Cruising the Great Loop

Many types of boats cruise the Great Loop.

Cruising the Great Loop can be an amazing experience for anyone who loves being on the water, but it is not a voyage to be undertaken lightly.

About the Great Loop

The Great Loop - also called the American Loop or the Great Circle - is a long distance circumnavigation voyage that encompasses the entire eastern portion of the United States and parts of Canada, from the Atlantic Coast to the heartland rivers to the Gulf of Mexico. Depending on the route taken, the Great Loop may be from 5,000 to 7,500 miles long and it is primarily in sheltered waters, making it one of the safest long distance cruises in the world. This voyage is undertaken by many avid sailors and cruisers, and as more people take up hobbies such as boating and sailing, the various routes for the Great Loop are becoming ever more popular.


The waterways traversed along the Great Loop can vary significantly depending on the climate, type of boat, and the scenic preferences of the sailors, but the primary waterways generally include:

  • Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway along the eastern seaboard
  • Delaware Bay
  • The Great Lakes
  • Various heartland rivers, including the Hudson, Tennessee, Ohio, and Mississippi Rivers
  • The Gulf of Mexico
  • Lake Okeechobee
  • Assorted locks and canals

Most sailors cruising the Great Loop choose to take advantage of better currents and travel through the Loop counterclockwise, though there are no regulations requiring it and the type of travel is up to the preferences of the boaters.

Tips for Cruising the Great Loop

Cruising such a long distance requires a carefully planned voyage, even for sailors who choose to only complete the Loop in stages that may take several years. When preparing for the voyage, it is advisable to:

  • Study Maps and Charts: Updated resources are necessary to pinpoint available marinas and docking facilities, judge river depths and other navigable features, gauge distances, and otherwise be prepared for what can be a challenging voyage.
  • Stock Up: A voyage around the Great Loop may take several weeks or months depending on the speed of travel, number of stops, and types of side trips. A boat and its crew must be well equipped to handle such a long trip.
  • Be Courteous: Small craft will be sharing the waterways with larger cargo ships, barges, and pleasure boats throughout the trip, and it is necessary to observe speed limits and other warnings to be courteous to fellow sailors.
  • Choose the Right Boat: All types of watercraft circumnavigate the Great Loop, from personal jet skis and kayaks to trawlers and luxury yachts. The boat a sailor chooses should not only be able to handle the route, but should also be comfortable for the length of the trip.
  • Be Prepared to Pay: Charges for locks may range from $5 to $100 depending on the craft requesting passage, and sailors should also have sufficient funds for emergencies, restocking supplies, and enjoying the wonderful sites along the route.
  • Be Patient: There are hundreds of intriguing places to stop along the Great Loop, including large vibrant cities and quaint small towns as well as breathtaking scenery, amazing cultural destinations, and richly diverse ports. Cruisers should take the time to enjoy the immense variety of the voyage with port stops, side trips, and excursions.


Sailing the Great Loop is not as easy as making numerous small voyages. Interested boaters need to take heed of a range of warnings about…

  • Climate: The Great Loop passes through a range of climate zones, including storm areas that can be plagued with severe weather. Before sailing, be sure to understand and know how to handle the boat in predicted (and unpredictable) weather.
  • Bridges: There are many bridges to pass under along the Great Loop, and while many have alternate routes to avoid the bridge, some do not. The lowest bridge that cannot be bypassed has a clearance of less than 20 feet.
  • Depth: The time of year, rainfall levels, and dredging projects can all affect the depth of different rivers. Boaters must be sure their craft will be safe and easy to operate in a variety of depths.

The Great Loop Lifestyle

Cruising the Great Loop is more than just a vacation getaway, it is embracing a river cruise lifestyle. Many "loopers" live aboard their boats for several months each year, if not year round, and anyone interested in joining this elite group of experienced cruisers should be completely comfortable on the water. It is a gentle but rich journey well peppered with boating challenges and new experiences and one that any cruiser will treasure for a lifetime.

Additional Resources

For more information about Great Loop cruising, including tips, charts, and other information, visit the following online resources:

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