The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) facilitates navigation along the southeastern seaboard of the United States. Its 1,200 mile course includes manmade canals, bays protected by barrier islands, natural river channels, and estuaries. We shall also include in this description the St. John's River, an extensive inland waterway in Florida, and the Okeechobee Waterway which connects the east and west coasts of Florida.
Location and Navigable Mileage: The ICW extends from Norfolk, Virginia, to Key West, Florida.. The navigable mileage of the ICW is approximately 1200 miles.
At Jacksonville, Florida, the St. John's River enters the Atlantic Ocean. This river can be navigated upstream for about 170 miles through several lakes, with the head of navigation being Lake Harney near Sanford, Florida.
The Okeechobee Waterway consists of two parts: 1) the St. Lucie Canal, which connects Stuart, Florida, (just north of West Palm Beach) to Lake Okeechobee, and 2) the Caloosahatchee River which enters the Gulf of Mexico at Fort Myers. This waterway uses a system of locks and dams to maintain a navigable channel to Lake Okeechobee, which is 14 feet above sea level. In seasons of very dry conditions, the Lake Okeechobee channel is subject to reduction in the depth of the navigable channel, and restricted schedules for lockage. This waterway is about 140 miles in length.
Additionally, there are several coastal rivers and estuaries that may be explored, including Albemarle Sound, Pamilco River, Neuse River, New River and Cape Fear River, all in North Carolina, and the Pee Dee River in South Carolina. The Savannah River is generally navigable to Augusta, Georgia, a distance of approximately 200 miles (this waterway was formerly maintained for navigation by the US Army Corps of Engineers, but that maintenance was suspended).
Interesting Features: You will encounter a rich variety of settings along the ICW. For much of the way the channel passes between the mainland and barrier islands, so you are only a short distance from the Atlantic surf. Along the coast of the Carolinas and Georgia, there are many remote locales, while much of Florida is more densely populated. One of the nation's largest metropolitan areas, Miami, is near the southern terminus of the route. The ICW continues along the Florida Keys to the picturesque Key West, southernmost point in the continental United States. While the Keys offer some protection, this destinations should only be considered by those capable of open water navigation.
Each year, the ICW sees the migration of live-aboard boaters who spend their winters in the southern reaches and return to the more northerly locations in the warmer season.