Abstract : The segmentation of networks is important in several imaging domains, and models incorporating prior shape knowledge are often essential for the automatic performance of this task. Higher-order active contours provide a way to include such knowledge, but their behaviour can vary significantly with parameter values: e.g. the same energy can model networks or a ‘gas of circles'. In this paper, we present a stability analysis of a HOAC energy leading to the phase diagram of a long bar. The results, which are confirmed by numerical experiments, enable the selection of parameter values for the modelling of network shapes using the energy. We apply the resulting model to the problem of hydrographic network extraction from VHR satellite images.