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. 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. One of the breakwaters is shown at left.

The Coffeeville Lock & Dam is shown at right. This is one of ten locks that maintain a "pool" stage above the dam that provides a sufficient depth for vessels. 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 at left is looking toward the mouth of the Black Warrior River, just above Demopolis. The Black Warrior is a navigable river to Birmingham.

Mobile Bay is a busy commercial port and along with the wind, can be quite choppy. The blue and white vessel in the photo at below is the Delta Mariner. This is the ship that hit a bridge on the Tennessee River in January of 2012, taking out two spans of the bridge.

Click Here to read river journals that include the Tenn-Tom Waterway

The River Charts CD by Inland Waterways has all the digital charts for the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway and many other rivers. Click the box for more information