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If spending a year on beautiful American waterways and having adventures that take you back to the stories of Huckleberry Finn sounds like something you’d enjoy experiencing, then you may wish to continue reading. In this post, we’ll discuss the highlights of cruising America’s Great Loop, a passage that will fill you with a lifetime of memories.

What is the Great Loop?

Many of us have heard of the Great Loop, but what does it entail exactly? The Great Loop consists of about 6,000 miles of continuous cruising grounds that, depending on where you start, can take you up the eastern seaboard, across the New York canals, into Canada, across the Great Lakes, and then through the inland rivers of the Illinois and Mississippi until you finally arrive in the Gulf of Mexico.

How long is the Great Loop?

 

Where do I start my Great Loop trip?

Where do you start this journey? The geographical point at which you start this great adventure really depends on you. Since it takes about a year to fully traverse the Loop, choose the season window that best fits your starting location.
What is the best time of year to travel the Great Loop?

Portions of the Loop can be traveled any time of the year. If you start in Florida in the spring, you can easily travel up the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). This plan will have you crossing the northern states during the summer months when the climate is just perfect. Cruise down the Illinois and Mighty Mississippi during the Fall and finally make your way back east across the Gulf in winter.

Why travel the Great Loop?

The Army Corp of Engineers maintains much of our waterways in America. On the Loop, there are some legs that are on the open ocean, but the majority of the passage consists of protected waters – rivers and the ICW. To many who either see ocean passages as a daunting endeavor or those who do not have the boat for it, the Great Loop is distance cruising at its safest.

What boat should I use to travel the Great Loop?

Boat choice is where things get tricky, so let’s talk about the perfect Looper boat. The boat you pick to do the Loop does not have to be expensive. In fact, many have traveled with small cabin cruisers in the 30’- 40’ range. Others motor with sailboats by unstepping the mast and taking advantage of their small, efficient diesels.

Boat limitations

Along the Loop you will have adventures encountering locks, low bridges and small marinas. Your Goldilocks boat will have had length, beam, draft and overall height all factored into the equation.Great loop

 

Length

The length of a Great Loop boat is very important. After much consideration, many Loopers decide on a boat between 36’-42’ LOA. That is primarily because many marinas will have issues accommodating anything bigger. Costs go up significantly when your only choice is to end tie or side tie. The second point here is that if you are traveling as a couple, anything over 42’ can start to get hard to handle with just two people.

Beam

The maximum beam allowed into some of the Canadian canals such as the Tren-Severn Canal is 23’. There are however, other factors you should consider as well, which takes us back to discussing marinas.

Your berthing costs will go up significantly if you are wider than a 16-foot beam because there are fewer that can accommodate you. With that in mind, look for a boat with a 16’ foot beam or less.

Draft

The Loop is doable with a boat drafting 5’, although 4’ is better and 3’ is preferred. The less draft the better. There will be many shallow areas and the less you have to stress about hitting hard things below the surface, the better.

Height

Your boat’s height is one of the most important factors to consider if you wish to go everywhere the Loop has to offer. The lowest known bridge clearance on the Loop is 15’-6”. This bridge is located at the western side of Erie Canal. If you can keep your entire height lower than 15’-6” you will not have any other known bridge clearance issues on the entire trip.

Costs

Captain John has great information about the costs associated with doing the Loop and he has actually cruised the Loop with a 36’ sailboat after cutting off the mast. He spent less than $2,500 in fuel which is included in his one-year total boat related costs of $12,569.

But wait, there’s more…if we’ve wet your whistle, good, because we have more to share with you. As you turn your Looper dream into a reality, look to these sites for more information:

  • Americas Great Loop Cruisers Association is a membership organization that holds rendezvous and other events.
  • Ron and Eva Stob are well known writers in the boating community and have a lot of Great Loop information on their site.
  • Captain John runs one of the most detailed sites about the Great Loop. He covers expenses, size limitations, the route and the lifestyle you will be a part of. Captain John is also the author of The Looper’s Companion Guide, the highly sought after Looper how-to manual.