The Emajõgi River connects Lake Võrtsjärv and Lake Peipus, and is the only river in Estonia that is fully navigable. The river, known in the Middle Ages as an important trade route, connected the western Hanseatic cities to Pskov and Novgorod, and is nowadays one of the most important symbols of the city of Tartu. Marshy banks, which are characteristic of the Emajõgi River, have made building bridges as well as crossing the river difficult over the centuries. Within the city limits of Tartu, the Emajõgi River has five bridges for vehicles and two pedestrian bridges, several docks (including the guest dock in front of the building Atlantis) and five boat harbours, of which Karlova harbour is open to visitors.
Waterways are managed by the Transport Administration which, among other things, monitors that all possible hazards and obstacles have been removed from the routes, regular dredging works carried out and navigation markings been updated. Precise mapping of waterways is actively carried out as well. In cooperation between the public and private sector and with the support of the European Union funds, several harbours and moorings have been developed on the waterway of the Emajõgi River: small craft associations develop their own harbours, new docks have been constructed in the city centre of Tartu for visiting boats, and the riverbed was deepened during the works. Small craft harbours have been built in Kavastu, Mäksa, Lääniste and other places. The Emajõgi River’s most frequently used harbour with a slipway is located at the RMK (State Forest Management Centre, Riigimetsa Majandamise Keskus in Estonian) Suursoo nature centre in Kantsi that is also one of the most important harbours in the southern part of Lake Peipus. The boat dock of Lake Võrtsjärv Visitor Centre at the headwaters of the Emajõgi River in Rannu-Jõesuu is suitable for both the launching as well as the landing of boats. It is also possible to land on Piirissaar Island, located in Lake Peipus, and on Tondisaar Island, located in Lake Võrtsjärv.
The majority of Tartu’s boat traffic is made up of cruises, regular scheduled trips to Piirissaar Island in summer and private boat rides. Cruises are organised by several companies, and it’s possible to take a ride on modern motorboats, the medieval barge “Jõmmu” as well as the Viking ship “Turm”. Various canoe trips are organised as well. The barge is great for organising seminars and conferences. In August, the traffic on the river is especially busy as a festival dedicated to the Emajõgi River takes place.
During bigger events related to the river, traffic on the river may be restricted – it is advisable to follow navigation markings, or inquire about restrictions at the Tartu City Government Department of Culture. Information about the waterways and the mapping of the routes is issued by the Transport Administration.