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The Great Lakes to the Atlantic: The Three Routes


Sailing to the Atlantic Ocean from the Great Lakes is a significant accomplishment. There are three main ways to do this: through the Mississippi River, the Erie Canal, or the St. Lawrence Seaway. This guide will provide you with information you need to make an informative decision on which route is best for your crew and boat. Included is insights from experienced sailors. By the end of this guide, itching to chart your course and set sail towards the Atlantic Ocean.




Navigating the Path to the Atlantic:

A Guide to Sailing from the Great Lakes


The Mississippi River

The Great Lakes are a popular destination for boaters, but for some, the ultimate goal is to set sail for the Atlantic Ocean. One of the main routes to take is through the Mississippi River, which can be accessed via the Illinois and Michigan Canal. This route will also introduce you to the Tenn-Tom Waterway, a 234-mile waterway that stretches across the United States.


If you are interested in sailing the Great Loop, a popular route that takes you around the eastern coast of the United States and Canada, you may want to start your journey from the Mississippi River. By sailing south from Lake Michigan and following the Chicago River, you can reach the Des Plaines River and continue downstream towards the Illinois River, eventually reaching the Mississippi River near St. Louis. This route will take you across the western part of the Great Loop, which is about half the total distance.


Alternatively, you can depart from St. Louis and head north towards Cairo, Illinois, or sail south towards Memphis and then Greenville, Mississippi. Both of these routes will eventually lead you to the Atlantic Ocean, though you may be closer to New Orleans or the gulf coast of Florida depending on your starting point.


Sailor Tips:

As you sail downstream on the Des Plaines River, you'll find that the gentle breezes can help propel your boat forward without the need to raise your mast. The Tenn-Tom Waterway, while manmade, is still a beautiful sight and is sure to be one of the highlights of your trip. When sailing through the Florida Keys, be sure to be mindful of hurricane season, which runs from June 1st to November 30th. One downside of sailing on the Mississippi River is that you may encounter commercial traffic from other boaters, and some stretches of the trip may not have much to see. However, with careful planning and preparation, you can make the most of your sailing journey from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.


Summary

The Mississippi River is a good option for sailors starting from Lake Michigan or who have already cruised the east coast and the Intracoastal Waterway. The Ten-Tom Waterway, which is a part of this route, is a scenic and enjoyable stretch of water. From the Mississippi River, it is also easy to access the Gulf of Mexico and the Florida Keys. However, this route does have some drawbacks. You will need to take your mast down at certain points, and there will be a lot of motoring involved. Additionally, there is a lot of commercial traffic on the Mississippi River, and some stretches of the river can be monotonous. Overall, the Mississippi River is a good option if you are looking to save time or distance, but it may not be the most exciting route for sailors seeking a more adventurous journey.


Th Erie Canal

One way to reach the Atlantic Ocean from the Great Lakes is to take the Erie Canal, which cuts through Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and Lake Champlain. You can choose between two variations of this route depending on your preferences.


When sailing from the upper Great Lakes, you can either take the Trent-Severn Waterway, a short canal that connects Lake Huron, the Georgian Bay, and Lake Ontario at Port Severn, or head south from Lake Huron to the St. Clair River and then to Lake St. Clair, eventually reaching the Detroit River and Lake Erie.


Trent-Severn Waterway

The Trent-Severn Waterway is a 240 mile (386 km) waterway that starts at the Bay of Quinte on the eastern end of Lake Ontario and stretches northwest to Port Severn, where the Severn River flows into Georgian Bay. Boaters can travel along the entire length of the waterway, or access it from any point along the system, and use it to reach the Great Lakes and beyond. The waterway is equipped with 44 locks to facilitate the passage of boats. For more information, visit www.TheWaterway.ca.

If you are departing from Lake Erie or the surrounding area, you can take the Welland Canal to reach Lake Ontario and then turn east towards the Oswego Canal in New York. By sailing south for 24 miles along the canal, you will reach the Erie Canal near Liverpool, New York, and the Three Rivers. From there, you can continue east to Albany and then south along the Hudson River until you reach New York Harbor. Along the way, you will have the opportunity to see plenty of wilderness and picturesque views of the New York skyline. When you reach the Hudson River, you will have arrived at the Atlantic Ocean, just a short distance from the Caribbean.


Sailor Tips

The Erie Canal is a popular route for sailors who want to reach the Atlantic Ocean from the Great Lakes. It is also known for being a relatively fast route, although it is important to plan for lock and canal closures that could affect your sailing plans and possibly require you to choose a different route. As you navigate the Erie Canal, you may need to lower your mast at times and be charged a fee based on the length of your mast, which can range from $4 to $8 per foot. It is also common to see many boatyards along this route. By carefully planning your journey and being prepared for any potential challenges, you can make the most of your sailing adventure from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.


Summary

The Erie Canal is a well-traveled route from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean, so it is easy to find services for rigging and stepping along the way. It is also potentially the fastest route to the Caribbean, making it a popular choice for many sailors. However, it does have some drawbacks. You will need to take your mast down at certain points, and there may be long stretches of motoring rather than sailing. Additionally, there is a risk of canal and lock closures, which can disrupt your voyage. Overall, the Erie Canal is a reliable and well-supported route, but it may not be the most exciting option for sailors looking for a more adventurous journey.


St. Lawreence Seaway

The St. Lawrence Seaway is another option for reaching the Atlantic Ocean from the Great Lakes. It consists of a series of channels, canals, and locks that stretch between the United States and Canada, and requires permission for sailing. Boats must be at least 20 feet long and weigh no more than a ton to pass through the seaway, and about 2,000 boats do so each year for recreational purposes. While not all of these boats may be sailing to the Atlantic Ocean, the seaway is a breathtaking route that is worth considering for your journey.


As you sail along the seaway, you will have the opportunity to see some of the most stunning sights, including the coastline of Maine and the northeastern provinces of Canada. You'll also get to see the Thousand Islands, a series of about 1,800 islands located between Canada and the US. To reach the Thousand Islands, you can sail from Lake Ontario along Montreal and then through the St. Lawrence River and Gulf of St. Lawrence, or you can take a shortcut by sailing downstream on the Richelieu River in Quebec and then along the Hudson River from the southern end of Lake Champlain. No matter which route you choose, the St. Lawrence Seaway offers a unique and adventurous sailing experience.


Sailor Tips

The St. Lawrence Seaway is a longer route to the Atlantic Ocean compared to the other options, but it is also one of the most picturesque. It is recommended to start sailing this route around July 1st, although you may still be able to do so a few days later. However, if it has been more than a week since July 1st, it may be safer to choose a different route. One advantage of sailing the St. Lawrence Seaway is that you can keep your mast up the entire time without incurring any additional fees. The tie-up areas and docks along this route are plentiful, allowing you to stop overnight or even for a few days without worrying about your boat. However, it is important to remember that commercial traffic has the right of way and to stay out of the shipping lanes in the down-bound and up-bound lanes near the Atlantic Ocean. The sailing conditions on the St. Lawrence Seaway can be challenging, particularly near the Bay of Fundy in Nova Scotia, where the water can rise over 45 feet in just 12 hours and the currents can be rough. Be prepared for these challenges and enjoy the beautiful sights along the way as you sail from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.


Summary

The St. Lawrence Seaway is a breathtaking route that offers stunning views of the Gulf of St. Lawrence and other natural wonders. It is also the only route where you can keep your mast up the entire time without incurring any additional fees. However, it is the longest route to the Atlantic Ocean and can be challenging to navigate due to rough currents, open water, and extreme tides. Additionally, beyond Quebec City, there are fewer services available along this route. Overall, the St. Lawrence Seaway is a great option for sailors who have experience, an adventurous spirit, and plenty of time to spare on their journey from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.



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