In recent years, increasing numbers of human campylobacteriosis cases caused by contaminated water have been reported. As the culture-based detection of Campylobacter is time consuming and can yield false-negative results, the suitability of a quantitative real-time PCR method in combination with an ethidium monoazide pretreatment of samples (EMA-qPCR) for the rapid, quantitative detection of viable Campylobacter cells from water samples was investigated. EMA-qPCR has been shown to be a promising rapid method for the detection of viable Campylobacter spp. from food samples. Application of membrane filtration and centrifugation, two methods frequently used for the isolation of bacteria from water, revealed a mean loss of up to 1.08 log10 cells/ml from spiked samples. Both methods used alone lead to a loss of dead bacteria and accumulation of viable bacteria in the sample as shown by fluorescence microscopy. After filtration of samples, no significant differences could be detected in subsequent qPCR experiments with and without EMA pretreatment compared to culture-based enumeration. High correlations (R2 = 0.942 without EMA, R2 =0.893 with EMA) were obtained. After centrifugation of samples, qPCR results overestimated Campylobacter counts, whereas results from both EMA-qPCR and the reference method were comparable. As up to 81.59 % of nonviable cells were detected in pond water, EMA-qPCR failed to detect correct quantities of viable cells. However, analyses of spiked tap water samples revealed a high correlation (R2 = 0.863) between results from EMA-qPCR and the reference method. After membrane filtration, EMA-qPCR was successfully applied to Campylobacter field isolates, and results indicated an advantage over qPCR by analysing defined mixtures of viable and nonviable cells. In conclusion, EMA-qPCR is a suitable method to detect viable Campylobacter from water samples, but the isolation technique and the type/quality of the water sample impact the results.