Swimming, sailing, surfing, fishing, canoeing, skating… the Netherlands is a land of water and large numbers of Dutch people engage in leisure pursuits in or near water. Lots of walking and cycling paths are also located alongside water.

A water-rich environment helps people relax and recuperate. It also encourages them to meet each other and exercise. Physical activity is good for people's health.

The Dutch government, the water sports sector and businesses all work together to maintain the quality and accessibility of recreational areas.

Recreation is healthy

There are many different forms of water recreation. These vary from sailing around in a motorboat to intensive sports activities and from individual activities to rowing or sailing in groups.

Research has shown that (green) recreation is good for people's health. It helps reduce stress, encourages people to exercise and leads to increased social contact. A large European study assessed how water can best be used to promote the quality of life and health in towns and cities.

Water has a cooling effect

Lots of people head for water when the weather is hot. It can be several degrees cooler on or near water than in a town or city. However, you should not forget that you are more likely to get sunburned more quickly when on the water. VeiligheidNL also advises parents to keep an eye on their children to prevent drowning.

Water-related illnesses

The quality of Dutch bathing water is good and is checked during the bathing season. Contaminated water can cause illnesses through skin contact or swallowing. Possible health issues which may arise after contact with contaminated surface water are gastrointestinal infections, skin complaints (e.g. swimmer's itch), ear or eye infections and/or flu-like symptoms.

Hypothermia is dangerous. It can even be fatal. In water the human body loses heat approximately twenty times faster than in air. The colder the water, the faster the process. If someone has hypothermia (which is when body temperature drops below 35oC) they will lose strength, coordination and their sense of judgement. If the body cools down even more, this can lead to loss of consciousness and eventually heart failure. On the Sailing is something you do together website you can read about how to prevent hypothermia and what to do if it ever occurs. On the website of the Red Cross you can read about how to act in the event of drowning.

Recreational Cruising Network Policy Vision

The Netherlands has a large network of waterways which can be used for recreational sailing. The state and the provincial governments work together with the water sports sector to improve the quality of this network and prevent any bottlenecks in it. This means, for example, drawing up standards for clearance measurements, preventing the closure of waterways by low fixed bridges and making waterways more attractive.

Waterway and harbour management

The government records how wide and deep the water has to be in all designated waterways. The state does this for national waters (the sea, large rivers and canals) and the provincial government does the same for regional waters.

The water authorities, in turn, make sure that the waterways comply with these width and depth standards. They do so by dredging the waterway bed and by cutting back any excess water plants. Rijkswaterstaat maintains the country's national waters. The provincial governments are free to choose who performs the management tasks. Often this will be the water board, sometimes the provincial government itself and, in the case of harbours, it may also be the local authorities.

Getting out and about

There are all kinds of different ways to enjoy water. Want to know more on bathing water? Take a look at our bathing water page.

Is something not right?

If there is something wrong with the water, you should report this to the government body responsible. This can be done centrally via the Water Notification Centre.