Embrace America's Rivers

Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway...

The Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway serves as an alternate route to the Gulf of Mexico. Before it was completed the only river from the Ohio Valley to the Gulf was the Lower Mississippi River. The "Tenn-Tom" shortened the distance and provided friendlier waters and services for commercial vessels and pleasure craft. The waterway has stimulated economic development, provided outdoor recreational opportunities, aides to navigation, and enhanced wildlife habitat. Many people call the entire waterway from the Tennessee River to Mobile, AL the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway but it is only part of 482 miles of the river system connecting the Tennessee River with the Tombigbee River and, via the Mobile River, with the Gulf of Mexico. This waterway flows south from the Tennessee via a canal in Northeastern Mississippi, crosses into Alabama at Aliceville Lake, then runs South Southeast to Demopolis, Ala. There are ten locks and dams on the waterway.

The Tennessee-Tombigee Waterway has three main parts - the largest section from Demopolis, Alabama north to Amory, Mississippi utilizes the Tombigbee River but changes and shortens the existing channel with dams, locks and shortcuts. From Amory a canal section using a chain of lakes construction extends to the Bay Springs Lock and Dam. The final section cuts deeply through high ground to the Tennessee River. Its total length is 234 miles with the river section being 149 miles, canal section 46 miles and divide cut (shown at left) section being 39 miles. The standard width is 300 feet.


This waterway also connects with the Intracoastal Waterway at Mobile Bay. Many boaters utilize this waterway system to pilot their boats between Lake Michigan and Florida. The Intracoastal Waterway is a system of rivers, lakes, canals and barrier islands that provide a channel along the gulf coast that is protected from the high winds and waves from the ocean.

Several breakwaters are seen along the waterway, like the one shown here


They were built to prevent tributaries and other water sources from eroding the bed of the channel by spreading out the force during high input into the the waterway from incoming streams and ditches. 

The Coffeeville Lock & Dam is shown in photo.


This is one of ten locks that maintain a "pool" stage above the dam that provides a sufficient depth for vessels. The Army Corp of Engineers maintains a deep enough channel for towboat traffice, which is nine feet. Much of the waterway is nearly slack water, due to the dams.


The waterway is not as busy with tow traffic as some rivers but some will be encountered so boaters are advised to give them plenty of room, particularly on tight bends. The wakes from passing tows is a gentle roll and not as choppy as large cruisers. In narrow sections the wake will bounce back and forth for some time.

There are many remote and beautiful areas, particularly in the lower sections. The photo is looking toward the mouth of the Black Warrior River, just above Demopolis. The Black Warrior is a navigable river to Birmingham.

There are plenty of marinas and other facilities helpful to transient boaters on the Tenn-Tom Waterway, particularly in sections that are lake-like above the dams. 


The waterway is "boater friendly" and easy to navigate, given the mild currents and maritime facilities.

Mobile Bay is a busy commercial port and along with the wind, can be quite choppy.


Bobile Bay leads to the Gulf of Mexico and also the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). The ICW west will take one all the way to Brownsville, Texas and the ICW east goes to Carabelle, Florida.


The blue and white vessel in the photo is the Delta Mariner. This vessel carries rocket materials between Huntsville, Alabama, Houston, Texas, and Forida. It is often called the "Rocket Boat". This iship that hit a bridge on the Tennessee River in January of 2012, taking out a span of the bridge

Following are a scenic photos taken by Ray Macke on his great journey on the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Click the photos to see an enlargement.

Free downloads for Tenn-Tom Waterway navigation charts. Mile markers begin Mobile, AL and go upriver