Photos: The Savoie, a Steamboat from the Belle Epoque

Savoie's sister ship Montreaux (Erik Kravets)

Published Aug 19, 2019 1:58 PM by Erik Kravets

As a firm specialized in maritime law, we love coming face to face with all of the exciting equipment and history that water-based navigation has to offer. Whether it’s a shiny new tugboat, a super-efficient LNG ferry or even an old school passenger boat (like the one we showcased many years ago in Hamburg), we are delighted to share our enthusiasm.

This weekend, we had the chance to go aboard a truly unique exemplar: the 1914 belle epoque steamboat ‘SAVOIE’, a purpose-built Lake Geneva cruise ship designed to connect the lakeside villages.


It goes without saying: Geneva is a city that is beyond lovely, and we were privileged to combine an amazing piece of maritime history with such a stunning backdrop. Shortly, you’ll even see Mont Blanc!

One of the coolest things about the ‘SAVOIE’ is that you can see the engine. In fact, the machine room is directly visible from a promenade on the deck above it. The pistons, oil and gears are on display. This is definitely part and parcel of belle epoque design. Much like the Cartier Santos watch, which features screws as part of the aesthetics, the early 20th century did not try to hide away its industrialism.


Note the ornate, brass oil dispensers at the tops of each piston. We are especial fans of the brass lights mounted above the engine room as well; we installed those in a house that we designed specifically to rent to Maritime Academy students in Cuxhaven. It’s good to see that our choices were authentic!

Later on, we spotted the mechanic’s assistant refilling the oil dispensers with a matching canister.


Here’s a wide angle view just to give a sense of perspective. This machinery is truly massive!


It’s heartwarming to see such a well cared for piece of machinery still working hard after so long.

The ‘SAVOIE’ offers space for 690 passengers, has only a 1,8 meter draft when fully loaded and is 67 meters long. It reaches a respectable 14,5 knots top speed. Given that it is designed for short spurts of energy between close-by towns, the speed is impressive. The engine provides 900 horsepower.

Some of the more modern touches, like the extensible secondary bridge used for docking the vessel alongside the various quaint piers at villages like Coppet, were noted and duly appreciated.


Most Americans associate paddleboats with Mark Twain and the Mississippi. But these vessels are still underway in Europe, as the ‘SAVOIE’ shows. In fact, here is the paddlewheel now in all its glory:


The ‘MONTREAUX’, one of the ‘SAVOIE's sister ships (top), was encountered halfway through the journey. That’s right; this ship isn’t even the only of its kind. Rather, it is part of ‘la flotte Lemanique’, i.e. the ‘Lake Geneva fleet’. In French, Lake Geneva is referred to as Lake Leman. The steamboats are part of the charm.

Since the ship goes from Switzerland to the Savoy in France, it is technically an international carriage of passengers within the Schengen Zone, but between an EU and non-EU state. In terms of liabilities and legal requirements, this opens some interesting question, like does Regulation (EU) No 1177/2010 of the European Parliament and of the Council of 24 November 2010 concerning the rights of passengers when travelling by sea and inland waterway and amending Regulation (EC) No 2006/2004 apply?

In general, it does not apply to historic ships, Art. 2 (2) (d), but only if said historic ships were built before 1965 (check) and do not carry more than 36 passengers. The ‘SAVOIE’ carries way more than that!

Maybe Art. 2 (2) (c) can help us, if we can qualify this as a sightseeing or excursion non-cruise voyage.


It’s beautiful. But is it enough to qualify for the legal exemption cited above? May we never find out!

The ship has been painstakingly cared for and preserved with attention to period details. For example, the belle epoque dining room, featuring rich wood paneling and wooden-framed windows:


The interior is a worthy complement to a truly special region of the world.


At night, the passengers on the ‘SAVOIE’ were also having their fair share of fun, too:


We’d like to thank the crew and captain for an inspiring evening on board a truly special ship. We hope ‘SAVOIE’ and its sisters have many trips ahead and will continue to serve faithfully for decades to come!

Erik Kravets is a founding partner of Kravets & Kravets, a maritime and admiralty law firm providing bespoke solutions to clients navigating the North Sea and beyond. Clients involved in ship brokering and management, offshore, towage and salvage, vessel chartering, cargo handling/stevedoring and carriage of goods by sea come to Mr. Kravets for representation.

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.