India has an extensive network of inland waterways in the form of rivers, canals, backwaters and creeks. The total navigable length is 14,500 kilometres, out of which about 5,200 km of river and 485 km of canals can be used by mechanised crafts. Freight transport by waterways is highly underutilised in India compared to other large countries. The total cargo moved by inland waterways is just 0.15% of the total inland traffic in India, compared to the corresponding figures of 20% for Germany and 32% for Bangladesh.
- Cargo that is transported in an organised manner is confined to a few waterways in Goa, West Bengal, Assam and Kerala.
- The Inland Waterways Authority of India (IWAI) is the statutory authority in charge of the waterways in India. It does the function of building the necessary infrastructure in these waterways, surveying the economic feasibility of new projects and also administration and regulation.
- National Waterway 1: Allahabad–Haldia stretch of the Ganga – Bhagirathi – Hooghly river system with a total length of 1,620 kilometres in October 1986.
- National Waterway 2: Saidiya–Dhubri stretch of the Brahmaputra river system with a total length of 891 kilometres in 1988.
- National Waterway 3: Kollam–Kottapuram stretch of the West Coast Canal along with Champakara and Udyogmandal canals, with a total length of 205 kilometres in 1993.
- National Waterway 4: Bhadrachalam–Rajahmundry and Wazirabad–Vijaywada stretch of the Krishna–Godavari river system along with the Kakinada–Pondicherry canal network, with a total length of 1,095 km in 2007.
- National Waterway 5: Mangalgadi–Paradeep and Talcher–Dhamara stretch of the Mahanadi–Brahmani river system along with the East Coast Canal, with a total length of 623 km in 2007.