Even if you don't know how to sail and never learn, an auxiliary powered (live a-board size) sailboat offers the most economical long-distance voyaging available.
Many "sailors" don't think they can cruise the Great Loop. Fact is however, they can. If your mast is less than 65' above the water, and your draft is less than 6' the trip around is
possible. If your draft is 5' or less, and you take your mast off - you'll have no problems cruising the Loop.
Of course, sailboats must have their mast removed before entering the Erie Canal, and before entering Chicago or the Cal-Sag. There are facilities to raise and lower your mast
near these locations where it is needed.  
What you may not know is that the design of the sailboat's displacement hull makes it the very most economical vessel on the water. Think about it! Sailboats are designed to
move easily through the water in the slightest breeze. As a result, it requires a very minimum amount of horse power to move these vessels through the water.

For example:
    A 32' to 36' (live a-board size) Sailboat might be rated for a 10 to 25hp engine and have a 8 mph fuel burn rate of 0.4 to 0.8 gallons per hour.
    A 32' to 36' Trawler might be rated for a minimum 350hp single engine and have a 8 mph fuel burn rate of 4 gallons an hour (or more). Twin engines might have a fuel burn
    rate of 10 gallons (or more). In addition, it is almost impossible to go only 8 mph in a twin engine Trawler.  Most travel much faster - simply because they can.

       For this reason, you can not obtain a more economical live a-board vessel to cruise the Great Loop - even if you take off the mast or never raise the sails. My last voyage in
fact, I cut the masts off my 36 foot center cockpit ketch (sailboat) at a height 13 feet above the water. I mounted my antennas and anchor lights to the shortened masts and had a
great Bimini top installed that covered almost the entire vessel. Burning an average of slightly less than 1 gallon an hour, I made the Loop in complete comfort and without wait and
worry over mast height.

Learning to sail is easy and fun. Surprisingly to many beginners, it comes natural once they realize there really isn't anything hard or difficult about it. With a few lessons, a
sailboat will also open your "side trip" options to include a greater range of boating capabilities - such as the Caribbean and the rest of the world.
:: Cruising the Great Loop in a Sailboat ::
Couples   -  I suggest nothing smaller than 28 feet - and nothing larger than 40 feet. Something in this range should give you  
enough for comfort, but not too big to be unsafe. 48 feet would be (in my opinion) too big to be safe. It also starts getting to be
excessively expensive and will limit your Marina options.
Singles  - or "back packer" types - between 24 to 34 feet would be good. I know some have done it in smaller and larger vessels, but
this is a nice range. Those that have the bigger budgets can do it in bigger boats. Just remember,
when you choose your boat, you
predetermine your long term cruising expenses
..

2.) Height (above the water line) - you vessel's super-structure (with mast, bimini, antennas down) must be able to clear a 19' 1"
fixed RR bridge
in order to avoid turning the Great Loop into a Great U-turn. If you can clear 17 feet you can cruise right through
downtown Chicago.
If you can clear 15' 6" you will have totally unrestricted cruising on the Great Loop, both in the USA and
Canada - including the NYS Canal System and Canada's Heritage Canals.

3.) Depth (below the water line) - The Cruising Guides will tell you - that you can do the Loop with a 6' draft.  Maybe you can, but I
(personally) wouldn't even try it.  Less draft is better, and much less is much better.  I've run aground twice on the AICW with a 4' 6"
draft
 (why I always cruise on a rising tide).  Your draft must be less than 5 feet on the Champlain Route and to cruise the Canada's
Heritage Canals. Other than that -
the less draft you have - the more worry free your voyage.

4.) Beam - For pleasure boats in the USA,  this is never a problem. You must have a beam of 23 feet and under however, to cruise the
Canadian Heritage Canals.

5.) Fresh Water capacity - You will want more than you can get.  For long-distance live aboard cruisers, water & money have
something very close in common - you never have enough, so you have to decide when & how you want to use it.
According to the US Dept. of Environmental Conservation, the average American “couple” uses 160 gallons of water every day. We use
30 gallons just flushing the toilet. We use another 30 gallons taking showers, and we use an unbelievable 4 gallons just brushing our
teeth. Most Great Loop size live aboard boats have 90 gallons or less. Some have as little as 30 gallons. Couples will most likely be
stopping to refill their water tanks daily.

6) Holding Tank capacity - guys need 9 gallons, girls need 900 gallons. (lol)  Both fresh water capacity and holding tank capacity
will depend much on your lifestyle, type of boat, and individuals aboard. The more fresh water you have on board, the better. However,
boat manufacturers never include enough water storage. If you don't learn to conserve your water, you will be filling your water tank(s)
every day.

7.) Electrical Power - depends on your amenities aboard. We recommend two - 30 amp versus one 50 amp shore power
connections. In addition, you will need a 30 amp female to 15 amp male reducer).

8.) Top-side and Deck - We highly suggest vessels with unobstructed walk-a-round with flat, clear, easy access from Bow to Stern.
For working docks & Locks, the flatter and wider the walkways, the safer and better. You will pass through over 100 Locks on your
journey around the Great Loop. If it is difficult and/or slippery to walk or maneuver around the sides, bow to stern on your vessel - you'll
have to be extra careful in the Locks - and it won't be fun as you have over a 100 to pass through.

9.) Anchors - You need two heavy anchors, and a really good anchoring system on board. I suggest a Danforth and a Plow
/Bruce anchor is ideal for the varying bottom types. I've never used two anchors at once, except in a hurricane - but some do. Instead,
my anchors are of the size recommend for boats 2x the size on mine - so I've just never had a problem. You need heavy strong anchors,
heavy chain, and all the USCG recommended rode. You will want (and possibly need) the second anchor as a spare. Many Loopers
loose an anchor. If you loose one, you will most likely need the other immediately. So having a spare is a good idea.

10.) Fresh water filter - Except for making coffee, we don't drink the water from our fresh water tank as we have bottled water. If you
do, we recommend a good water filter system. It will just make your coffee & water taste much better.

11.) TV - If TV is important, you will need a digital unidirectional air TV antenna. Free air digital TV is available all around the Loop.

12.) Bimini top - you will need one. The stronger & bigger the more shade it provides, and the better and more comfortable you will be.

13.) Your boat's engine(s) - Remember. . . It will NOT matter much at all how fast your boat is capable of going. On America's Great
Loop, your speed is very limited over most of your entire voyage. If you truly need or want to make this voyage on a frugal budget it will
be imperative to select a boat or an engine based on
a minimum hourly fuel burn rate, and vitally important you know what it is.
Your comfort is the key to how small your boat can possibly be. For sure, living a-board and cruising long distance over an extended
period of time demands a boat that you and your mate or crew can live on comfortably and safely.

How large should your boat be?
It should fit like your shoe - not too big, not too small. It should be absolutely no larger than one person can safely handle alone. Now, if
your first thought was either "the bigger the better" - shame on you. Frugal or not, this is an important safety feature when it comes to
cruising. Accidents happen. We all get sick. Some of us have been known to bruise, bust or break a toe or finger. When it comes to
accidents, they happen!. Your vessel should be easily & safely handled by everyone one on board.

Boat size:  In our experience with both power and sail, and with sailboats, cruisers and trawlers. . . We have found a vessel in the 28' to
36' range (for couples) is about as good as it gets. After 36' it gets much more expensive and difficult to handle. Smaller is not only more
economical, it is safer and easier to handle. Keep in mind, even with 'cruising couples' your boat should always be safe and easy to
handle by one person - and that one person should be the weakest person of the two.

Trawlers:  Are very popular (if not the most popular) vessels for cruising the Great Loop. The main reason for this is they provide the
most living a-board space and comfort of any boat of comparable size. If you are cruising on a budget, a small 32 - 36 foot (full
displacement hull) Trawler with a small single engine offers the very best in comfort, amenities and economy. A (full-displacement hull)
single engine Trawler in this size range will burn very near 1 gallon an hour. Which in my book is great comfort and economy.   

Cruisers:  Live a-board size powerboats such as Cruisers and semi-displacement hull Trawlers (and any other vessels capable of
planning) will be your
very most expensive vessel to take around the Great Loop. These vessels simply were not designed for fuel
economy, nor were they designed for slow speed. They will be equipped with twin engines and - for an example - a day long cruise down
the Erie Canal (at 10mph) in a twin-engine 36 foot Cruiser or semi-displacement Trawler would cost you $250 a day (or more) in fuel.

Sailboats:  For the frugal minded voyager a sailboat (even if you never sail and only power your way around the Loop) is for sure
the cheapest way to go. No other affordable vessel for such a frugal budget, will give you the economy of a sailboat under power. Of
course, being able to sail it as much as possible is an even greater advantage. Powering the entire way around the Great Loop in a 36
foot live a-board size sailboat is possible with a fuel burn rate below  0.5 gallon per hour.  Last year, I did just that! In 2010-2011 my son  
did it in a 28 footer and averaged slightly less then 0.25 gallons per hour.

The "KISS" boating philosophy is "Keep It Simple Sailor" and "go small, go now, and stay out longer". With this in mind, my quest with
the last four voyages around the Loop has been for "more fun than fuel". So remember: the kind of boat you choose for making this
voyage, must be no smaller than one you can live comfortable on. It should also be no larger than one can safely handle alone.   

Additionally, you need to pay as much attention to the cockpit & helm station area on your boat being as comfortable (if not more so)
then your cabin. If you voyage the Great Loop by each area's boating season, you will be cruising through 95% good to great weather.
When cruising, about 8 hours a day will be spent in the cockpit. So don't overlook your comfort in the cockpit.

Me? Well, I view my boat more like a suitcase with a bed and a head. With the exception of sleeping, my comfort and safety in the cockpit
is most important to me.
Great Loop Boat - choices
Like shoes, there simply is not a "one size fits all" when it comes to cruising America's Great Loop, this voyage is more about
comfort, lifestyle, philosophy & pocketbook
.

For this reason, we need a boat big enough to fit in our safety and comfort. At the same time, we need one small enough to fit our safety
and pocketbook. Problem is - finding the right balance of the two - as our lifestyle and boating philosophy must fit in there as well.

If you're on a budget - you need to be very careful in your boat selection. Boat price and any loan payments set aside, the moment you
select your boat, you have selected your long term cruising expenses and cost of ownership.
How big is a "big" pleasure boat?

Bet you didn't know = According to USCG statistics - of all the more then 13
million pleasure boats registered in the United States, fewer than 1% are 40 feet
or longer.

We get flooded with e-mails from first time boat buyers asking about boat size.
Amazingly, many think they need a 60 footer. While we have all heard the
phrase "Bigger is Better"  - when it comes to living a-board & cruising -
"bigger" has very small safe limits. Your vessel should only be as big as your
comfort demands and your safety requires.

The moment you choose your boat, you have also determined your long-term
cruising, owning and operating expenses.
Let's start with the maximum boat size and minimum fuel range
for cruising America's Great Loop
How big a boat does one need?
Your comfort & safety both inside & outside is critical
the fantasy when looking on the
"inside" of a boat - good headroom,
nice galley, great salon and berths
etc.
It is important however to remember
- if you are cruising the Great Loop
(or around the world, as far as that
goes) and you boat each area
during it's preferred weather or
boating season - you will be
spending 90% of your "awake" time
in the cockpit. It therefore needs to
be comfortable. Good comfortable
seating, a large Bimini top for shade  
and room for a few amenities such
as food & beverage trays or table,
etc.  Comfort at the helm will make
your day at the helm a much more
enjoyable and comfortable one.    
                                   Your Great Loop boat restrictions:

1.)  Your Great Loop boat must be able to clear a 19' 1" fixed bridge.  This means, after taking off or taking down,
any removable objects on your boat such as; Bimini, Masts, Antennas, etc.  Your boat's super-structure must be able
to pass under a fixed bridge between Chicago and the Illinois River with a height above the water of 19' 1".  
There is
no alternative waterway route around this bridge
.

2.) Your boat "should" have a draft of less than 5 feet.  In other words, all that part of your boat that extends
below the water, should not be deeper than 5 feet. In fact I can not stress enough, the shallower your draft, the
better.   If your plans include cruising the (optional) Canadian Heritage Canals, your full load draft
must be 5 feet or
less.
  NOTE:  There have been vessels in the past that have made this voyage with 6 feet drafts. You can do it - it
will however limit your route options.

3.) Fuel - your boat must have a minimum fuel range of 250 miles.
This is the farthest distance between fuel stops if you take the Tennessee-Tombigbee route. So, unless you plan on
carrying additional fuel in jerry cans, your boat's fuel tank(s) capacity must allow you a cruising range of at least 250
statute miles.

NOTE: (optional route):  If you plan to cruise the Lower Mississippi River route to New Orleans:
Your "diesel powered" boat will need a cruising range of 376 miles.
Your "
gasoline powered" vessel must have a cruising range of 450 miles.
&
Great Boat Names
(we've seen on the Loop)
Interior
36' Island Packet
Sailboat
Interior
36' Grand Banks
Trawler
Comfort
while cruising
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America's Great Loop & Beyond