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This means that your vessel’s super-structure; all that part of your boat left over after you take down your mast, antennas, Bimini top, radar arch, etc.,
must be able to cruise under this 19.6’ fixed bridge. While there are many other lower bridges, this is the lowest fixed bridge every Looper must go
under. In other words, all routes lead here and there is no alternative waterway route around this bridge.
This bridge is located at Mile 300.6 on the Chicago Sanitary Ship Canal and it is our only waterway link from the Great Lakes to the Illinois, Mississippi
and Inland rivers. If you can’t clear this bridge, your Great Loop becomes a Great U-turn.
Assuming you can clear 19’ 6” you are good to go anywhere on the Great Loop’s most popular routes with only two (2) exceptions.
2. 17-feet 0-inches – If you can clear 17’, you can cruise through downtown Chicago.
3. 15-feet 6-inches – In order to cruise the full-length (western half) of the Erie Canal, you must be able to clear a 15’ 6” fixed bridge.
If you wish to remain strictly on the “American Side” of this voyage – or if you simply desire to cruise the full-length of the Erie Canal from the Hudson
River to Buffalo, NY and into Lake Erie - you must have a vertical clearance of 15’ 6”. This will be also be the route to take if you do not have a
Passport, or do not wish to cruise Canada. There are two 15’ 6” fixed bridges on the Erie Canal just beyond the Three-Rivers Junction to the Oswego
Canal. The Oswego Canal has a 21’ vertical clearance and this is your route to Lake Ontario and on to Canada.
For Sailboats: There are several locations where you will have to un-step your mast. They will be on the Hudson River before you reach Federal
Lock 1 and enter the New York State Canal System.
From there, you can have your mast stepped in either Oswego, NY if going to Canada, or in Tonawanda, NY, if cruising the Erie Canal to Buffalo and
Lake Erie. If you are cruising Canada’s popular Trent-Severn Canal, you must un-step your mast again before entering the Trent-Severn and you can
have it re-stepped after existing the Trent Severn into Georgian Bay.
If you take the full-length of the Erie Canal, you can sail from Buffalo, NY to Chicago, where you will have to have your mast un-stepped in the
Chicago area before leaving Lake Michigan. Afterwards, if you have a mast height of 52' or less, you can have your mast stepped at Staved Rock
Marina on the Illinois river. From there, you can cruise all the way to the Okeechobee Waterway where there is a 49’ fixed bridge at Port Mayaca, or
you can cruise around the Florida Keys.
If you take the inside route on the NJ-ICW, there are several 35’ fixed bridges. Most sailors will go outside as draft may also be a problem. Those that
go outside and leave their mast up can leave it up until just before reaching Federal Lock 1 and the NY State Canal System.
All total, if staying on the Great Loop’s most popular routes, a Looper in a sailboat can expect to sail about 25% of the total Great Loop distance.
BOAT DRAFT RESTRICTIONS:
A draft of 5-feet or less is highly recommended. A draft of 4' or less will be much better, and fact is the shallower your draft, the most stress free it will
be. If you plan on cruising an of Canada’s Heritage Canals, including the very popular Trent-Severn Waterway, you must have a fully-loaded draft of
5’ or less. Any more makes you subject to either not being allowed in, having to sign a damage waiver or having to wait for rainfall and deeper waters.
While we know a few “Loopers” that have cruised ‘the American side” of this voyage as well as the St. Lawrence Seaway and Great Lakes via the
Welland Canal with 6’ drafts. We just don’t recommend it. In fact, to cruise through all the most protected waterways including the New Jersey ICW, we
favor a draft much closer to 4-feet or less.
Most vessels including the popular Trawlers up to about the 42-foot range will have a draft of 5’ or less. Typically, only the larger sailboats will have
drafts that exceed 5-feet. Simply put, while a 5’ draft is good to go. The less draft you have, the less stressful your voyage will be and the less risk you
have of running aground.
BOAT BEAM or WIDTH RESTRICTIONS:
Any beam or width less than 23-feet maximum will give you complete access to all Great Loop main routes and most popular detours and side-trips.
For cruising Canada’s Heritage Canals including the Trent-Severn Canal your vessel must have a beam of 23’ or less.
For access to the best Marinas we suggest a beam of 16-feet or less. Most Marinas are unable to accommodate wide catamarans with 18’ beams or
wider. To accommodate vessels with more wide beams, many marinas will charge double because your vessel will be taking up the space normally
used to accommodate two vessels. Larger vessels and most catamarans, will also often be placed ‘out on the T’ or at the end of the fuel dock
because they are unable to fit in a slip.
BOAT LENGTH RESTRICTIONS:
How does 90-feet sound? The length of your boat is more of a matter of safety, common sense and affordability than a physical restriction. Physical
length restrictions include a maximum of 90-feet on the Trent-Severn Canal and Canada’s Heritage canals, and 300-feet in the US.
The average Looper's boat is very near 36-feet in length. Very few Looper’s boats exceed 46-feet.
Aside from safe handling, lots of things happen once a vessel exceeds 42-feet in length. Fact is, one should consider the entire Great Loop route.
With a few exceptions, especially on the Inland rivers, many marinas along the Great Loop cannot accommodate a vessel over 42-feet in length. In
fact, not all Marinas provide slips for vessels over 36-feet. Larger boats often end up docked ‘out on the T’ or at the end of the fuel dock. Once a boat
exceeds 42-feet, most everything on or about it becomes exponentially more expensive the longer it gets. For a couple cruising long distance, a 28’ to
38’ vessel can be very comfortable and affordable indeed. Solo voyagers can be very safe and comfortable in a vessel between 24’ to 28’. We know
solo Loopers that have made this voyage in 16’ to 25’ vessels and couples that have made this voyage in 25’ vessels. So, you're the captain, you're
in command, and the choice is yours.
BOAT FUEL RANGE REQUIREMENTS:
The “no reserve” bottom line is: Your vessel must have a minimum fuel range of 252-miles on the most popular Tennessee-Tombigbee route to the
Gulf. It will also be imperative that you know your fuel burn rate ‘per hour’ (gph) as well as your mpg.
Sailboats will have to run under power on this leg of the voyage and smaller powerboats with outboard motors and small fuel tanks, must be able to
cruise 252-miles. So, additional fuel tanks or jerry cans may be required.
This 252-miles is from Alton Marina on the Upper Mississippi River to Paducah. The voyage consists of cruising a precise 252-miles with the last 48-
miles being against a very strong (2- to 3-mph) current. In a sailboat or slow boat with a 7-mph maximum speed, the last 48-miles can be a 10 or 12-
hour voyage. Therefore, it is mandatory you know your GPH (gallons per hour) fuel burn rate at cruise speed as well as your MPG (miles per gallon).
While there are safe anchorages along the way, this 252-miles is the maximum distance between fuel stops on the entire Great Loop.
Note: It should be noted that this 252-mile fuel range takes into consideration that the legendary Hoppies Marina, at Mile 158.5 on the Upper
Mississippi River is either closed or unable to provide fuel. As regrettable as it is, Hoppies has had more than its fair share of problems with the
weather and the waterway. Exposed as it is on the Mississippi, Hoppies ability to withstand the troubles it has had puts its future in jeopardy.
YOUR GREAT LOOP BOAT:
It can be sail or power. It can run on gasoline or diesel. It can have one engine or two. Most importantly, it must be safe, suitable, seaworthy and
comfortable. On any route you chose, your Great Loop capable vessel must meet the following basic requirements:
1. Sailboats must have dependable auxiliary power and fuel storage.
2. All vessels sail or power must have a minimum safe fuel range of 208-miles.
3. All vessels must be able to clear a 19’ 6” fixed bridge.
4. All vessels should have a draft of 5-feet or less. We recommend near 4' and less is better!
5. You must be able to clear 17’ to cruise through downtown Chicago.
6. You must be able to clear 15’ 6” to cruise the full length of the Erie Canal.
7. Your vessel must have a beam of 23-feet or less - if cruising Canada's Trent Severn Waterway.
8. Your vessel cannot be longer than 90-feet - if cruising Canada’s Trent Severn or Heritage Canals.
9. Your vessel must have a draft of 5-feet or less if cruising the Trent Severn.
10. Your vessel must have a good working depth finder.
11. Your vessel must have a VHF radio.
12. Your vessel must have all USCG required safety equipment.
13. Your vessel must have a good anchoring system.
14. You will need a good GPS-chartplotter with complete coverage for the entire route.
The perfect Great Loop boat - will of course, be the one you complete the Great Loop in. Since we all have our own likes, dislikes, lifestyles,
comfort zones, and budgets, we all have our own vision of the perfect Great Loop boat. Since we know there is not one perfect boat for all of us; we’ve
included the following to help you decide on the best boat for you, and how best to equip your boat.
Our most fervent suggestion regarding your choice of boat, is to keep it and everything on it as simple as possible. We know from personal experience
the very most complicated aspect of cruising the Great Loop will be your boat and the equipment & amenities you install on it.
Actually, cruising the Great Loop route itself is very simple, safe and easy. In almost 100% of the time, any trouble or problems you have along the
way will be a result of your choice of boat and/or the equipment you install on it. The most simple humble boat will result in the very most stress free,
care-free and fun voyage. We simply cannot stress this enough.
There are some absolute boat size limits, restrictions and requirements that every Great Loop capable boat must meet. They
BOAT HEIGHT RESTRICTIONS:
1. 19-feet 6-inches – For every Looper regardless of route, in order to cruise the entire Great Loop, the maximum overhead clearance that
limits the height of your boat above the water is 19’ 6”. While this bridge is officially charted at 19.7-feet at MLW, to cruise the Great Loop your vessel
MUST be able to cruise under this (normally) 19’ 6” fixed bridge.
Yes! I'm living the dream. . . But, I'm certainly not living it the way I dreamed it. No, not by a long shot.
Plan A - The Dream Boat - had me cruising in a yacht complete with a crewed staff and waitresses in bikinis serving me umbrella drinks. Obviously,
that never happened!
Plan B - The "Big Boat" Mistake - was a 44 footer and a twin engine fuel burning dragon. It sucked up about 5 x more fuel than I ever thought
possible, and staying in a marina was as expensive as a hotel. I was having to pour all my "fun money" down my fuel tank(s).
Plan C - The Voyage - Once I realized my dream was "the voyage" and not "the boat". I made this voyage more affordable motoring around in a 36'
sailboad. It was my most fuel efficient method of cruising.
Plan D - Now, (after my son cruised the Loop in one), I now have found safety, comfort, and affordability in a 26' C-Dory. It offers plenty of comfort
and easy access for docking & locking.
I love my "Plan D".
|Plans 'C & D' below worked great for me!
|Make cruising Americ'a Great Loop your plan!
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It also has complete cruising cost comparisons to help you determine your boat & boat related
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Follow this 140-travel day guide, and you will always know what's up ahead, including how far it is to
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