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Lake Annecy (Haute-Savoie, France): Navigation signals

Last modified: 2012-10-27 by ivan sache
Keywords: haute-savoie | annecy | fishing pennants | navigation pennants |
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Presentation of Lake Annecy

Lake Annecy (27 sq. km; mean depth, 45 m) is the second largest natural lake in France. The lake, of glacial origin, is located in the Northern Alps and named for the town of Annecy, which was built at its northern end.
The lake is surrounded with mountains except at its northern end (plain of Annecy-Les Fins). Due to its twisted shape, it is very difficult to have a complete view of the lake without using an aircraft. The lake can be seen in full, however, from Col de la Forclaz (1157 m), located south-east of the lake. From there, Lake Annecy appears as a twisted, elongated "8" (or a Moebius ribbon) and the limit between the two parts of the lake is straightforward. The biggest part of the lake, in the north, is called the Greater Lake (Grand lac), whereas its smallest part, in the south, is called the Lesser Lake (Petit Lac). The two parts are separated by a narrow strait between the villages of Duingt (west bank) and Talloires (east bank). In the middle of the strait, a yellowish spot indicates the shallow called le Roselet, which is the remain of the rocky spur which separated two lakes in the past and was progressively flooded after the last ice.
Most population and activity is concentrated around the Greater Lake in the municipalities of Annecy, Sevrier, Saint-Jorioz and Duingt on the east bank, and the municipalities of Annecy-le-Vieux, Veyrier-du-Lac and Talloires on the west bank. There are only a few villages around the Lesser Lake, belonging to the municipality of Doussard, whose center is located a few kilometers south of the lake.
In spite of being surrounded by mountains - Semnoz (1,699 m) and Entrevernes on east bank, Mont Veyrier (1,291 m), Dents de Lanfon (1,824 m) and Tournette (2,351 m) on west bank - the lake is watered mostly by the underlake source of Boubioz, springing at a depth of 82 m. The main rivers flowing into Lake Annecy are the Ire and the Eau Morte in the south and the Laudon in the east. The small river Thiou, on which the old town of Annecy was built, is not flowing into the lake but out of it, and is tributary of river Fier, itself tributary of the Rhône.

In the 1950s, local fishers complained that the quantity and quality of fish had dramatically decreased. It was found that a potentially damaging process of eutrophication had spread through the lake. An alpine lake without or with limited human disturbance is in a state of oligotrophy: there are few organical matter and nitrogen compounds released into the lake and algae development is limited, allowing a high concentration in oxygen, favouring the so-called "noble" fishes (arctic char, ferra). With the development of agriculture and human activity, the quantity of organic matter in the lake increases and algae start to thrive, consuming more and more oxygen. The status of the lake is said to be mesotrophic. At the end of the process, algae use most of the oxygen and the "noble" fishes are replaced by smallest fishes of lower value (sticklebacks): the lake is eutrophical.
Upon the recommendations of Dr. Servettaz and Charles Bosson, then Mayor of Annecy, the Syndicat des communes riveraines du lac was created on 15 July 1957. A main sewer linking all the villages was built so that all water released into the lake is prealably treated and checked. There are today 22 municipalities involved in the syndicate, the sewer is 450 km long and links 43 stations. The water is under permanent survey by local engineers and scientists from the INRA center in Thonon-les-Bains. A similar preservation system was successfully applied to other lakes of the region, Lake Léman (in partnership with Switzerland), Lake Nantua and Lake Oyonnax in Jura and Lake Bourget in Savoy. The results have been so striking that INRA was involved a few years ago in the design of the conservation strategy for Lake Baikal in Russia. The conservation plan of Lake Annecy also anticipated the dramatic increase in the population, which took place in the 1980s, and the pollution problems associated to it. Today, the water of Lake Annecy is bacteriologically drinkable and "noble" fish populations have been restored (the yield of fishing is about 30 tons/year). All the drinkable water for the area is pumped by the station of La Puya, located east of Annecy, checked, treated if necessary and distributed to the tonws and villages.


  • Observatoire régional des lacs alpins - Castle-Museum of Annecy
  • Annecy Guide 2003
  • Guide Vert Michelin Alpes du Nord
  • Guide Gallimard Haute-Savoie

Ivan Sache, 21 May 2004

History of navigation on Lake Annecy

Navigation on Lake Annecy started in the middle of the 19th century but became really significant only after the incorporation of Savoy to France in 1860. Emperor Napoléon III and Empress Eugénie de Montijo visited Annecy and offered to the town the steamship La Couronne de Savoie. During the Imperial visit, the lake was celebrated by a pyrotechnic festival, which is the origin of the famous Fêtes du Lac, which take place in Annecy every summer.
The Compagnie des Bateaux à Vapeur du Lac d'Annecy was founded in 1866 and opened scheduled lines between Annecy and the other villages around the lake. In the beginning of the 20th century, the company purchased the steamship France, the biggest ship that ever sailed on the lake, mostly dedicated to cruises (with lunch and dinner) for rich tourists. The company later slightly changed its name by dropping à Vapeur when steamships where replaced by motorships. However, the France sailed until the 1960s, when it was deemed obsolete and no longer compliant with modern safety rules.
The France was bought by a private owner, who did in 1965 a last, completely illegal but triumphant, trip around the lake. The ship was then moored off the Imperial Hotel in Annecy. On an illfated day in March 1971, people from Annecy could not believe their eyes: the France, the pride of Annecy, had disappeared. The ship had sunk straight to the bottom for a reason still not elucidated. Since then, the wreck of the France is a hotspot for scubadivers in Lake Annecy.


  • Observatoire régional des lacs alpins - Castle-Museum of Annecy
  • Annecy Guide 2003

Ivan Sache, 21 May 2004

Navigation signals used on Lake Annecy

Navigation on Lake Annecy is submitted to specific rules (Réglement particulier de police) prescribing the conditions of sailing and mooring for ships and the practice of watersports. Every user of a motorboat should have a copy of the regulations on board. The main rules are also described on billboards placed in ports all around the lake. A set of flags are prescribed, which seem to be specific to Lake Annecy and not prescribed on the other French lakes.

[Red pennant]

Red pennant - Image by Ivan Sache

Passenger boats (MS Libellule, Le Cygne, L'Allobroge, Le Savoie, La Belle-Étoile from Compagnie des Bateaux du Lac d'Annecy, and L'Arc-en-Ciel from Compagnie des Bateaux Dupraz) shall fly a red pennant at bow. MS Libellule is a restaurant ship and has no mast at bow but a big panoramic window, and flies the pennant on its flat roof.
The pennant is put away inside the boat every evening and hoisted again every morning. The pennant is folded according to a square pattern particularly visible in the morning.
The red pennant is a sign of priority. Its use seems to date back to the beginning of navigation on the lake, since it is shown on several advertising posters of the beginning of the 20th century, mostly flying at the bow of the France.

Fishing boats shall fly a flag showing the way they are fishing. All other ships must remain at least 100 m away of any boat flying a fishing signal.

[White pennant]

Pennant for line-fishing boats - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 May 2004

Fishing boats using lines shall fly a white triangular pennant.

[Rectangular flag]

Flag for net-fishing boats - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 May 2004

Fishing boats using nets shall fly a rectangular flag, horizontally divided red-white.

[Subaquatic flag]

Flag for subaquatic activities - Image by Ivan Sache, 21 May 2004

Boats involved in subaquatic activity shall fly the international signal, a white flag with a blue swallow-tail (ICSA letter A / Alpha). This flag is of course not specific to Lake Annecy.

Motorboats involved in water-skiing shall fly a square blue flag with a white water-skier.

The lake is a main source of drinkable waters. Water harnessing points are signaled by a yellow conical buoy surmounted with a red pennant.

Ivan Sache, 21 May 2004