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Did you know that you can go all the way from Canada down to Key West, Florida with your boat as the only means of transportation?
The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) is a highway of sorts for smaller boats.
Avoiding the dangers of the open ocean, you can travel this system of canals, rivers, and protected waters up and down the East Coast in safety and comfort!
And if that’s not far enough for you, the Intercoastal Waterway system also extends from Florida on the Gulf side all the way around to Brownsville, Texas.
Authorized by Congress in 1919, the Intracoastal Waterway system is maintained by the Army Corps of Engineers.
Many portions of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway system experience heavy commercial traffic (as barges move around the country).
But this waterway system also provides a safe route for pleasure boaters who are looking to avoid rough seas in the open Atlantic Ocean.
Great Dismal Swamp
While I was living in Elizabeth City, North Carolina as I traveled north toward Norfolk, Virginia the highway ran parallel to a part of the waterway that runs through the Great Dismal Swamp.
Peeking through the thick woods, it would be almost startling to see a 50-foot luxury yacht motoring along just a few feet away — especially since you couldn’t see the canal from the road while driving.
This portion of the Intercoastal Waterway was dug through the Great Dismal Swamp with only hand labor. Both George Washington and Patrick Henry were greatly involved in the creation of the waterway through that area — since they had logging interests in the Dismal Swamp.
Lots To See And Do
The beauty of traveling the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway is the fact that a large cruiser isn’t required.
Many modest sized boats make the journey quite comfortably.
The most important ingredient is time. With an open calendar, you can enjoy your voyage along the Intercoastal Waterway as it should be taken — slow and relaxed!
As you can see in this video, the Intercoastal Waterway offers beautiful scenery, plenty of wildlife, and many opportunities to visit some wonderful ports of call:
In addition to the beautiful scenery and the relaxing journey, cruising the Intracoastal Waterway is a great opportunity to try some new foods when you’re traveling.
There are plenty of wonderful stops along the way, which will enable you to experience the different cuisine — including Maine lobster, fresh Chesapeake Bay blue crabs and oysters, maybe even some New Orleans crawfish or gumbo. After all, a man’s gotta eat!
Here’s the official NOAA Intracoastal Waterway map — plus helpful charts and a list of ICW marinas.
Navigating The Intracoastal Waterway
Traveling the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway requires a good knowledge of all the various parts of the system:
- Not all of it is narrow channels that are well-marked pointing the way.
- Much of it is skirting open ocean as it hugs the coastline between inland sections.
Reed’s Nautical Almanac is one publication that can guide you over the full length of the system. There are many other Atlantic ICW Guides available on Amazon.
You can stay abreast of improvements, repairs and other news by becoming a member of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway Association. Whenever Congress makes decisions affecting the waterway, you’ll be among the first to know!
This video explains the nautical markers you should be looking for while cruising the Intracoastal Waterway:
If you’re up to the challenge, you can always do the Circle Route (or America’s Great Loop) — which includes the Intercoastal Waterway, plus a trip up the Mississippi, and then follows the Great Lakes back out to the East Coast.
This Great Circle Route Guide will help you make plans for the ultimate American voyage!
More Tips For Enjoying The Atlantic ICW
In addition to the links I’ve included above, here are some other resources to help you cruise the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway on your own:
- 10 Reasons To Cruise Down The Intracoastal Waterway
- How To Navigate The Intracoastal Waterway With A GPS
- Cruising The Intracoastal Waterway – Thinking Outside The Boat
- A Guide To Navigating Florida Inlets & Water Channels
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I’ve been involved in RVing for 50 years now — including camping, building, repairing, and even selling RVs. I’ve owned, used, and repaired almost every class and style of RV ever made. I do all of my own repair work. My other interests include cooking, living with an aging dog, and dealing with diabetic issues. If you can combine a grease monkey with a computer geek, throw in a touch of information nut and organization freak, combined with a little bit of storyteller, you’ve got a good idea of who I am.