Great Loop FAQs

The majority of the questions we receive are answered here. There are FAQs about the Great Loop route and about what the requirements are for a Great Loop-capable boat.

Questions about the Great Loop Route

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.

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 the 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)

How Many Miles Is the Great Loop?

The Great Loop is a minimum of 5,250 miles, 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.

How Long Does It Take to Do the Great Loop?

The Great Loop has been done in as little as six weeks 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.

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

The US. 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

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.

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

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 can use this list as a starting point.  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.

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. (As an additional option on the triangle loop, if you can clear many eight foot bridges, you can take the historic, charming and free Lachine Canal through Montreal rather than the Seaway locks.) 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.

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.

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.

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 exceeds that, there are alternate routes that don't require you cruise the Trent Severn.

What Fuel Range Does My Boat Need to Have?

The farthest distance without a fuel stop along the Great Loop route is between Hoppies in Kimmswick, Missouri on the Upper Mississippi River and Paducah, KY.  This is a distance of about 200 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.