Great Loop Cruising Guide

By October 26, 2020May 29th, 2021Explore
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash | Great Loop | Snag-A-Slip

Are you ready for the experience of a lifetime on your own boat? For many boaters, cruising America’s Great Loop is the ultimate adventure. And, each year the number of “Loopers” grows. They follow the trail of red and green markers to remarkable places where they’re steeped in our country’s history, introduced to new people, and presented with stunning and ever-changing vistas and sunsets. If that’s what you’re looking for, then it’s all hands on deck!

What is the Great Loop?

The Great Loop is 5,000 – 6,000 miles of waterways that allow boaters to circumnavigate the eastern U.S., and part of Canada. The route includes the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, the New York State Canals, the Canadian Canals, the Great Lakes, the inland rivers, and the Gulf of Mexico. You can even chart your own course. There are several points on the route where you have the option to choose waterways.

Now, circumnavigating the eastern half of the U.S. and Canada at the wheel of our own craft is no small endeavor. That’s why the gang at Snag-A-Slip recommends you do your homework ahead of time by taking a look at America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association’s Public Interactive Map.

You’ll be able to easily and quickly see all your options laid out for you.

That being said, if you choose the primary waterways on the basic route, here’s what’s on your horizon:

Starting on the East Coast, the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) runs from Miami, FL, to Norfolk, VA, where a turn to port takes you up the Chesapeake Bay and across to the Delaware Bay, then down to Cape May, NJ, on the Atlantic Coast. From there you’ll head north up the coast to the celebrated New York Harbor and the Hudson River, then north until it ends at a junction at Troy, NY. There you’ll choose to either go west on the Erie Canal or north to Lake Champlain. Both routes will lead you to Lake Ontario and Canada’s Trent-Severn Waterway that flows into Georgian Bay and North Channel of Lake Huron.

From there your course will take you south on Lake Michigan which leads to Chicago and the Illinois, Mississippi, Ohio, and Tennessee Rivers to the Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway that flows into Mobile Bay and the Gulf of Mexico.

That’s where the loop will follow the Gulf coast of the Florida Panhandle to Southwest Florida. From there you can choose to cross the state on the Okeechobee Waterway, or continue south to the Florida Keys and down and around the southern tip of the state, which brings you back on the ICW at Miami. You’ve completed the Loop when you cross your wake where you began. When you do, you can proudly wear the name Looper.

How long will it take to complete the loop?

Well, Captain, that’s entirely up to you and your crew. Most folks tell us they went too fast during the first two months of their trip, finding they wanted to slow down and enjoy every port. What you’ll find is that pacing your cruise and knowing how long to stay in any one place is something you discover as you’re underway. However, the “average” time, based on 8 or 9 knots or 50 miles per day, can take anywhere from 9 month to a year to complete.

For plain sailing, most Loopers time their departure so they’ll

Photo by Alice Donovan Rouse on Unsplash | Great Loop | Snag-A-Slip

be in northern waters in the summer and southern waters in the winter.

If you’re not ready to dedicate a solid block of time, that’s not a problem. Some Loopers plan their trip so they’re aboard for the summer months then store their boat until the next season, picking up where they left off. Others take breaks whenever the wind moves them, returning home for the holidays or for family events.

Whether you run a tight ship or prefer to let the winds and your whims take you, there’s a loop just for you.

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When searching for all marinas, use our Interactive Map! Or check out our partner Marinalife with their marina listings for reference!

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Author Jo

Jo is a lifelong boat lover and writer. She learned the ropes of boating on her family’s 36’ Carver at the Jersey (joy-see) shore. With over 30 years of writing under her belt, she delights in seeking out, and sharing, the things most important to fellow boating enthusiasts. Jo now lives in Connecticut, near the water she adores, with her husband, two children and large, hairy dog. She is over the moon to be part of the Snag-A-Slip crew!

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