the online form because the public holidays of the federal state Nordrhein-Westfalen are the relevant ones. Applications submitted later than required may only be processed by the GDWS in justified and verifiable exceptional cases.

Shipping companies can for their respective ship with non-EU flag apply for

  • a single voyage and/or
  • an annual approval

The annual approval is valid until the end of the calendar year the application was made.

The issued cabotage approval must be carried on board.

Since October 2021, cabotage applications are subject to a charge in accordance with the ‘Besondere Gebührenverordnung für individuell zurechenbare öffentliche Leistungen im Zusammenhang mit der Verwaltung der Wasserstraßen und Schiffahrtsverwaltung’.

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No cabotage approvals in the offshore area

Shipping companies do not require a cabotage approval if their ships 

  • carry goods or passengers to places outside coastal waters (12 nautical mile zone) – for example to offshore wind farms in an Exclusive Economic Area or
  • do not carry goods or passengers for a fee, as for example is the case with assistance tugs in a port.

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Picture: Cabotage

Shipping space capacity verification: is the transport possible under EU flag?

After the application for a cabotage approval has been received, the GDWS verifies within 5 working days whether the planned transport would be available on a ship flying an EU flag (so called shipping space capacity verification). Shipping companies with ships under an EU flag can register their interest in transports of the following categories via an online portal:

  • dredgers and construction site traffic
  • tugs
  • tankers
  • dry cargo ships
  • container or oil carriers

This way they will be considered in the shipping space capacity verification.

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Difference to Certificate of Equivalence

The Cabotage Approval is often understood to be the same as a Certificate of Equivalence. However, they are actually two different documents with different purposes. Cabotage is about counteracting disadvantages for the freedom of economic activity of German shipping (German "Seeaufgabengesetz" sec. 9 para. 4) while the Certificate of Equivalence ensures a comparable degree of safety in German maritime waters

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