The Intracoastal Waterway, or ICW, is a 3,000-mile (4,800 km) inland waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States. It runs from Boston, Massachusetts, south along the Atlantic coast and around the southern tip of Florida, then following the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas.
The Intracoastal Waterway allows boaters to travel the east coast of America without having to enter the Atlantic Ocean.
It’s a rather narrow river, or canal, that’s protected from the ocean. The best boats to travel down the ICW are motorboats or sailboats with a mast no higher than 64’ or a keel not too much deeper than 5’.
There’s a stretch of the ICW that will, however, allow boats with tall masts (over 64’) and deeper keels (7’ or so) running from Palm Beach to Fort Lauderdale. All the bridges within this stretch open up. The depths are around 13’ for the whole passage (or so the charts stay). In other parts of the ICW, the bridges are 65’ high and don’t open.
After spending loads of time in the Atlantic swell we thought we’d have a go in the flat calm waters of the Intracoastal Waterway. The plan was to stay one night at the Palm Harbor Marina in Palm Beach where we exited the Atlantic Ocean.
After our night’s stay, we found a restaurant dock that would allow us to dock overnight.
The Two Georges, located north of Del Ray, had a jetty with a depth deep enough for our 7.5’ keel. And our solo sailing companion, Michael on s/v Entitled would be able to ‘raft’ onto us. Rafting means that we’d tie ourselves to the jetty (side-to) and then Michael would tie Entitled on to us. And failing the Two George’s, there was a spot that allowed for anchoring with the depth we needed not further on.
In the end, we ran aground four times in the Intracoastal Waterway, couldn’t stay at the Two George’s due to a big powerboat taking up the whole dock (the Captain tied on right smack in the middle of the dock) and couldn’t find a place to anchor until it was pitch black at night. We were supposed to go through four bridges and stop and I think we finally found a place to anchor after 13 bridges or so?!
Needless to say, it was a brilliant journey.If you're going to sail to Florida consider motoring along the ICW. Here are 10 reasons why:Click To Tweet
Here are the 10 reasons a sailor should take a journey down the Intracoastal Waterway
1. Boaters don’t follow any rules.
Boats go as fast or as slow as they want. And regarding speed, as long as the boat is not in a ‘no wake’ zone it can fly by. And for the most part, the ‘no wake’ zones are only around the bridges. It’s a rather lawless canal where huge mega yachts cruise through at 30 knots and small sailboats putter along at 3 knots. You have to experience it to believe it. There’s no etiquette.
2. The architecture is eclectic and there is loads to look at.
There are no duplicates. All the properties are different. Some are ginormous palaces and others look like inner-city apartment blocks. You’ll see traditional homes and super, super modern fortresses. One plot will have a shack and the next will have a 50 million dollar mansion. There are so many properties to look at, there’s never a dull moment.
3. The boats that you’ll see along the journey are eye-catching!
Some of the Intracoastal Waterway mega-yachts are larger than the mega homes. Others are flat out interesting to look at. There are gold pimp-yachts and four-story moving islands. There are tour boats and even a floating tiki bar to check out. If you’re not ogling over the homes, you’ll certainly ogle over the boats.
4. There’s no swell – errrr, there’s no constant swell.
The Atlantic swell can really get a sailor down. Every few minutes the boat shifts from left to right left to right left to right indefinitely. It’s annoying. For those that experience seasickness, it’s downright debilitating. In the ICW, however, there’s only a swell when a boat larger than you pass by. Sure, there were many boats passing us through our passage but the swell was only temporary!
5. The atmosphere is electric.
There’s always something happening. One bridge is opening and another is about to close. A superyacht is trying to pass. You’re trying to pass a slowpoke. A bunch of silly teenagers are jet-skiing within inches of your bow. A tiny motorboat is pulling a tuber. Bars are turning out loud live music. You run aground. It’s crazy.
6. There’s nature to admire.
Interestingly, amongst all the mega yachts, mansions, and hubbub in the Intracoastal Waterway there’s a massive amount of birds, mangroves, natural areas, green areas, and sea life. If you get out of your cockpit and away from the constant chatter on the VHF, there are parts of the ICW that are actually quiet and peaceful.
7. There’s an awesome sense of camaraderie.
During our two day passage, we enjoyed saying ‘thank you’ to the bridge operators for opening and hearing their ‘thank you’ back. And at one point in our journey down the Intracoastal Waterway, there were five sailboats in a convoy. The first boat, a boat that we didn’t know, would VHF the bridge operator and give the names of all the boats in the convoy. Although it was a crazy waterway there was a sense of kinship with the people we had to interact with and travel with.
Even if you’re not a keen bridge lover it’s amazing to see each and every bridge. They’re all different! Some open faster and others slower. Some have really awesome gears. Others are broken and only one side opens – providing the captain a very narrow gap to maneuver (watch my video below)!
9. A sense of adventure – especially if you have a deep keel! The charts are not accurate.
We ran aground four times. Each time only spending a few minutes being stuck. It’s not ideal to run aground but it certainly adds a bit of spice to the journey. Ever time we ran aground it was more of a slow stop. We were only going a slow speed so no damage was done. And eventually, the tide would rise if we got really stuck.
10. Stories to tell.
Perhaps our journey wasn’t typical? I can only speak for ourselves but I felt it was a very fulfilling experience. There were loads to see and take in. Yeah, we ran aground which isn’t ideal but we found a way off. It was an adventure. One that I will always remember.
So there you have it. Ten reasons to take a journey down the Intracoastal Waterway. Watch our video below to gain a tiny insight to our journey 🙂 Perhaps after we’ve had enough of sailing (if that ever happens), Simon and I will buy a motorboat and do the Great Loop.
The Great Loop is a system of waterways that encompasses the eastern portion of America and part of Canada. It’s made up of both natural and man-made waterways. These include the Atlantic and Gulf Intracoastal Waterways, the Great Lakes, the Rideau Canal, and the Mississippi and Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway. Amazingly, the entire loop is approximately 6,000 miles long.
More Information on the Intracoastal Waterway
Britican does the Intracoastal Waterway – Video
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