Cruising the Gulf ICW - Padre Island
Can you live on this boat?
Living aboard!
A great Great Loop Boat
The real question here should be: "How small a boat can I safely & comfortably cruise the Loop?"
One good rule of thumb is: Your boat should not be 1 foot smaller than your comfort demands. Nor should it be 1 foot bigger than your
safety requires!
Couples - While you can make this voyage in a 60 footer, (assuming it falls within the above limits), something in the range of 32 to 42 feet is by far
the most popular. Anything over 46 feet borderlines on being too big for one person to handle; and that is a safety issue! Even a cruising couple needs
to plan on the possibility of a health or medical 'emergency' where the weakest person on the boat is left without help getting to the next Port or Marina
safely. That means the weakest person needs to be able to handle the boat safely!
Boats (sail or power) in the range of 32 to 42 feet in length will give most couples plenty of comfort, yet not be so big it is unsafe to handle. Most
couples are cruising in something near 36' trawlers or sailboats. Some of course, do it in smaller vessels, some do it in bigger vessels.
Singles - or "back packer" type younger couples  - can cruise the Loop in just about anything. A boat between 24' to 32' would most likely be ideal. I
know some have done it in smaller and larger vessels, but this is a nice range and anything less than 24' might be too small for a couple, though I know
some that have done it and loved it. I have known several solo voyagers to cruise the Loop in vessels as small as 16' and as large as 46'. The choice is
Understand. . .
I'm not here to pick a boat for you. That's your job! I'm just giving you all your 'better' options, and hopefully it is obvious that a pontoon, open
bow ski boat, or canoe is not a 'better' option. Possibly the best advice I can give you is that your boat should fit you like an old pair of really than
the weakest person aboard can safely handle alone. Safety should always come first. When it comes to accidents, they happen! Your vessel
should be one that is easily & safely "single" handled by "everyone" aboard.

Boat size:  In my experience with both power and sail, vessels in the 32' to 42' range are about perfect for just about anyone. My son and I did it
once in a 28 footer and it was fine, but too small for my comfort. Once you get over 42' things start getting really expensive really fast. Most every
"Marine" item you buy or thing you do (docking, canal, fees, mast stepping, haul outs, etc.) will be based on your vessel's length. Bigger also gets
more complicated. Smaller is not only more economical, it is much simpler.

The "KISS" boating philosophy
"Keep It Simple Sailor" - If I could influence anyone in any way, it would be this! Keep your vessel and everything on it simple; and I do mean as
simple as absolutely possible!
Over the years, I would guess I have stopped in over 1,500 Marinas. In most every Marina I've ever stopped at, (where it is allowed), there is a long
distance voyager fixing something on his boat. It is a frequent scene when a boat comes in to dock. The boater immediately docks, pulls up his
sleeves, gets his tools and disappears in the bilge. Mostly, whatever it is that needs fixing, it usually is a piece of equipment that he doesn't need on
his boat. More & more I see "Loopers" with Dish Washers, Clothes Washer & Dryer, Water Makers, Ice Makers, Satellite TVs and all sorts of "stuff"
that generally doesn't work long, work at all to their liking, or requires an unrealistic amount of time, money and maintenance to keep it all running.
You won't find any of that "unnecessary stuff" on my boat. I stop once a year - every year - and have my vessel checked out from bow to stern, top
to bottom, inside & out by a trusted Certified Marine Mechanic. He checks and replaces what ever needs replacing and gives my engine a good
tune up. As a result, in 24 years I have never had any mechanical failures. I've never been stranded on the water and I've never had an engine
stop on me. My opinion? (and I tell everyone this I meet), A good certified Marine mechanic will cost more than the part-time handy man and
backyard mechanic or boater at the Marina - but they are worth it!  Believe me, they are worth every penny!  
Great Loop by each area's boating season, you will be cruising in 95% good weather. When cruising, 7 or 8 hours a day, you will be spending that
time in the cockpit. So don't overlook your comfort in the cockpit as well as in the cabin, because this is where you will spend about 75% of all your
"awake" time.
Last and certainly not least. . . Buy the boat you want!  It doesn't really make a hill of beans what I say, or what anyone else says. You are the one
that has to pay for it, live in it, buy fuel for it, maintain it, and cruise in it. The Great Loop will (or at least should) take you the best part of a year. . .
You have to be comfortable and happy with your boat selection!
Best Great Loop Boat Choices
How big is a big boat?
If your dreaming of a 60 footer, or bigger - That's BIG! - You might want to think again.
According to USCG statistics - of all the more than 25 plus million pleasure boats registered in the United States, fewer than 1% are 40 feet or longer.
Of those 1% over 40 feet only 1 in 10,000 of them reaches 48 feet.
Think about that a moment! That alone should tell you something. . . And believe me there is good reason for it.
We get flooded with emails about boat size all the time. Amazingly, many have their eyes on a 60 footer or even
larger.  While we have all heard the phrase "Bigger is Better". . . When it comes to actually cruising "long distance" -  bigger has its very safe and
affordable smaller limits. In addition, when cruising America's Great Loop, there are some 'size' restrictions that limit the size of your "Great Loop" boat.
While we all have our "dream boats", few (very few) of us actually own it. The reasons go far beyond the price tag. Most new and novice boaters have
predetermined ideas about the size of boat they "think" they need or simply want. Fact is, ask any Boat Dealer or Broker, and they will tell you when it
comes to a "live aboard size long distance cruising boat" the biggest mistake inexperienced buyers make is "buying too big".
A Great Loop boat should NOT be 1 foot smaller than your comfort demands, nor 1 foot bigger than your safety requires.
Let's start with the maximum boat size and minimum fuel range
for YOUR Great Loop boat:
How big a boat do I need to cruise the Loop?
Your comfort & safety both inside & outside is critical
1.)  Your Great Loop boat "must" be able to clear a 19' 6" fixed bridge.  This means, after taking off or taking down, any removable
objects on your boat such as; Bimini, Masts, Antennas, Radar Arch, etc.  Your boat's super structure must be able to pass under a 19'
6" fixed bridge just south of Chicago on the Illinois River.
NOTE:  There is no alternative waterway route around this bridge.
 If your vessel won't make it under this bridge, your Great Loop becomes a Great U-Turn!

2.)  Your boat "should" have a draft of 5 feet or less.  In other words, all that part of your boat that extends below the water,
should not be deeper than 5 feet. I can not stress enough, the shallower your draft the better! If your plans include cruising the
(optional) Canadian Heritage Canals, your fully loaded draft
must be 5 feet or less.  
 There have been vessels in the past that have made this voyage with 6 feet drafts by passing the Canadian Canals. You can
do it - it will however limit your route options. We however RECOMMEND a draft very near 4-feet or less.

3.) Beam -  For pleasure boats in the USA, beam or width is never a problem. You must have a beam of less than 23 feet to enjoy
cruising the Trent-Severn & Canadian Heritage Canals.

4.)  Fuel - your boat must have a minimum fuel range of 208 miles. This is the CURRENT 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 208-statute miles. However, the last 48-miles of this 208-distance is against a
mighty 2 to 3-mph current while will slow you down as well as use more fuel. For this, and other reasons, we suggest Loopers have a
minimum fuel range of at least 250-miles.

If you plan to cruise the full length of the
Lower Mississippi River (optional route):  
                          Your "diesel powered" boat must have a cruising range of 376 miles.
                     Your "
gasoline powered" vessel must have a cruising range of 450 miles.
36' Island Packet
36' Grand Banks
© 1993 - 2019
Free Great Loop Newsletter
The "Trawler" is known as "The Great Loop Boat". It is
without doubt the most popular boat among Loopers -
and for many great reasons.
For it's size, it offers the most comfortable interior live aboard
space of any vessel. In addition, it has good safe 360 degree
walk around deck space that is especially great for locks and
A Trawler with a full displacement hull and a single engine is
also a very fuel efficient vessel. This makes the vessel the
2nd most fuel efficient vessel (for its size) to cruise around the
While a new one might cost you $300,000 or more, a good
late model Trawler will cost you $100,000 or less. A much
older model or handy man special can be found for $25,000
or less.
In fact I looked at a 36' Trawler recently that would
make a fantastic "Loop Boat" listed (and ready to go) for only
$15,000. If you are patient and determined, you can find a
great deal on a great safe, seaworthy Trawler.   
REMINDER - I am in NO WAY suggesting anyone select a boat like mine or cruising the Loop as I do. This voyage is something that demands your
level of safety, comfort, convenience and amenities. Your comfort requirements are certainly different than mine and vice versa. We all have our
own lifestyles, comfort zones, boating philosophy, and pocketbook. It is critically important that you remain in your comfort zone physically and
financially. Do what makes "you and your 1st Mate" comfortable & happy. I'm just here to give you options and alternatives as food for thought!
- Cruising America's Great Loop - The Looper's Companion Guide -
Think your 1st Mate could live in one of the above for a year while cruising America's Great Loop?
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The above 3 interior pictures are of a 34' Mainship Trawler. If a cruising couple can't live happily in this for a year,
we highly suspect they couldn't live together on an Aircraft Carrier. a

    Point is, (and Boat Dealers will verify) the most popular MISTAKE first time "live aboard size" boat buyers make
is buying TOO BIG a boat. If you ask the MOST EXPERIENCED long distance voyagers and most have "traded
down" in size rather than traded up. For sure, once you have spent a few months cruising the Loop - You will have
had these two thoughts: "I wish I had a smaller boat." and "I wish I had a bigger boat". That's just the way it is.
Under some circumstances no boat is big enough. Under other circumstances no boat is small enough. So what
every "experienced" boater wants is that perfect size in the middle.

    Comfort is the key. If you don't buy a boat that is more than 1 foot bigger than your comfort demands or 1 foot
smaller than your safety requires. . . You will have purchased the perfect size boat for you!  
Great Loop Boat Size Restrictions & Fuel Range Requirements:
The two vessels below are both 36 footers - as you can see - plenty of comfort for two people!