Volga–Baltic Waterway

59°58′N 30°10′E / 59.967°N 30.167°E / 59.967; 30.167

The Volga–Baltic Waterway (Russian: Волгобалт, romanizedVolgobalt), formerly known as the Mariinsk Canal System (Russian: Мариинская водная система, romanizedMariinskaya vodnaya sistema), is a series of canals and rivers in Russia which link the Volga with the Baltic Sea via the Neva. Like the Volga–Don Canal, it connects the biggest lake on Earth, the Caspian Sea, to the World Ocean. Its overall length between Cherepovets and Lake Onega is 368 kilometres (229 mi).

Volga–Baltic Waterway
Dunst Volga-Baltic Waterway, July 2004 08.jpg
Volga-Baltic Waterway
Length229[1] miles (369 km)
Maximum boat length689[2] ft 0 in (210.0 m)
Maximum boat beam57.75[3] ft 0 in (17.6 m)
Maximum boat draft4 m[3]
Former namesMariinsk Canal System
Construction began1960
Date of first use5 June 1964
Date completed1964
Start pointRybinsk Reservoir, Russia
End pointGulf of Finland, Neva Bay, Russia

Originally constructed in the early 19th century, the system was rebuilt for larger vessels in the 1960s, becoming a part of the Unified Deep Water System of European Russia.

The original name "Mariinsky" is the credit to Empress Maria Feodorovna, the second wife of Emperor Paul I of Russia.[5]


After Peter the Great wrested the Gulf of Finland from Sweden, it made for a great city to secure a means of river transport for Saint Petersburg on the Baltic with the Russian hinterland. These would shift heavy loads in all but the depths of winter. The prototype (via) Vyshny Volochyok canal completed by 1709, provided a connection of Saint Petersburg to Lake Ladoga. The name of that town means "upper portage". However, the weather on the lake frequently wrecked the barges leading to the ambitious project of the Ladoga Canals into the southern coast of the lake.

Under Alexander I of Russia, the waterway through Vychny Volochyok was complemented by the Tikhvin canal system (1811) and the Mariinsk canal system (1810), the latter becoming by far the most popular of the three.

The Mariinsk was an outstanding monument of early 19th-century hydrotechnics, which proved to be key to national economic prowess. The system started in Rybinsk and passed through much of the Sheksna River. It then passed Lake Beloye (and Belozersky bypass canal), Kovzha, its artificial Novomariinsky Canal, the Vytegra to pass through Lake Onega. To or from there vessels sailed through the Onega Canal, the Svir, the Ladoga Canal, and the Neva to or from the Gulf of Finland.

In 1829, the Northern Dvina Canal was opened running to the north-east; it connects the lower Sheksna (one of the Volga's tributaries) through Kubenskoye Lake to a canalised Northern Dvina, flowing into the White Sea. The system was further expanded: three more canals, Belozersky, Onezhsky, and Novoladozhsky, enabling smaller craft to bypass dangerous waters of the three big lakes (Beloye, Onega and Ladoga), were inaugurated towards the end of the century.

Another connection was added in the 1930s, when the infamous White Sea – Baltic Canal was constructed by gulag prisoners at enormous human cost between Lake Onega and the White Sea.


Sinc the 1990s the Volga–Baltic Waterway has grown as a tour boat route to sail and/or motor along or around the Golden Ring of Russia.

Heavy power plant transitEdit

In 2016, the core of Belarusian nuclear power plant, VVER-1200, which was 330 tonnes, 13 meters high, and 4.5 meters in diameter, was transferred to the plant via the Tsimlyansk Reservoir, the Volga-Don Canal, the Volga–Baltic Waterway, the Volkhov River and a special rail car.[6][7]

Volga–Baltic Canal improvementEdit

The Volga–Baltic Waterway (boxed area) and the entire Volga River in relation to the Caspian Sea and Black Sea

In Soviet times, the Mariinsk canal system was constantly improved. Two locks were built on the Svir River (in 1936 and 1952); 3 locks were built on the Sheksna River. Major improvement of the Volga–Baltic Waterway took place in 1960–1964, and the new Volga–Baltic Waterway was opened on 5 June 1964. 39 old wooden locks were replaced with 7 new locks, and one parallel lock was built later in 1995. The locks' limiting dimensions are 210 m long, 17.6 m wide and 4.2 m deep, allowing passage of river-sea ships of up to 5000 tons displacement. Such ships were able to sail directly across the big lakes instead of using the bypass canals. Typical travel: Cherepovets to/from Saint Petersburg fell to 2.5–3 days, from 10–15.

The modern route sometimes follows the route of the old Mariinsk system and sometimes diverges from it. Six of the canal's eight locks are along 35 km of the northern slope, descending 80 metres. Only 2 locks (which are parallel) are on the southern slope, for a rise of 13 metres, near Sheksna on the Sheksna River, 50 km upstream from Cherepovets. The canal route on the northern slope follows the Vytegra flooded riverbed. Thus the summit pound of the canal between Pakhomovo locks on Vytegra and Sheksna Reservoir dam is 278 km. It comprises an artificial canal (40 km long), much of the Kovzha, Lake Beloye, and part of the Sheksna. The route of the southern slope follows the Shekshna, where it parallels the Rybinsk Reservoir.[7][6]

Current developmentsEdit

The canal is used for oil and lumber export and for tourism. According to the Maritime Board (Morskaya Kollegiya) of the Russian government, 17.6 million tons of cargo were carried over the Volga–Baltic Waterway in 2004, close to its maximum capacity. The Lower Svir Lock was one of the two busiest locks on Russia's inland waterways (the other one was the Kochetov Lock on the lower Don River).[8]

See alsoEdit


  1. ^ "ВОЛГО-БАЛТИЙСКИЙ ВОДНЫЙ ПУТЬ • Большая российская энциклопедия - электронная версия".
  2. ^ Сроки работы шлюзов (Lock operation periods), from the site of the Russian Shipping Companies' Association. (in Russian)
  3. ^ a b c "Структура управления и построения ВВП".
  4. ^ "Волго-Балтийский водный путь".
  6. ^ a b "В Белоруссию привезли первый реактор для строящейся АЭС".
  7. ^ a b "Russia-made reactor vessel for Astravets NPP arrives in Belarus".
  8. ^ Морская коллегия: Речной транспорт Archived 2008-03-07 at the Wayback Machine (Maritime Board: River Transport) (in Russian)

External linksEdit