This paper reports about experiences gathered from five online monitoring campaigns in the sewer systems of Berlin (Germany), Graz (Austria), Lyon (France) and Bogota (Colombia) using ultraviolet–visible (UV–VIS) spectrometers and turbidimeters. Online probes are useful for the measurement of highly dynamic processes, e.g. combined sewer overflows (CSO), storm events, and river impacts. The influence of local calibration on the quality of online chemical oxygen demand (COD) measurements of wet weather discharges has been assessed. Results underline the need to establish local calibration functions for both UV–VIS spectrometers and turbidimeters. It is suggested that practitioners calibrate locally their probes using at least 15–20 samples. However, these samples should be collected over several events and cover most of the natural variability of the measured concentration. For this reason, the use of automatic peristaltic samplers in parallel to online monitoring is recommended with short representative sampling campaigns during wet weather discharges. Using reliable calibration functions, COD loads of CSO and storm events can be estimated with a relative uncertainty of approximately 20%. If no local calibration is established, concentrations and loads are estimated with a high error rate, questioning the reliability and meaning of the online measurement. Similar results have been obtained for total suspended solids measurements.