::   The Intracoastal Waterway - ICW    ::
:: Capt John's America's Great Loop ::
© 1993 - 2012 CaptainJohn.org
The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway runs for most of the length of the Eastern
Seaboard. It is toll-free for pleasure boats and it is a significant portion of America's Great

The Atlantic ICW (for all intent and cruising purposes) serves ports from Atlantic City, NJ to
Key West, FL. This route is linked by several essential man-made canals, including the
Chesapeake and Delaware or C&D canal, and Chesapeake - Albemarle Canal. The lowest
controlled depth is 6 feet in the Dismal Swamp Canal.

The heaviest commercial traffic (oceangoing vessels and barges) are concentrated around
the industrial areas of Norfolk, Va;

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway serves ports for more than 1,100 miles between
Brownsville, Texas, to Carrabelle, FL. At its eastern end, (Carrabelle, FL) the Gulf ICW is not
directly connected with its Atlantic counterpart. To make this connection, you will need to
either hop-scotch your way around, or cross a 160 mile portion of open waters in the Gulf of
Mexico, and then make your way through the Okeechobee Waterway in southern Florida.

The heaviest commercial activity is centered at New Orleans and extends to the Tennessee–
Tombigbee River System at Mobile Bay, and west to Galveston. The Harvey Lock at New
Orleans furnishes a direct entrance to and from the Mississippi River.  

Over all, while some may envision
the Gulf and Atlantic Intracoastal Waterways as a  
superhighway on the water for boats, speed wise, it is not quite that. For the most part your
speed will be limited, but it is easy to navigate your way along its miles of wide channels and
narrow canals. Most of it by far, offers lots of very interesting things to do and see along the

The requirement for a waterway dates back to the Revolutionary War in the US, but it was not
until 1808 that a proposal was made for a coordinated ICW project. In 1909 Congress passed
the Rivers and Harbors Act authorizing the US Army Corps of Engineers to complete surveys
for an Intracoastal waterway system. The Corps of Engineers is still responsible for the
maintenance of the waterway.  Since Obama took office however, funds and personnel for  
have been cut.  While the controlling depth is supposed to be 12 feet at mean low water
along the ICW, it is now 9 to 10 feet in most areas and close to 6 feet in some.  
The Intracoastal Waterways consist of natural inlets, salt-water rivers, bays, and
sounds; other parts are man-made canals. All together, they are a vital part of cruising
America's Great Loop by providing a safe navigable route along Gulf and Atlantic
without the hazards of travel on the open sea.

As you can see in the areal photo below, The ICW does not have the hazards of the
open sea. In addition, you are never that far from land.
::   Navigating the ICW   ::
Navigating your way along the ICW is really
easier than you may think. Just remember
that the channel "Day Markers" with the  
small  reflective yellow triangles and
squares are the ones that mark your way on
the ICW.
While the green square and red triangles
any and all channels, including those
that go out to sea, as well as other channels
and river markers. . .

Only those red and green markers with the
yellow symbols, mark the ICW.
Heading NORTH the markers
with yellow triangles indicate
these aids should be passed by
keeping them on your left (or

Heading SOUTH Yellow squares
indicate aids should be passed
by keeping them on your
starboard (right) side of your
If you remember the saying "Red, Right, Return"? Well normally, this saying fits channel
markers that are returning from the sea.  (Red, RIght, Return from the Sea)

    On both the Atlantic and Gulf ICW however - for navigational purposes - the
    markers assume you are always returning SOUTH from New Jersey to
    Brownsville, TX.  (Red, Right, Return to Texas)
Notice the small yellow
triangle - this is what lets
you know you are on the ICW.
Cruising the Hudson River - click next.
If you remembered red, right, return to Texas, then you knew you were heading North on
the ICW.