a 3,000-mile waterway along
the Atlantic and Gulf coasts
of the United States.
Some lengths consist of natural inlets, salt-water rivers, bays,
others are artificial canals. It provides a navigable route along its
length without many of the hazards of travel on the open sea.
waterway currently consists of three non-contiguous segments:
the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, extending from Brownsville, Texas east to Carrabelle, Florida; a second secton of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, beginning in Tarpon Springs, Florida and extending south to Fort Myers, Florida and the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, extending from Key West, Florida to Norfolk, Virginia.
Intracoastal Waterway has a good deal of commercial activity; barges
haul petroleum, petroleum products, foodstuffs, building materials,
and manufactured goods. It is also used extensively by recreational
boaters. On the east coast, some of the traffic in fall and spring is
by snowbirds who
regularly move south
in winter and north in summer. The waterway is also used when the
ocean is too rough to travel on. Numerous inlets connect the Atlantic
and the Gulf of Mexico with the Intracoastal Waterway.
Intracoastal Waterway connects to several navigable rivers where
shipping traffic can travel to inland ports, including
the Mississippi, Alabama, Savannah, James, Susquehanna, Delaware, Hudson and Connecticut Rivers. .
is also an important route for those cruising the Great Circle. These
are boaters making a round trip, using the Intracoastal Waterways,
the Great Lakes, inland rivers and canals. The journey can begin
anywhere along the way, like Chicago and the Illinois Waterway, then
return via Lake Michigan. Many people have done this trip in many
varieties of watercraft from kayaks to large cruisers.
Intracoastal Waterway (AIWW)
American history, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway has served a
variety of purposes. Called "America's oldest highway,"
commercial ships have used it for nearly three centuries. As more and
more people flock to the Florida coast during the fall, they use the
AIWW for recreational purposes like tubing, water skiing and sailing.
Even though the official beginning of the waterway is at Norfolk
there are unofficial segments of it north all the way to Boston.
Swamp Canal (shown at left)
winds its way through both Virginia and North Carolina, connecting
the Chesapeake Bay to the Albemarle Sound. The canal is the
oldest operating artificial waterway in America and is included on
the National Register of Historic Places. It is also designated a
National Civil Engineering Landmark. The canal was dug completely by
hand; most of the labor was done by slaves from nearby landowners. It
took approximately 12 years of back-breaking construction under
highly unfavorable conditions to complete the 22-mile long waterway,
which opened in 1805. A cruise through the Dismal Swamp Canal is a
beautiful journey with cypress trees lining the shores. The
water is coffee-colored due to the tannins in the waters.
though not officially part of the ACWW, the 154 mile long Okeechobee
Waterway extends from the Atlantic Ocean at Stuart Florida, to the
Gulf of Mexico at Ft. Myers, Florida. This provides a short cut
across Florida in friendly waters, cutting nearly 200 miles off the
distance around the southern tip of Florida. The Okeechobee waterway
runs through Lake Okeechobee and is made up of two rivers; the
Caloosahatchee River to the west of the lake and the St. Lucie Canal
east of the lake. There are 3 locks on the west side of the lake and
2 locks on the east side.
boaters cruise the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway in Florida for free
but it was not always that way. It was a privately owned, dredged,
and operated canal called the East Coast Canal for a few decades after
1881. By the 1920s, at six points along the way (including one south
of Dania in Broward County), chains were pulled taut beneath the
surface of the water to obstruct passage until a toll was paid.
Tolls from three to 10 cents were assessed based on the type of
vessel and, if commercial, by a percentage of freight.
you plan to travel the Intra-coastal Waterway, think ahead. Get the
latest Intra-coastal Waterway maps nautical charts, and study them.
Make note of marinas on your route, where fuel docks are located and
cruising guides. Also know where you can re-supply with groceries and
other family needs. Pin-pointing pump-out stations is also a good
idea. Knowing these things ahead of time will lead to peace of mind
and a more relaxing, enjoyable passage. Another thing to think about
that some of us don't consider until it's too late - your vessel's
vertical clearance height. Bridges are supposed to have a maximum
clearance of 65', but some were built slightly low. If your boat is
taller than 62', beware!
Intracoastal Waterway (GIWW)
Intracoastal Waterway is
located along the Gulf Coast. It is a navigable inland
waterway running approximately 1,050 miles from Carrabelle,
Florida to Brownsville, Texas. The GIWW crosses or meets, and in
some cases is confluent with,
numerous other navigable rivers and waterways. They include:
GIWW runs through a huge variety of terrain including swamps,
forests, beaches, islands and communities. The Cajun country in the
Morgan City area is particularly beautiful and rich in history. Some
of the cities that the GIWW passes through are Panama City,
Pensacola, Mobile, New Orleans, Morgan City, Galveston (at left) and Corpus
Christi. A 12 foot navigational channel is maintained by the U.S.
Army Corp of Engineeers but for small craft there are many
tributaries, bays and bayous that make a great side trip to explore
or fish in.
are plenty of marinas and other services along the GIWW. One will
also encounter a great deal of commercial traffic; towboats, ships
and support craft for off-shore oil rigs to name a few. There are
some locks to pass through that will have no lift. These are salt
water locks and the purpose of them is to reduce salt water that
enters the fresh water habitats.
parts of the GIWW are wide expanses of water with channel markings
and others are narrow canals, but wide enough to safely pass large
vessels with care. The section of the canal from the Calcasieu to
the Sabine River is said by engineers to be the one of the longest
straight line canals in the world. It goes straight as an arrow from
two miles west of the Calcasieu to the Sabine, a distance of 20 1/2
miles. Barrier Islands provide the protection for portions of the
waterway that run along the coastline. An example of that is the
area between Apalachicola, Florida and Carrabelle, Florida.
navigation equipment is great to have onboard but it is wise to have
paper charts and good guidebooks. Electronics will
eventually fail so it is not safe to rely on them completely. A
great deal of information shared by others will be found in cruising
guides that is not in GPS driven equipment. Also it is helpful to
make notes along the way in a book. Following are some great books
for those wanting to travel on the Intracoastal Waterways. Click on
the books for more information.