For centuries attempts were made to keep a navigable channel open by the use of wooden embankments and dredging. River traffic increased gradually, with a toll system being used in medieval times. Today some of these toll bridges still remain, dated to over 800 years. During the 17th century, "Jean-Baptiste Colbert" instituted stone retaining walls and quays from Roanne to Nantes which helped make the river more reliable, but navigation was frequently stopped by flood and drought. In 1707, floods were said to have drowned 50,000 people, with the water rising more than 3 m (9.8 ft) in two hours in Orléans. A typical passenger timetable from Orléans to Nantes took eight days, with the upstream journey against the flow taking fourteen.
Steam-driven passenger boats appeared soon after the beginning of the 19th century plying the river between Nantes and Orléans; by 1843, 70,000 passengers were being carried annually in the Lower Loire and 37,000 in the Upper Loire. However with the introduction of the railway in the 1840s trade on the river steadily declined and proposals to build a fully navigable river up to Briare came to nothing. The opening of the Canal latéral à la Loire in 1838 enabled navigation between Digoin and Briare to continue, but the river level crossing at Briare remained a problem until the construction of the Briare aqueduct in 1896, which at 662.69 metres was the longest such structure in the world for quite some time.