Cruis­ing the In­tra­coastal Wa­ter­way (ICW)

Passage Maker - - @Rest -

from Vir­ginia to Florida is a bucket list dream for many cruis­ers. While the prospect of mak­ing the trip of more than 1,000 nau­ti­cal miles may seem daunt­ing, it needn’t be in­tim­i­dat­ing. Es­sen­tially it is just a se­ries of day trips, and each year thousands of cruis­ers make the run. Here are a few ideas to keep in mind to make plan­ning and ex­e­cut­ing this trip eas­ier.

If it helps, and it may not, you can think about nav­i­gat­ing the ICW as a four-di­men­sional chess game. You mon­i­tor your boat east and west along the X axis while also mon­i­tor­ing your po­si­tion north and south on the Y axis. You will have to deal with the Z axis, height, as well. You’ll need high wa­ter to tran­sit shal­low spots, and you may need low wa­ter lev­els to pass un­der cer­tain bridges. The fourth di­men­sion is time. In ad­di­tion to man­ag­ing your time in or­der to cross shoal ar­eas with enough wa­ter depth, you must man­age your ap­proach to re­stricted bridges not only based on wa­ter height but also to en­sure your pas­sage is com­pat­i­ble with their open­ing sched­ule.

Trav­el­ing south in late fall, day­light lasts only 10 hours. To op­ti­mize the time, most cruis­ers have the lines in at “crack of dawn” (COD) and plan to be off the wa­ter with an hour or two of day­light left. This al­lows them to travel be­tween 40 and 70 nau­ti­cal miles each day. At that pace, com­plet­ing the ICW would take three to four weeks, pro­vided you do not stop. But that would be a grave mis­take. There are so many in­ter­est­ing towns and vil­lages on the way and sev­eral beau­ti­ful an­chor­ages off the beaten path. Al­low your­self time to en­joy the trip. Slow down. Slow down some more. You’ll be glad you did.

There are four com­po­nents to suc­cess­fully pi­lot­ing the ICW: nav­i­ga­tion, tides and cur­rents, pro­vi­sion­ing your boat, and the all-im­por­tant weather.

Nav­i­ga­tion

Coastal pi­lot­ing and nav­i­gat­ing has never been eas­ier. Chart­plot­ters, tablets, elec­tronic fea­tures such as AIS, and nearcon­st­sant ac­cess to the in­ter­net makes it far eas­ier to move your boat along the coast. The fol­low­ing tools and pro­to­cols are es­sen­tial to plan­ning and ex­e­cut­ing this voy­age safely.

Chart­plot­ter/Tablet

While you can make the trip with pa­per charts, elec­tronic charts are far eas­ier to up­date. There are few places more dy­namic than the sec­tion of the ICW through the Caroli­nas and Ge­or­gia, and you must have the lat­est charts in or­der to

safely nav­i­gate this stretch. The USCG fre­quently moves nav­i­ga­tion aids and NOAA up­dates the charts. In the ICW there are many ar­eas where the marks are moved by the USCG as needed. It is easy to mis­read the nav­i­ga­tion aids, par­tic­u­larly when they are not where you ex­pect them to be.

To­day’s tablets can serve as fully func­tion­ing chart­plot­ters. Navion­ics’ Sonar Charts have proven to be very use­ful to us. Th­ese charts have up­dated depth read­ings from crowd sourced data col­lec­tion.

The ma­genta line is not in­tended to be used as a chart­plot­ter route! If you fol­low it as though it were, you will run aground.

Depth Fin­der

Be sure your depth fin­der is checked and cal­i­brated. In some places, this trip is a game of inches.

Time to Way­point (TTW)

Many chart­plot­ters have this func­tion­al­ity. The “Auto Route” func­tion in Navion­ics is very easy to use. The TTW will al­low you to man­age your ap­proach to a bridge, lock, or a shoal spot so that you ar­rive at the de­sired time and spend min­i­mal time cir­cling in front of a bridge.

Cruis­ing Guides

Whether you choose an on­line cruis­ing guide or a print guide, cruis­ing guides are writ­ten by other cruis­ers who have gone be­fore. Guides gen­er­ally ref­er­ence the towns, bridges, and other sites by

Isle of Hope, Ge­or­gia; a pris­tine lo­ca­tion with an ex­cel­lent ma­rina near Sa­van­nah.

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