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HomeGreat Loop FAQs

Great Loop FAQs

As boaters and potential boaters learn about the Great Loop, they reach out to AGLCA with the same types of questions so we have compiled this FAQ page to answer the most common questions.



Questions About the Great Loop Route

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What Exactly Is the Great Loop?
What Exactly Is the Great Loop?
The Great Loop is a circumnavigation of 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. "Loopers" take on this adventure of a lifetime aboard their own boat.

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What Waterways Comprise the Great Loop Route?
What Waterways Comprise the Great Loop Route?

Because there are several points on the route where there are choices that may send you to different waterways, we recommend you examine our Public Interactive Map.  However, the primary waterways on basic route include:


The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway
The Chesapeake Bay
The C&D Canal
The Atlantic Ocean from Cape May to New York Harbor (or sometimes inland waterways through New Jersey)
The Hudson River
The Erie Canal (or a popular route option on the "Triangle Loop")
The Oswego Canal (or continue on the Erie Canal to Lake Erie)
Lake Ontario
The Trent-Severn Canal
Georgian Bay
Lake Michigan
The Illinois River
The Mississippi River
The Ohio River
The Tennessee River
The Tenn-Tom Waterway
Mobile Bay
The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway
The Okeechobee Waterway (or continue on the Gulf Intracoastal to the Keys)


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How Many Miles Is the Great Loop?
How Many Miles Is the Great Loop?

The Great Loop is a minimum of 5,250, but depending on which route choices and which side trips you do, it can be extended to include thousands more miles.  Most Loopers report their Great Loop trip to be in the 6,000-mile range.


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How Long Does It Take to Do the Great Loop?
How Long Does It Take to Do the Great Loop?

The Great Loop has been done in as little as two months and in as much as 12 years.  Traditionally, Loopers have spent about a year on the route.  After all, it is a seasonal trip.  You’ll want to be on the northern part of the Loop during the warm summer months, the inland rivers in the fall, spend the winter in Florida, and the spring following the warm weather up the eastern portion of the route.

 

We’re seeing a trend towards people doing the Great Loop in segments, cruising for a few weeks or months, and then returning home to take care of business or other responsibilities, and returning to the boat for another segment when possible. 


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How Many States/Provinces/Countries Are Along the Great Loop?
How Many States/Provinces/Countries Are Along the Great Loop?

The U.S. and Canada are usually part of the Great Loop, although one route option keeps you within the U.S. borders.  Some Loopers do a side trip to the Bahamas as well.

 

Depending on route choices, you will go through at least 15 U.S. states and Canadian provinces, which may include:

 
  • Florida
  • Georgia
  • South Carolina
  • North Carolina
  • Virginia
  • Maryland
  • Delaware
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Vermont
  • Quebec
  • Ontario
  • Michigan
  • Wisconsin
  • Illinois
  • Missouri
  • Kentucky
  • Tennessee
  • Mississippi
  • Alabama
 

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Where on the Loop Is the Starting Point?
Where on the Loop Is the Starting Point?
You can start the Great Loop anywhere on the route. The place you intend to start will dictate the time of year that you begin your adventure.  For example, if you're starting from Chicago, you would begin in the fall to reach Florida before winter. Facilities on the northern portion of the route are closed in the winter.

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Why Is the Loop Usually Done Counter-Clockwise?
Why Is the Loop Usually Done Counter-Clockwise?
Although the Great Loop has been done in both directions, it’s usually done counter-clockwise so that you are going with the current, not against it, on the inland rivers.


Questions About Great Loop-Capable Boats

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What's the Best Boat for the Great Loop?
What's the Best Boat for the Great Loop?
The Great Loop has been done in everything from a kayak to a 70' yacht, and everything in between.  The best boat for YOUR Great Loop adventure is a very personal choice.  We recommend making a list of required features and a list of nice-to-have features.  You'll find that the best boat for you may include making some compromises.  A  Buyer's Broker can be extremely helpful in your search for and purchase of a Great Loop boat.

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What Air Draft (Height) Restrictions Are There on the Great Loop Route?
What Air Draft (Height) Restrictions Are There on the Great Loop Route?

The lowest unavoidable fixed bridge on the Great Loop is currently charted at 19.6’ and is located at mile 300.6 on the Illinois River.  The boat you intend to use for the Loop must be able to clear that bridge.  Some members with taller boats are able to get under 19.6’ by lowering antenna, radar arches, etc.  About 8% of our members have sailboats.  Most sailboats will need to unstep the mast to clear the bridges outside of Chicago and upstate New York.

 
Your choice of waterways through New York State and into Canada will also be dependent on your air draft.  If you can clear a 15' bridge, you have the option to take the Erie Canal to its western terminus into Lake Erie.  If you can clear a 17' bridge, you can do the "triangle loop" that takes you into Lake Champlain and through the St. Lawrence Seaway into Lake Ontario.  If the lowest you can clear is 19', you'll take the Erie Canal to the Oswego Canal into Lake Ontario.

Your air draft will also dictate which route you take off Lake Michigan.  To cruise the Chicago River through downtown, you must be able to clear 17' bridges.  If you can't clear that, you will take the Cal-Sag Canal which is south of Chicago to the Illinois River.

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What Is the Maximum Water Draft (Depth) for a Boat Doing the Great Loop?
What Is the Maximum Water Draft (Depth) for a Boat Doing the Great Loop?

It is recommended that your boat for the Great Loop not have a depth much greater than 5’.  The Canadian Canals are maintained at a depth of 6’, but you are required to contact them and sign a waiver if you draw over 5’.  You will also have trouble during low tide on some areas of the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway if you draw more than 5’, and there may be other areas that are difficult to navigate with a draft much deeper than 5’.  That said, many boats with greater than 5' draft have successfully completed the Loop.


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What Is the Maximum Length for a Boat to Do the Great Loop?
What Is the Maximum Length for a Boat to Do the Great Loop?
There is no practical length restriction for doing the Great Loop.  Of course, the larger the boat, the more costly it is to tie-up at marinas that charge by the foot, and the more difficult it becomes to get in and out of some of shallower or “skinnier” waters on the Great Loop.  In reality, however, water draft and air draft will become a problem long before length.  The Trent Severn does have a maximum length of 84 feet, but if you exceed that, there are alternate routes.

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What Is the Maximum Beam (Width) for a Great Loop Boat?
What Is the Maximum Beam (Width) for a Great Loop Boat?
It's hard to imagine a pleasure-boat that is too beamy for the Great Loop.  The only areas where a beam maximum comes into play are in the locks.  Most of the locks in the U.S. were built for commercial traffic, so pleasure craft have no size challenges in these locks.  The smallest width for a lock we know of is the Port Severn Lock on the Trent Severn Waterway at a width of 23’.  If your boat's beam exceed that, there are alternate routes that don't require you cruise the Trent Severn.

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What Fuel Range Does My Boat Need to Have?
What Fuel Range Does My Boat Need to Have?
The farthest distance without a fuel stop along the Great Loop route is between Port Charles/Grafton/Alton on the Upper Mississippi River and Paducah, KY.  This is a distance of about 250 miles.  Some Loopers whose boats do not have the necessary range carry additional fuel in cans, drums, or bladders on the deck for this section of the route.

NOTE: The Paducah fuel dock was closed for an extended period of time for repairs, increasing the range needed to about 300 miles, but it reopened in September 2020.


Questions About What to Bring on the Great Loop

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Can I Bring a Gun on the Great Loop?
Can I Bring a Gun on the Great Loop?
You should leave firearms at home while cruising the Great Loop.  Canada has restrictions on bringing firearms into the country, and several states have restrictions as well.  While we advise against bringing a firearm on the Great Loop, if you choose to do so anyway, we urge you to study the applicable laws before you leave.

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Should I Bring a Bicycle on the Great Loop?
Should I Bring a Bicycle on the Great Loop?
This is a personal choice.  Some say if you don’t use a bike at home, you won’t use it on the Loop. On the other hand, you will be arriving at port without motorized road transportation, and bikes can be an efficient way to get to stores, restaurants, and sites.  Some, but not all, marinas have courtesy cars you can borrow to get around town.  If you decide to bring a bike, consider the effects of the elements on the bike, since it will likely be stored on deck.

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Can I Bring My Pet on the Great Loop?
Can I Bring My Pet on the Great Loop?
Dogs, cats, and even sometimes birds, are frequent Looping companions.  You will want to be sure to carry copies of your pet’s shot records (and make sure you have the documentation you will need to cross international borders with your furry friends).  If you’re bringing a dog and plan to anchor out, don’t forget to plan for your dog to do his or her “business”.  This will mean training your dog to go aboard, or dinghying to shore. Check out our blog post on this topic.

Information on bringing you pet into Canada may be found here.

Information on bringing your pet into the U.S. may be found here.

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Do I Need to Bring Enough Supplies to Last for the Entire Trip?
Do I Need to Bring Enough Supplies to Last for the Entire Trip?
You will have no trouble provisioning just about anywhere on the Great Loop route.  Even the small towns along the way have grocery stores and often, Wal-Marts.  Recently, members have been recommending Amazon Prime as an efficient way to get the supplies they need.  Most marinas will accept packages for you, and with Amazon Prime’s two-day shipping, it’s easier to know where you’ll be to receive the package.


Miscellaneous Questions


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What Do I Do If I Have a "Reluctant Spouse"?
What Do I Do If I Have a "Reluctant Spouse"?
One way to get your spouse comfortable with the Great Loop is to start with shorter trips.  You might also consider attending an AGLCA event where he or she will be exposed to more information about the Great Loop and experience the famous “Looper Camaraderie”.  Talking with others who share the same concerns, and some who have overcome them, can often make a reluctant spouse feel more at ease.  See this article by a formerly reluctant spouse for additional information.

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What Do I Do About Getting the Prescriptions I Need or Access to Healthcare While on the Loop?
What Do I Do About Getting the Prescriptions I Need or Access to Healthcare While on the Loop?
You will most certainly need to talk with your healthcare providers and your health insurance company about your plans before embarking on the Great Loop.  Occasionally, Loopers will return home once or twice during their time on the Loop for routine healthcare.  Non-routine healthcare is usually covered while you’re traveling, but again, please check with your insurance provider.  For prescriptions, we recommend choosing a nationwide pharmacy chain that will have locations in many of the places you will be and computerized access to your prescriptions.  We also recommend traveling with a PDF copy of your prescriptions.  Filling them in Canada may be a bit more challenging than in the U.S., so consider obtaining a three-month supply before entering Canada.  You can also order prescriptions by mail and have them delivered to a marina you know you’ll be approaching soon.

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What Do I Need to Do to Clear Customs When I Cross an International Border?
What Do I Need to Do to Clear Customs When I Cross an International Border?
The U.S. Customs and Border Patrol maintains a website with information on requirements for entering (or re-entering) the U.S. 

When entering (or re-entering) Canada, the process is similar to the above.  Information is available through the Canada Border Services Agency.
















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