Böötle is a term from Swiss German. It means something like “to float in the water with an inflatable boat, an air mattress or a floating tyre”.
Böötle as a leisure activity is becoming increasingly popular in Switzerland. In the meantime, there are enough providers of this leisure activity who, for a fee, make the boat available to you ready to float and pick it up again at the drop-off point. Whether on the Aare, the Limmat or the Rhine, Böötle is possible on any river.
In fact, böötle has become a popular sport in Switzerland. And: also because it is done together with friends, it is not entirely without danger. There are always accidents with Böötle and it is not uncommon for carelessness, alcohol and/or recklessness to be involved.
Since there are always bad accidents at the Böötle, those responsible have now reacted.
What legal safety regulations do you have to observe at Böötle?
Since 01.01.2020 there are stricter safety regulations. Since then, there must be either one life belt per boat or one life jacket with collar per person.
The Federal Office of Transport (FOT) has issued rules for safe river travel in rubber boats:
- Wear a life jacket on rivers
- Carry a life-saving device in accordance with the Inland Waterways Ordinance on rubber dinghies, canoes, rowing boats
- Boats shorter than 4 metres must be labelled with name and address, preferably also with telephone number. It must be clearly visible and is potentially life-saving. This includes e.g. beach boats, rubber boats, stand-up boards, paddle boats, racing rowing boats or surfboards.
- Only persons who are fit to drive are allowed to drive a boat (no alcohol, drugs etc.)
- Course boats always have the right of way (keep a sufficient distance)
Checks are carried out by the responsible cantons and their police units. Since 2020, they have also been issuing fines. For example, non-compliance with the labelling costs CHF 40 and the absence of a life-saving device costs CHF 50.
By the way, buoyancy aids are not considered to be life-saving devices. Although the alcohol limit has been lifted for boats under 2.5 metres and non-motorised rubber boats under four metres, whoever is steering the boat must not drink alcohol, otherwise they are not fit to drive.
What additional tips
on the Böötle does the Swiss Council for Accident Prevention (bfu) give?
- protect from cold: do not stay too long in cold water, this could cause muscle cramps
- protect from the sun: Headgear and sunscreen
- do not tie boats together, otherwise you will become unable to manoeuvre
- do not tie people to the boat: if the boat gets stuck, they will be pulled under the water
- Before the trip, check where you can get in and out easily
What are the 6 rules for
the Böötle given by the SLRG lifeguards?
- Put on a lifejacket
- Respect the maximum load of the boat (indicated on each boat)
- Do not tie boats together
- explore unknown river sections before the trip
- only allow good and experienced swimmers into open waters (rivers, ponds and lakes)
- the colder the water, the shorter the stay in it
Where are there particular danger spots?
Weirs with their barrages and water rollers are a major and often underestimated source of danger. It’s important to remember that you have to ditch before each river power station, carry the dinghy around and ditch/enter again.
Bridges, course boats, boats (navigation signs on poles in the water) and large boulders can also be a danger. Water eddies often occur there, which are often underestimated. Sometimes signs warn“Caution surge water“.
Sudden floods can occur below hydroelectric power stations. You should take these warning signs very seriously and leave these places as quickly as possible if the water rises rapidly. In the years from 2011 to 2020, an average of 45 people per year died in Swiss waters.
Since all rivers and parts of rivers in Switzerland are suitable for a Böötle, here is a list of special danger spots in the Aare, Limmat, Reuss, Rhine and Rhone:
- Aare: 20 barrages/weirs before the Ruppoldingen, Gösgen, Aarau, Rüchlig, Rupperswil-Auenstein, Wildegg-Brugg, Beznau, Klingnau, Aarberg, Bannwil, Felsenau, Flumenthal, Hagneck, Mühleberg, Niederried/Radelfingen, Wynau, Brügg, Interlaken, Kallnach and Schwarzhäusern power stations; Hazardous sites also include the Aare weighbridge “Woog” Aarburg and the Aareschlucht, spur structures with backwaters near Kehrsatz-Muri as well as the Uttigen wave, Nydeggbrücke.
- Limmat: 10 weirs/barrages upstream of the Stroppel, Höngg, Turgi, Schiffmühle, Kappelerhof, Oederlin, Aue, Wettingen, Dietikon and Letten river power plants. The Höngg weir in particular is repeatedly the scene of serious accidents.
- Reuss: 8 weirs before the Bremgarten-Zufikon power stations, Bremgarten-Bruggmühle,
Windisch, Amsteg, Wassen, Mühlenplatz, Perlen and Rathausen; danger spots Gnadenthal and St.-Anna-Loch. The weir at Reussbädli just before the old Kunz spinning mill in Windisch is particularly affected.
- Rhine: 11 barrages upstream of the 12 river power plants Reckingen, Albbruck-Dogern, Laufenburg, Säckingen, Ryburg-Schwörstadt, Rheinfelden, Augst-Wyhlen (two), Rheinau, Schaffhausen, Eglisau-Glattfelden, Birsfelden and Kembs; danger spot Koblenzer Laufen. Schaffhausen is popular from Stein.
- Rhone: 4 barrages before the Chancy-Pougny, Gletsch-Oberwald, Verbois, Massaboden hydroelectric power stations
Which boat should you choose?
The boat should have at least three air chambers. According to the rules of the Inland Navigation Ordinance, a distinction is made between beach boats and inflatable boats. Beach boats have only one chamber, inflatable boats have several.
An all-round rope around the boat with four parts as handholds and a holding rope at the bow are also advantageous, as is a seat cushion.
A boat for 3 persons weighs 11 kg and costs about CHF 100. Air mattresses and inflatable animals are considered beach boats even if they have several chambers. Beach boats are not intended for locomotion, but only for bathing near the beach.
Beach boats may therefore not be used for locomotion on rivers and canals.
What is the right water temperature?
From a water temperature of around 16 degrees Celsius, you can get into the rubber boat without a wetsuit. You must always be prepared to take an involuntary dip. You can find the temperature in the Aare here for Bern and Thun.
Safety-relevant items include:
- Life jacket with collar, dry bag, paddle and air pump (provided for boat hire and guided tours)
- Sun cream, headgear, sufficient water to drink, sunglasses
The paddles should be strong and divisible and made of aluminium tubes with a metal spring locking system (costs: approx. 70 CHF). Foot pumps are recommended (from 10 CHF). Not relevant to safety, but important:
- Swimwear, large bath towel
- Waste bag
- Wetsuit for cooler water temperatures (can be hired)
- Jumper if going into the evening hours
- comfortable flip-flops
- Lighter and cubes for the BBQ
- Emergency kit for man & rubber boat: pocket knife, insulating tape, plaster, après sun lotion
- waterproof camera, waterproof case for smartphone etc.
- Cool box for drinks and food
- a rope to tie the boat down during breaks
With a collapsible boat trolley you can pass power stations and weirs without using too much power.
- Aare: The Thun-Bern stretch is probably the most popular Böötle section, plus the Bern Schwellenmätteli to Felsenau / Wohlensee and Wohlensee to Aarberg stretches. From Lake Biel, you can enjoy eight other sections between Nidau and Full/Reuenthal . From Wangen onwards, there are several weirs in front of power stations along the route, which you must be aware of. The Kallnach and Hagneck canals are also good for a Böötle.
- Glatt: Between Rümlang and Oberhöri there is a beautiful and quiet Böötle stretch.
- Limmat: The Zurich-Dietikon section is very popular for a Böötle in the summer months. The second stretch goes past Baden and the Aue power station and ends at the latest before the Kappelerhof power station.
- Linth: The stretch from Weesen to Schmerikon is a popular route between the two lakes Walensee and Obersee.
- Reuss: The stretch Bremgarten-Gebenstorf on the Lower Reuss (most beautiful section is Bremgarten – Gnadental – Mellingen) and Perlen to Sulz on the Upper Reuss (most beautiful section is Gisikon to Rottenschwil), also the stretch from Gisikon-Root to before Bremgarten is popular.
- Rhine: Stein am Rhein to Schaffhausen is particularly popular, plus Neuhausen (behind Schaffhausen) via Rheinau and Rüdlingen to Eglisau.
- Rhine valley: the inland canal is very suitable for a Böötle between Montlingen and Au, it can even be extended to Sankt Margrethen.
- Rhone: within Geneva between Pont Sous-Terre and Le Lignon
- Saane/Aare: two rivers at once use Böötler on the stretch between Gümmenen and Aarberg.
- Ticino: the 10 km stretch from Cresciano to Bellinzona
The rubber boat guide Switzerland with 22 river maps and accessibility by public transport is very comprehensive and clearly laid out. The authors have travelled the tours themselves and point out the dangers and pitfalls of each tour in detail. River maps of the SLRG with information on getting on and off the rubber boat:
- Aare map: Thun – Bern
- Aaremap: Büren – Selzach
- Bach-ab-Map: Rhine Basel
- Limmat map: Baden
- Reuss map: Lucerne
SLRG checklists to print out