Harbours and waterways

compilatiefoto nautisch onderzoek

Flanders Hydraulics Research promotes safe and efficient ship navigation to the Flemish ports and on inland waterways. Using state-of-the-art technology, we provide a scientific basis for the criteria applied to determine whether vessels may or may not be allowed on trajectories to Flemish ports and on inland waterways. We study the manoeuvring behaviour of ships, including those based on research using scale models in our own towing tank. We also work together with pilots to test the feasibility of manoeuvres as a function of current, wind, speed, tugboat assistance, etc. on our ship simulators.



Knowledge Centre 'Manoeuvring in Shallow and Confined Water' 



We have a specialised team that investigates the accessibility of ports and waterways. They study the relationship between the configuration of ports and channels, local hydroand sediment dynamics and the ship’s behaviour while sailing to the ports and on inland waterways.

To improve the accessibility to Flemish and international ports and waterways, we propose solutions, often in international partnerships. These are based on measurement data, simulations and numerical and physical models that allow us to determine flow fields, sediment dynamics and ship behaviour in shallow and confined water.

Our studies influence the design of ports and lock entrances and are an important source of information in terms of the feasibility of ship manoeuvres in ports and waterways. In addition, we investigate and assess the accessibility of existing infrastructure and dimension external resources such as tugboat assistance, fendering and navigational aids. Finally, we determine the focus areas for procedures at critical ship movements. We also advise on optimisation strategies for maintenance dredging of ports and waterways.


Our ship simulators provide a detailed analysis of all available information. Furthermore, we determine accessibility limits based on external factors such as wind, currents, presence of banks or structures or the interaction with other ships.

Accessibility is examined by our simulators in real time or fast time (computer-controlled). To conduct realtime simulations of the seagoing vessel, we have ‘full mission’ bridge simulators, the SIM 360+ and SIM 225, including tugboat simulations, which can also be coupled together. They are used for seagoing and inland simulations. We also work with the Lara simulator specifically for inland simulations.  naar boven

Numerical models and software

We use numerical models of ports and waterways to calculate flow fields and expected dredging issues for actual or fictitious scenarios.

The ProToel (Probabilistisch Toelatingsbeleid) software was developed to predict the admission policy for the Flemish ports and the access channels from the North Sea to the terminals. ProToel allows tidal port calculations to be carried out through both probabilistic criteria (on the basis of a maximum accepted risk of touching bottom) as well as deterministic criteria (on the basis of a fixed minimum keel clearance). Additionally, we analyse ship movements based on Automatic Identification System (AIS) registrations to obtain an overall picture of the traffic on the waterways.


Ships are getting bigger and bigger. They operate in waterways whose dimensions have not increased at the same rate. This means that ships have relatively less space to sail in. As a result, their room to manoeuvre is decreasing and their manoeuvrability is more difficult. Flanders Hydraulics Research focuses on sailing in precisely these difficult circumstances.

We conduct experimental research on the behaviour of ships in shallow and confined water. We carefully examine the manoeuvrability characteristics above a solid or nautical bottom. Flanders Hydraulics Research identifies the forces that are important for ship manoeuvring simulations including:

  • the influence of the proximity of a bank or a quay on the hydrodynamic forces acting on the hull and on the operation of the propulsion, rudder and bow thrusters;
  • forces that occur when approaching, entering and leaving locks;
  •  interaction with other (moored, encountered, overtaken) ships.

In addition, we perform studies on squat effects (steady vertical motions) and the behaviour of vessels in shallow water under the influence of waves.naar boven

Scale models

We conduct various tests as scale model studies in our towing tank:

  • Computerised Planar Motion Mechanism (CPMM) trials or forced tests to predict ship behaviour in open and calm water as well as in waves;
  • forced interaction tests between ships or ships and structures (ship-to-ship, ship-to-shore, ship-tobottom, lock effects, etc.);
  • free-sailing tests in which the ship is controlled by an autopilot navigating a trajectory in the towing tank using a steering device (propeller and rudder) .

Calculations and measurements

The calculations of ship hydrodynamics in shallow and confined water are performed using numerical models, including CFD calculations. To obtain acceptable computation times in this complex domain, part of our internal computational cluster is dedicated exclusively to this research. We also carry out measurements on ships and inland vessels as validation for our models.

Knowledge centre 'Manoeuvring in Shallow and Confined Water'

The knowledge centre ‘Manoeuvring in shallow and confined water’ was established in 2008. It aims to gather, expand and promote scientific knowledge and practical experience on the behaviour of ships in shallow and confined water. As such, it provides support for the admission policy and the development of ship waterways to the Flemish ports and inland waterways. The objectives of the knowledge centre are:

The knowledge centre will be further developed in cooperation with Ghent University, section Maritime Technology, and disseminate its knowledge globally through the English website www.shallowwater.benaar boven


Co-organisor of  the international MASHCON conferences:


Applied research

Basic research

Flanders Hydraulics Research
Knowledge centre 'Manoeuvring in shallow and confined water' 
Berchemlei 115
2140 Antwerp

Tel. +32 3 224 60 35
How to reach us?

The knowledge centre has his own website: www.shallowwater.be

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More information


The knowledge centre distributes a periodical newsletter. This newsletter can be requested  by e-mail.


pdf fileNautical research: towing tank and ship manoeuvring simulator (1.52 MB)