Navigating The Intracoastal Waterway
A Veteran ICW cruiser offers his best tips for beginners.
Cruising the Intracoastal Waterway from Virginia to Florida is a bucket list dream for many cruisers. While the prospect of making the trip of more than 1,000 nautical miles may seem daunting, it neednt be intimidating. Essentially it is just a series of day trips, and each year thousands of cruisers make the run. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind to make planning and executing this trip easier.
If it helps, and it may not, you can think about navigating the ICW as a four-dimensional chess game. You monitor your boat east and west along the X axis while also monitoring your position north and south on the Y axis. You will have to deal with the Z axis, height, as well. Youll need high water to transit shallow spots, and you may need low water levels to pass under certain bridges. The fourth dimension is time. In addition to managing your time in order to cross shoal areas with enough water depth, you must manage your approach to restricted bridges not only based on water height but also to ensure your passage is compatible with their opening schedule.
There are four components to successfully piloting the ICW: navigation, tides and currents, provisioning your boat, and the all-important weather.
Aicw: Bridges Locks And Power Lines
Because the Intracoastal follows the shoreline so closely and uses rivers, inlets, and other channels, the numerous bridges, locks, and power lines along the Florida coast can become a problem for some vessels. For the entirety of the Intracoastal Waterway, the official overhead clearance is 65 feet above the mean water height. However, for the Florida section of the Atlantic Intracoastal, there is an exception. The Julia Tuttle Bridge in Miami has a fixed clearance of 56 feet. Southbound vessels that exceed that height have to exit the AICW around Port Everglades and reenter after Government Cut, Miami.
Overall the Intracoastal features six distinct bridge types. You will see fixed, lift, single-bascule, double-bascule, single-pivot swing, and double-pivot swing bridges. Fixed bridges are, as the name implies, fixed. You dont have to worry about these as long as your vessel isnt too tall. The other bridges, however, can pause your progress if you come at the wrong time. These bridges need to be lifted or swung open to allow passage for most vessels.
There are restricted hours when a bridge will not open, but you should use the local bridge channel to hail the bridge as a rule of thumb. In Florida, the VHF for bridges is channel 09. Whether you intend to pass through the bridge or not, always hail them to indicate your intention. There is nothing more annoying for a bridge tender than trying to guess if the boat speeding towards them is planning to stop and turn or not.
Choose The Virginia Cut Or Dismal Swamp Route
Shortly after leaving Norfolk you have to decide to go straight to Albermarle Sound via the Virginia Cut route or turn west to take the Dismal Swamp route. We like both and the routes require going through a lock. The fenders, dock lines and safety gear you carry aboard normally will work for you. But we also bring long dock lines, a fender board and have 2 boat hooks for going through the lock at Great Bridge Lock. Thee are two locks on the Dismal Swamp route.
We like this area of North Carolina. Heres a story if you want to know more about it A North Carolina Cruise Story.
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Cruising South On The Intracoastal Waterway
Just getting there is more than half the fun, when youre cruising south on the Intracoastal Waterway , a 1243-mile waterway that connects rivers, canals, sounds and land cuts on the Atlantic coast.
The ICW is a continuous navigable waterway from Norfolk to Key West strung along the eastern seaboardpassing through, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Georgia and Floridais one of our favorite cruising grounds. In the fall of any given year youll find the perennial snowbirds using the Waterway to head south with Midwest and Canadian hailing ports. Along the way they meet cruisers from the East Coast and delivery crew on mega yachts following the sun, many bound for the Bahamas and Florida ports of call. Weve made the passage 13 times beginning in 1975 from Chicago and most recently in October, 2012, from our home waters at the Miles River YC in St. Michaels. While weve seen many changes in the spread and growth of the maritime harbor towns, the beauty of natural wildlife areas and lush landscape remains the same. The shoreline includes a wide range of marina facilities and protective anchorages for any size power boat. And you wont be alone given that the AICWA, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association, estimates 12,000 recreational boaters, transient and local, will be using the Waterway in the coming year.
Best Great Loop Boat Types
Recreational trawlers have their roots in workboat designs but there are numerous brands that are now built specifically for yachting and they can be quite plush. They have comfortable accommodations for living aboard for extended periods, ample deck space to carry tenders and good ground tackle for anchoring, and good fuel economy and respectable range. Trawlers area usually built on displacement hulls, are powered by a single engine, and have cruising speeds of 7-9 knots with a maximum speed of 10-15 knots. Their comfort, stability and economy make them ideal for slow distance cruising.
Cabin cruisers are boats that by definition, have a cabin aboard but they come in many flavors. Some types of boats that fall into this category are pocket cruisers and motor yachts . Other such boats are convertible fishing boats and power catamarans. Cabin cruiser scan have semi-displacement or planing hulls. Theyre usually equipped with liveaboard amenities including full baths/showers, galleys, and plenty of stowage for clothes, tools and spare parts.
Power Cruisers, or “Express Boats”
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Gicw: A Note On The Tides
Tides along the Gulf Coast are deceptively annoying. The tidal range only varies from around 1 to 3 feet along the length of Florida and doesnt exceed 2 feet past there. The annoyance comes in with the variability of the tides themselves. There are large sections of mixed tides along the Florida Gulf Coast with two unequal high tides and two unequal low tides each day. As you approach the panhandle, these mixed tides become more semidiurnal with two highs and two lows. Further along the panhandle, those semidiurnal tides then transition into diurnal tides.
Big Talbot & Little Talbot Island State Parks
Just south of Fernandina Beach within Floridaâs sea islands, these two parks neighbor one another along the coast. Launch your boat, rent kayaks or hike to the shoreline on Blackrock Trail, or cruise to the marsh on Big Pine Trail. Minutes away, discover ancient dunes on Little Talbot Islandâs five-mile stretch.
Bordering the parks along the southwest side, the Timucuan Ecological and Historic Preserve spans 46,000 acres of wildlife habitats, wetlands and stunning waterways.
What to Do: Hiking, biking, birdwatching, boating, camping, fishing
Where to Dock: Fort George Island Marina
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Cruising Your Boat From Norfolk To Miami On The Icw
Boats of all sizes and description on the Intracoastal Waterway
When I think about the first time we went boating on the Intracoastal Waterway I laugh at how nieve we were. We quit our jobs, rented our home and took off on a year-long boating adventure. That was uur first ICW trip in 1975 on Gusto, a Rhodes 41 sloop. We sailed from Chicago heading to Florida and the Bahamas for the winter. The National Geographic book Intracoastal Waterway was Genes selling point. After we both read the book he convinced me we didnt have to do any scary overnight ocean passages. Boating on the Intracoastal Waterway from Norfolk to Miami was going to be boating on a protected system of rivers and canals. It was all I needed to agree to quit our jobs for a year and take off.
Many years later we made the 1,000+ mile cruise aboard Early Bird, a 31-foot lobster yacht from St. Michaels, Maryland on the Chesapeke Bay. Over the years weve made several ICW passages on other sailboats and two trawlers and weve seen many changes on the waterway. Theres a build-up of houses and condos and the expansion of small boatyards to mega-marina complexes. But there remains miles of lush marshlands, tree-lined shores and natural wildlife that make it such a diverse landscape. The boats on the waterway seem to be larger and better equipped but theres a mix of sail and power cruisers in the 35-foot to 45-foot range.
The higher a boats mast or tower, the more concern there is for opening the bridge
Cruise The Scenic Intracoastal In World Class Style
Intracoastal Waterway Cruise, Dinner Cruises & Corporate Cruise Specialists offering the Ultimate Experience in World Class Private Intercoastal Cruising, Dinner & Corporate Cruises on our 51′ Yacht. Proudly Serving South Florida since 1961 from Boynton Beach, FL, Palm Beach County.
Let Captain Geno take the wheel and show you Palm Beach County from the water. On your cruising of the Intracoastal Waterway, you can take in the astounding architecture of the beautiful mansions and the natural beauty of South Florida.
Cruise in style, safety and comfort. Lounge on the deck of the Geno V and enjoy the passing show. The waters are calm, the breezes refreshing its a cruise for all ages.
Thank you for making our vacation so relaxing and intimate. The Geno V is the perfect boat for viewing Palm Beach’s lovely waterways. You made everything just the way we wanted it and we cant thank you enough! We wish you much success in the future as you continue to charter the Geno V. —– P. Lamont
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How To Choose Boat To Cruise The Intracoastal Waterway: The Buying Guide
How do you choose the boat to cruise the intracoastal waterway? You must consider many things, such as the brand name, price, and product quality. In addition, you should also consider whether it is suitable for your needs or not.
So how do you choose the right boat to cruise the intracoastal waterway? Here are some tips that you can use to help you find a good product:
What you Should Keep in Mind When Buying boat to cruise the intracoastal waterway
When shopping for a boat to cruise the intracoastal waterway, there are several things to consider. You need to think about the quality of the product, the price, and even how much it will benefit your life. However, you also need to keep these factors in mind:
Sailing The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway
Youll also get to sail some, notably on the Albemarle and Pamlico sounds, though there are many other places where you can unroll the genoa to get a break from the engine. My favourite parts are the northern section, from Norfolk, Virginia, down to Beaufort, North Carolina, and farther south to Charleston, South Carolina.
On my first excursion I motored slowly down the historic, 22-mile-long Dismal Swamp Canal, dug by slave labour in the late 18th century as a trade route. Its inky black water, infused with tannin from the swamp vegetation, left a brown moustache on our bow. Our spreaders grazed overhanging branches and our 6ft 3in keel bounced over the shallows.
It was a unique experience, followed by a gorgeous cruise along a winding tree-lined river to a welcoming town called Belhaven, where we tied up to the free dock and a friendly local drove us to the supermarket. From there, we set sail at first light in a solid blow, bouncing across a choppy Albemarle Sound, and made 80 miles before dark. Such are the contrasts of the ICW.
There are some pretty towns and cities that warrant a few days exploration, for anyone not in delivery mode. Some are famous, some youve likely not heard of.
Lighthouse and pier at Manteo, North Carolina. Photo: Matt Claiborne/Alamy
The Intracoastal Waterway is spanned by 160 bridges. Photo: Peter Neilsen
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Docking & Locking Through
We have great respect for the current when docking especially in the Carolinas and Georgia. The current always wins against the wind, so were not bashful about calling a marina and asking for the best approach to the dock. You can use the current to your advantage by bowing into it and having fenders tied vertically so theyre about eight to ten inches above the water. We use a spring line secured to a cleat amidship and hand it to a dockhand to secure. Then the helmsman turns hard over away from the dock and boat moves against it with time to secure a bow and stern line.
Bill Baggs Cape Florida State Park
Just outside the hustle and bustle of Miami, a tropical escape awaits at Key Biscayneâs southern tip. Witness a birds-eye, panoramic view of Biscayne Bay and the Atlantic Coast from the top of the Cape Florida Lighthouse, the oldest-standing building in Miami-Dade County. Dock your boat overnight in No Name Harbor and canoe or kayak along Biscayne Bayâs seawall.
What to Do: Swimming, picnicking, dock and dine
Where to Dock: No Name Harbor anchorage
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What Sets Us Apart
American Cruise Lines’ modern ships are a testament to premier nautical engineering, luxurious comfort, and the river cruising convenience. Our fleet of American riverboats, paddlewheelers, and small cruise ships offer the latest amenities, state-of-the-art navigation, and safety equipment.
We emulate the southern charm of this region on all of our cruises with our exceptional personalized service and hospitality. As you cruise in perfect comfort to ports like Charleston, SC, and Savannah, GA, enjoy spacious amenities, a private balcony, and an intimate oasis aboard our fleet of award-winning small ships.
World Class Cuisine
You will experience an authentic crab fest in Baltimore and delicious oysters in Charleston, but you will also taste exquisite cuisine onboard our ships. Our team of award-winning chefs locally sources ingredients with food that brings every region to life.
Daily Onboard Entertainment
Musicians, historians, and naturalists join every cruise, creating an entertaining onboard experience. Our cruises in this region focus heavily on southern history and culture, where even the most self-proclaimed history buffs will learn something new.
A Time Frame For Intracoastal Waterway Travel
Most cruisers leave the Chesapeake Bay in mid-October, after a stop at the Annapolis Power Boat Show or Trawler Fest in Baltimore. Depending on your boat insurance your coverage may be limiting because many companies stipulate being north of Cape Hatteras until November 1, when the threat of hurricanes decreases. If you plan an earlier departure you can buy a rider that extends the coverage.
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What Is The Great Loop
People do this trek on a variety of boats and although there is no best boat, there are some that are more suited to the task than others due to some of the routes restrictions.
For example, the lowest bridge in Illinois is just over 19 feet so your boats air draft is a consideration. To determine air draft, powerboats with flybridges should be measured from the waterline to the top of their hard structures as well as their radio and navigation antennas. Also, although depths vary, vessels drawing more than five feet may find themselves roadblocked by skinny waters.
Most boats that complete the Loop measure 35-45 feet length, but the journey has even been done on a personal watercraft . Although the vast majority of Loop craft are powerboats, about 10 percent of people have completed the journey on sailboats. Sailboats find the Loop challenging due to their deeper draft and the height of their mast, which must be un-stepped and carried horizontally on deck.
Different people cruise the Loop differently. Some like to anchor out while others go strictly dock-to-dock. Some like to be near amenities every evening while others wont set foot in a restaurant, preferring to save money by cooking aboard. Some people prefer to have luxurious accommodations and conveniences like an onboard washer/dryer so they travel with a portable home, while others opt for hotel or motel room stays and laundromats.
A Icw Essential That Most Boats Don’t Have
Date Posted: 2014-10-15: WG Staff
When cruisers come aboard our sailboat, they often comment on one particular accessory installed in our cockpit. Can you guess what it is?
Heres a few hints:
- I rarely see one of these safety devices in the cockpit of a cruising boat or most other boats for that matter and I dont know why every boat doesnt have one.
- This item is commonly installed on boats that are used for a certain sports activity.
- Even non-boaters know exactly what the device is for, and how to use it.
Give up? Heres some more hints
You cant water ski behind this boatwhats the best you can do, 6 or 7 knots? Forget the water skiing, my incredulous cruising friend the 6 or 7 knots is the main reason I have this accessory.
Anyone who regularly travels any of the intracoastal waterways understands the challenges of being in the slow lane. The art of being overtaken is often a long, messy lesson learned. For those who are new to the dance, heres the basic steps:
Have you figured out what we have installed in our cockpit yet? I consider it an essential safety feature in the slow lane. It can also help you avoid another common hazard of the waterway grounding.
The problem when your range is behind you is that you really need to keep your eye on it. If you dont have someone else to watch ahead, who knows what your bow will run into.
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