Navigation on the Amazon River: learn about the particularities of this maneuver

  • 20/12/2021
  • 10 分钟

The Amazon region has waterway navigation as one of the only means of access to all municipalities in the region.

The most prominent navigable rivers at the site are: Solimões/Amazonas, Juruá, Negro, Purus and Branco. Solimões/Amazonas, the main one, manages to receive both small vessels and large ships. This makes clear the region’s capacity to contribute to the supply of products of all kinds.

Considering the relevance of the topic, we spoke with Márlon Gonçalves, agency supervisor for the North region, and Edwin Muños, maritime agent from Manaus, to better understand the particularities of navigation on the Amazon River.

Continue reading to find out more!

Navigation as a factor in the historical development of the Amazon

The Amazon River is the longest in the world. It has the largest volume of water, at 6,992 km long. Its hydrographic basin, in turn, reaches more than seven million km². It also has 1100 affluents, on average, reaching several countries in South America.

Beginnings of navigation

Although the Amazon River and its affluents have been considered official parts of the whole of Portuguese America since the 17th century, its incorporation into the Empire only took place in the 19th century. Since then, the Amazon has developed in the region which, today, accounts for around 70% of the cargo movement of local waterway.

Edwin talks about this: “the Amazon River is crucial for Manaus. This is because almost all the raw material that arrives in the city does so via shipping. So, its economic importance is remarkable. In fact, the flow and quantity of material that enters there could not enter by land”.


Local movement, together with the use of technology and the bioeconomy, is largely responsible for boosting the region’s development. “Today, navigating the river is quite safe. Furthermore, everything revolves around the Amazon River. Fishing, water, transport… a lot is thanks to it”, says Márlon.


Finally, to analyze waterway transport in the region, it is necessary to consider that the city of Manaus is a kind of “island”. Thus, its cargo handling in relation to the rest of the Brazilian market is only efficient through water or air.

In this sense, Márlon comments: “it is ineffective to transport cargo in any other way. The plane is more expensive, in addition to carrying less cargo. Therefore, navigation is a strategic, commercial and optimized option”.

Navigation conditions on the Amazon River

Edwin and Márlon talk a little about navigation on the Amazon River. “We started in Macapá and ended at the triple border with Peru and Colombia. In other words, we pass through three borders. Macapá represents the entrance and access to all ports”, says Edwin.

However, to navigate in an authorized way, it is necessary to follow some rules. Especially because, when talking about ships, it is important to think about draft and length.

According to the shipping agent, there is a draft length to be respected, and it is necessary to be careful. He also informs that some extra costs may be involved in relation to navigating critical stretches of the river, especially during the dry season.

Márlon brings one more important piece of information — which concerns the ship guide. This is a professional trained to work with the crews during maneuvers along the river, which is divided into two ZP’s. The 01 comprises the stretch between Amapá and Itacoatiara, and the ZP02 comprises the stretch between Itacoatiara and Tabatinga, on the triple border.

According to the agency supervisor, “all navigation on the river is carried out with a guide. The only time there isn’t a guide on the river is when the ship is anchored. Finally, due to the maneuvering time, they always occur with the presence of two guides, with some exceptions for berthing and unberthing maneuvers, when the ship is already close to the port”.

Edwin concludes: “the value of maneuvers performed during navigation on the Amazon River depends on the GRT (Gross Tonnage) of the ship, disregarding the weight of the cargo that can go on it”. Thus, it is clear that there is a substantial investment in security and guidance.

The operation of materials and loads

The main cargoes that transit through the ports in the Amazon region include grain, woodchips, cellulose, caustic soda, kaolin, fertilizers, bauxite, petrochemicals, steel, wheat and clinker, in addition to the immense diversity carried in containers.

Márlon speaks briefly about the logistics of transporting grain: “in the past, a load of grain left the Midwest by truck to Santos. Here in the region there is navigation via ferry. Thus, you gain in optimization and competitiveness. After all, the improved logistics culminate in a shorter trip”, he comments.

The operation carried out with grains also has the support of technology. “The siwertell is used, which is equipment designed to unload the ferries. It works by suction and has mats that facilitate transport and storage, and then load the ships via shiploader”.

He concludes: “from the barge to the ship, it is also possible to carry out direct loading, using a crane, whether on board or floating.”

The types of boats that pass by the river

Generally speaking, types include offshore support vessels, ships, ferries and riverboats that move small amounts of cargo. The processes for moving these means of transport depend on authorization from the Federal Police, Anvisa and the Federal Revenue.

However, according to Márlon, “any product can be transported, as long as it is legal and respects safety and navigation standards”. He adds an interesting curiosity: “there is a factory in Rio Jari that produces cellulose. It came practically ready-made and assembled on top of a base from Japan”.

Attention points

Finally, Edwin and Márlon talk about points of attention when navigating the Amazon River. In addition to the practical role, special care must be taken with information management. It must be carried out in order to optimize scheduling and maneuvers. That’s because any and all errors can generate very high bills.

Furthermore, according to specialists, due to the peculiarities of the Amazon River — such as times of drought, when the river level drops a lot — almost all terminals are floating. “This particularity is very important”, emphasizes Márlon, who concludes: “the drought almost makes the issue of draft almost impossible. As a result, you end up receiving less charge. And, whoever wants priority, must pay extra fees to some shipowners”.

Even with some challenges, as perceived, navigation on the Amazon River is of great importance. It seeks to adapt to the reality of the region, prioritizes the safety of those involved and aims at the success of operations.

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