The navigable part of the Yangtze River can be divided into three main sections:
- The Lower Yangtze from Shanghai to Nanjing that allow deepsea ships with a draft of around 11 meters.
- The Middle Yangtze from Nanjing to Yichang (the nearest container port to the Three Gorges Dam).
- The Upper Yangtze from Yichang to Yibin.
The inland port city of Chongqing is located in the upper reach, and the city of Wuhan is located in the middle reach. Together with Nanjing and Shanghai, these four cities are the main cities along the Yangtze River.
The river depth during Winter (the low draft period) declines from 10.5 meters in the delta area between Shanghai and Nanjing, around 5 to 6 meters between Wuhu and Wuhan, about 4 meters in the stretch between Fuling and Wuhan, to between 2.5 and 3 meters around Chongqing and to less than 2 meters beyond Lanjiatuo (which lies between Chongqing and Luzhou). The water level between the Winter and Summer seasons can differ as much as 4 meters on average, implying more technical capacity during summer.