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- ICW Notes Fall 2011 -

These are just my personal notes updated during my latest trip on the Intracoastal Waterway. These notes are not meant to replace any official information like the USCG Local Notices to Mariners and are provided without any guarantee. Use at your own risk and remember that conditions changes quickly so what may be accurate one month may no longer be the next.

SHALLOW SPOTS
(all depths are converted to MLW)


MM45 stay on center or just green of center across G115 as there is 7' or less spot on the red side. This stretch is narrow so don't stray far off to the green side either

MM65, North River inlet. Some shoaling on the red side at R170. G169 is missing and a new R168 has been added. Favor the green side passing about 150' from the greens and about 250' from R168.This puts you just outside the channel line (dashed line) on your plotter and in at least 10' of water

MM80, Alligator River entrance. Not an issue yet many run aground there. Southbound dont' miss the G3 (missing on OLD charts) then after splitting R8/G7 aim straight for R10 to avoid the shoal on the red side, south of R8. Northbound after splitting G9, aim directly for R8/G7, do not follow the dogleg shown on the charts. Note that a new floatie,R8A, had been added to prevent folks from blindly follow the magentic line...

MM224, Bogue Sound, favor center or green of centerline between R40 and R40A

MM233, Bear Inlet, 8' MLW shoal 100 to 250' North of G55 worst on red side. Favor green side passing 100' from G55

MM239, Browns Inlet. dredge Snell was working near the floaties. Pipeline on the green side, I passed on the red side between dredge and R60 finding 8' mlw

MM245, New river Inlet. No issues except for brief 9'MLW hump on south side of inlet crossing as well as on the red side just north on the intersection

MM288, Masonboro Inlet South, 7' MLW shoal 100' north of G135, favor red of centerline

MM297, Snow Cut. Depth in the cut are more than adequate and the channel is well marked by two floaties. It is the stretch between the cut and the river where sometimes depths are reported as shallow. Between G163 and G167 staying on the range will ensure 10'+MLW. South of G167 the best water (10' MLW) can be found on a line about 100 to 150' of the reds (R170 to 176) Straying further to the green side results in lower depths

MM330, Shallotte Inlet, passed a little closer to G81 than usual due to numerous pots IN THE CHANNEL and found 7.5 to 8' MLW

The pots are in the channel, between the buoys and one if them had an 8' line floating near the surface at high tide. Also FL G83 is damaged and floating on it s side, likely extinguished

MM430, McClelanville, 9' to 10' MLW thru the section just south of the village

MM460, North of Ben Sawyer Bridge, numerous 7' MLW spots south a G117A all the way to G121. channel is very narrow and shoals rapidly off centerline. As often the humps are where small creeks meet the waterway

MM497, Dawhoo River. 7' MLW along the green floaties past R110. 7' MLW between R116 and G117. 9' MLW off R132 just west of the bridge

MM 503 Watts cut. 8' MLW mostly between G139 and G143

MM510 Fenwick Cut, 9' MLW between 162 and R162A passign about 100' off R162A, 12' between R162A and R164

MM516 Ashepoo Coosaw Southern section, 6' to 7' MLW most of the way but some 5' MLW spots just north of R184. This is down almost 2' from this spring on the same line. Make sure you come in or exit the southern end of the cut at an angle as shown on the charts (by R184/G195). A new can G177 has been added by the FL G 177 to mark the shoal. Note that the northern section of the cut off bet R166 and R172 is no problem, over 12' MLW

MM570, Ramshorn Creek, deep except brief 9' MLW sounding at the south end, between R40/G39

MM573 Walls cut. 9' MLW or more in the cut but R42 is missing tempting people to cut the corner

MM575, Fields cut, at the norther end fabor the green side for 11' MLW or more. Found some 8' mlw readings in the bend hslfway thru. At the southern end, near the Savannah River, favor the red side around the bend stay away from the dock on the green side. Found 12'MLW passing about 100' off R50 and the range tower, then about 200' off the dock

MM602, Hell Gate, 8' to 9' MLW thru most of the cut but some readings as low as 5' to 6' MLW around R90. I usually pass about 40' from R90, and about 30' from G89; this time around it s definitely shallower by about 2 to 2.5' compared to earlier this year

MM625, Johnson Creek, 8' MLW between G127 and R128 on the red side

MM655, Little mud River, I found similar depths as on previous runs.
9'MLW north of G193
8'MLW 100' off G193
5'MLW by the charted wreck
7'MLW 100' off R194
5' to 6' MLW half way between G195 and the range marker
Once on the range depths increase rapidly to 10+MLW

Near G195 I always split G195 with the range marker and get on the range right away when southbound. Depths shoal up quickly close to G195

MM683, Jekyll Creek, 7' MLW is as shallow as I saw mostly near G19 and along the range. I passed about 150' off G19 then turned on range (was northbound). Stayed on the range till past R16 ( passed about 75' away) then split R16 with the southernmost range marker. No change from previous trips

MM704, Cumberland Dividings, all Markers (R60 to R62) have finally been moved and are marking the shoal on the red side. 12 to 15MLW throughout.

MM718, Amelia River, favor the green side north of the bend and G1. I always stay about 20/30' from G1 thru the turn and then come back mid channel south of G1. Note that I have seen reports of deep water way over on the red side / outside of the turn. I have never tried that route but in any case, avoid the center of the channel!

MM720 Kingsley creek I always favor the green side there, never had a problem passing about 100' from G3 and 200' from G5

MM721 Amelia river
Favor the green side around G21-23 as it shoals on centerline. I found
15MLW 150' off G21,
10MLW 100' off G23
10MLW 100' off G25

MM725 south Amelia River, favor the green side south of R34 for 10 to 12MLW (7' MLW on center and red of center). South of the bend, between G37 and G39, favor the red side before returning to center by G41

MM726 south Amelia River, favor the green side around the 11' sounding just south of R42 and after the shoal charted on red side. Favor the Red near R44 to G45

MM781: G17 missing, don't cut the corner!

MM785: stay 125' off R38 for 15'MLW. reports of grounding close to marker

MM792 Matanzas Inlet, dredged 2011, no issues, two green cans mark the channel, split with shoreline for 12 to 15 MLW

MM843 Ponce Inlet South, stay close to reds, about 20' to 30' away from R18 and R18A for 8' to 9' MLW versus 5' or less on the green side. Just south of the cut, favor center as R20 is clearly set in shallow waters.

MM1080 Bakers Haulover. I try to avoid that section as shoaling can be severe and unpredictable. Despite being dredged in the winter of 2011, there are reports of buoys being off station and shoaling once again encroaching in the channel.

 


ICW NO WAKE ZONES

Note:whether or not you need to slow down really depends on the size of your boat. There are other narrow sections or stretches with empty floating docks where you dont' want to send a 4' wake along the shoreline anyway. There are also places with an occasional boat tied to a dock for which you may have to slow down. Use common sense... These are only the mandatory no wake zones.

MM0, Portsmouth, 4
MM15, Canal, 1
MM50 Coinjock, 1
MM195 Adams Creek, 2
MM205 Moorehead, 1
MM225, Swanboro, 2
MM246, New River, 1/2
MM305 Carolina Beach, 1/2
MM310, Southport, 1
MM325, Holden Beach, 1/2
MM342, Little River, 1/2
MM345, North Myrtle, 1
MM350, Barefoot Landing, 1
MM380, Waccamaw marinas, 1
MM412, Ferry, 1/2
MM435, Awendaw, 1/2
MM465, Isle of Palm, 2
MM470, Wapoo, 1
MM540, Beaufort, 2
MM580, Thunderbolt, 1
MM590, Isle of Hope, 1
MM685, Jekyl, 1/2
MM715, Fernandina, 1
MM735, Sisters Creek, 1/2
MM740, Jax Beach, 1/2
MM810, Flagler Beach 1/2
MM830, Daytona 1
MM840, New Smyrna, 1
MM855, Trailer Parks 2
MM860, Haulover Canal 1
MM935, Sebastian 1
MM952, Vero Beach 1
MM965, Ft Pierce, 1

Total 36NM out of 1000NM

 

ANCHORAGES

With a 70 footer drawing a little over 6' I am a little picky about where I drop the hook! Here is what I used on the past 2 or 3 trips depending on weather and tide schedule in nearby PTT (play the tide) spots!

MM 57 North river behind G157
MM 82 East lake entrance
MM 102 Alligator river south north of G43
MM 129 Scranton Creek entrance
MM 161 Bay river, west of FLR4
MM 244 Mile hammock
MM 295 Carolina Beach
MM 395 Butler island
MM 420 south Santee river
MM 455 Dewees creek
MM 487 Church creek
MM 521 Bull River
MM 544 Cat island beaufort river
MM 614 Kilkenny creek
MM 647 Doboy Sound off Folly river
MM 694 Cumberland next to G37 or next to R40
MM 710 Cumberland Isl Dungeness
MM 765 Pine Isl, Tolomato river
MM 832 Daytona
MM 878 Titusville
MM 923 Indian river along east shore
MM 966 ft pierce inlet Faber pt
MM 986 Hooker Cove St lucie river (shoaling at river entrance a problem over 5.5')
MM 1000 Hobbe sound deeper water pockets west shore


FUEL & DOCKAGE

Tidewater in Portsmouth and Osprey Marina in South myrtle are my preferred stops. Best fuel price and service! They are typically the only place I dock on the entire trip. Prices in Florida are usually higher although two commercial docks are usually pretty competitive: Florida Petroleum in Fernandina Beach (closed on week ends) and Ft Pierce Port Petroleum.

If sightseeing is a factor then consider stops at:

Oriental marina
Morehead city and/or Cape look out bight
Southport
Charleston
Beaufort town marina SC
Savannah riverside docks
Fernandina beach
St Augustine (mooring, i find the $3 a ft city marina overpriced)
West palm Beach Palm Harbor marina



RESOURCES

How we navigate and plan trips have changed drastically over the past few years. Not only have GPS plotters helped improve navigation accuracy but there are now a number of online resources which have really helped boaters. Gone are the days of guessing where shoaling may have developped, whether or not a marina had fuel or if that aging cruising guide was still accurate. We now have so many tools, from laptop with cellular data or wifi to smart phones and IPads that running the ditch has become a lot easier and safer.

For comprehensive cruising data, visit www.activecaptain.com which I consider to be the best resource for marina, fuel prices, anchorages and local knowledge. Integration of Active Captain data in navigation software (computer and smart phone) means that you no longer need to have a live internet connection to access the data. Another excellent resource for the ICW is Salty's Cruisers Net especially their fuel price page updated weekly during the spring and fall seasons. Finally in addition to a plotter and/or computer with nav software, i find the Kettlewell ICW Chartbook to be a must have near the helm, not only because keeping paper charts is still good seasmanship but because you can jot down notes in the margin as you go along.

For details on navigation software for your laptop and smart phones, see Nav Software 101.

 

- MYTHBUSTING THE ICW -

 

Myth Nr. 1: it's too shallow and to dangerous.

Overall, i found the ICW to be in pretty good shape and most boats drawing up to around 5' should have no problem transiting the entire waterway although in some areas it is obviously very nice to have a safety margin. Over the past couple of years, a number of areas have been dredged and depths are holding so far. Names like Shallotte Inlet, Lockswood Folly, or New River are no longer dirty words to ICW cruisers and in most other places you can play the tides and get a lot more water under your keel or props. In Georgia for example, with up to 8' tides, if you get underway 2 hours past low tide, you can run for 6 to 8 hrs and have at least 3 extra feet of water under your boat at all time.

Myth Nr. 2: Travel on the ICW is too slow because of all the no wake zones.

For the most part this is untrue until you reach Jupiter in South Florida. Last year, i noted all the no or minimum wake zones encountered and they total a whopping 36NM out of almost 1000NM!! In addition to these, there are many sections where boats along the waterway are kept on lift and not subject to wakes although among those, they are sometimes a handful of boats kept in water for which you should slow down. This amounts to 5 to 10 minutes a day at the most...

Myth Nr. 4: Too many bridges you have to wait for.

You hear a lot of skippers complaining about how many bridges there are and how they always have to wait. Again, excluding South Florida (south of Jupiter), there are few bridges to contend with. Norfolk is one of the exceptions, with 5 bridges and a lock but their schedule is such that if you time it right you barely have to wait. Unfortunately, many skippers either dont' bother looking up the schedule or can't do basic Time/Speed/Distance calculations! Once out of Virginia you will typically encounter one or two bridges a day, most unrestricted except the 3 bridges just north of Carolina Beach which again can easily be timed right.

Over the past few years, a handful of bridges have been replaced by high rise fixed spans, incl the antique Sunset Beach Pontoon bridge in NC and the Titusville Swing Bridge in Florida making things even easier. Now again once you reach Jupiter in South Florida, you have to deal with no less than 33 bridges over the final 50NM to Miami although if your air draft is 25' or less, you can pass under a few of these. But again, unless you are mathematically challenged, by adjusting your speed (usually between 5 and 9kts) you dont' have to wait.

Myth Nr.5: Too many sailboats to slow down for and they never pay attention to the VHF

Overall i'd say that a majority of sailboats do reply when you call them on the radio to pass them, really no difference with power boats. On average I come upon 15 to 20 slower boats on a typical day and done right, a courteous slow pass can be done in under one minute. I keep my speed up until i am close to the slower boat (my bow within half a boat length of their sterns) then I chop the power. Ideally, the other guy slows down a little and will turn behind me, in my wake as soon as my stern clears their bow, and can power up. Painless... Unfortunately, it's trye that some guys just dont' get it and as you pass them, they either don't slow down which makes the pass take twice as long, or worst they start pulling off to the side instead of staying close and cut into your wake... So here you are, waiting for your wake to reach them before you can power up again, frustrating for everyone.

But if both vessels do it right, it takes a minute or less, times 20 passes a day and it's not even a half hour! Well worth not being a jerk sending slower boats rolling in your wake. I have been on the receiving end of the 3' wake send by sportfish jockeys, even with a 70 footer it can be rough.

 

- EIGHT TIPS TO RUN THE DITCH -

Nr.1: Your depth sounder is your most important instrument! If your boat draws more than 4 to 5' you have to start worrying about depths when running the ditch and while your chart plotter or PC is an extremely important tools, the most critical instrument on your boat is your depth sounder. It will not only alert you when things get a little skinny but it will also let you find the deeper water. On long straight stretches, the deeper water can be only a fraction of the actual waterway and markers can be far apart. If you see that depths are starting to come up, you can alter course by 10 to 15 degrees and see what happens as often it's all it take to quickly see a change.

Knowing how accurate your sounder is critical and often overlooked. Sure the instrument is pretty accurate but many aren't sure of where their transducer making the soundings nearly useless when the going get skinny. So, find the sounder and measure how far below the water line it is so that you can get precise readings. All sounders allow you to adjust the offset which is the height below water line or above the keel or props. Setting the offset make it a lot easier than having to add or deduct the measurement of the transducer location. Whether you set it to show actual depth or clearance under the keel/prop is a matter of personal choice, just pick one! Once in while, when i'm anchored over a flat bottom in clear water, I will actually go under and measure the actual waterdepth and compare with the sounder reading... I know, that's hard to do up north in muddy or cold waters!

Nr.2: Being between the sticks isn't enough! This is an often hard learned lesson for many cruisers who assume that the waterway will be nice deep from Green to Red, it is not. Traffic permitting, with a 6+ draft always favor the center of the ICW and avoid running on the sides unless i have to (traffic) or have good reasons to believe the channel is still deep enough.

Nr3: Study the charts! This one is somewhat related to Nr.2 above... There are hundreds of places where for some reasons the markers or buoys are set further from the centerline and over shallow waters. Looking at the charts and the exact placement of the markers and the depths close to them will usually give you a first warning about shallower waters on the sides of the channel. Cutting too close to these markers may result in a bad, and expensive, surprise. Also, seeing shallow water just beyond a marker in an area that's deep on the other side is often a warning that shoaling may be building up into the channel and it could be a good idea to favor the center or the other side. This is even more true around a sharp turn in some of the rivers and creeks of Georgia or Florida where the chart will show shoaling extending beyond a marker.

Speaking of charts, dont' blindly trust the soundings! While this is the case just about everywhere it's even more true along the ICW due to the nature of the bottom and the water flow. Obviously this applies to anchorages and places which may look good on paper.

Nr.4: In doubt, take it slow! When approaching certain spots, there may be clue that shoaling is occuring and you probably want to slow down. Remember the old docking rule "don't approach a dock faster than you want to hit it!"? Well, yes it's very good advice about shallow water too: dont' approach shoaling faster than you want to hit it! Everybody may have different level of comfort, based on experience, local knowledge and boat size/type. Personally when running a larger boat with a draft of 6' or so, I will normally slow down from a 9 to 10kts cruise speed to a 6kts fast idle when the sounder shows 10'. If it gets under 9' I go to slow idle (4.5 to 5kts) and at 8' i'm bumping in and out of gear ready to throw it in reverse should the bottom keep coming up. Thankfully it rarely gets to that point, but it's happened and going slow saved me from a possibly costly grounding.

What are the signs that shoaling may be lurking ahead? Temporary markers for one, as the USCG or COE will often mark shoaling with floating buoys but sometimes shoaling keeps building beyond those buoys.. Also, most of the shoaling (even minor) occurs where the ICW meet inlets or creeks leading to even minor inlets.

Nr. 5: Do your homework! The first thing I check while planning a trip is the USCG Local Notice to Mariners and if needed make some note on my ICW chartbook. It's good practice but frankly it's not enough as you will not find much useful shoaling info in the LNMs and sometimes even things like bridge closures are not listed. Nowadays we have the internet and many online resources where up to date information can be found. My favorites are Active Captain and Salty's Cruisers Net but there are others such as Skipper Bob or Waterway Guide. Again, when planning the next day run, I often look up the latest information and jot it down on my chart book.

Recently though, the integration of Active Captain data in a number of navigation software has made things much easier. I've been using PolarNavy software (under $50) which shows Active Captain markers right on the NOAA charts so while underway the data can easily be accessed as it is stored locally on your computer, no internet connection needed underway! See the Navigation Software 101 page for more info.

Nr. 6: Courtesy first! Well, first after safety obviously. Somehow on every ICW trip, you will run in a few jerks or selfish idiots who may not ruin the day but will remind you why it's so nice to be away from land for a while. Those specimen come in various boat type and size and frankly I just don't agree with the most common stereotypes we've all heard about. Lack of courtesy and common sense is a disease which doesn't discriminate it affect sail and power, small and large alike. The most obvious effect of this disease can be seen when a faster boat passes a slower one. If both parties cooperate the process can be quick and totally painless. When I approach a slower vessel, I always call them on Ch16 to warn them and tell them i will slow down and pass on their X side. This way they dont' have to worry seeing that big boat and 4' wake closing in on them. As I get close, I slow down to idle by the time my bow almost overlaps their transom and remain at or near idle until my wake has passed them. If the other guy knows what he's doing and cooperates, he will slow down, stay close and turn behind me to get in my wake as fast as possible. Done right, the pass will take under one minute. Done wrong, it will take 3 times as long and the slower guy may end up rolling around.

Most common mistakes in passing:
- Slower boat doesn't slow down and / or start moving away to the side, never crossing the wake of the faster guy.
- Faster boat doesn't call ahead to warn the slower vessel so here you are, a sitting duck wondering how bad the wake is going to be.
- Slower boat doesn't have its VHF on. Many insist that it's a sailboat thing but i've encoutered just as many deaf stinkpotters...

Nr. 7: Shop for fuel prices. Most of us care about cruising costs and fuel is probably the most visible expense. I am always amazed to see folks pulling into a marina, getting hundred of gallons of diesel while 1/2 mile away another fuel dock can be $0.50 cheaper; that's $50 for each hundred gallons! On average the difference will pay for dockage and dinner... Salty's Cruisers Net has fuel price pages updated weekly during the fall and spring seasons which covers a number of popular stops, Active Captain also has fuel price data.

Nr. 8: Anchor out for a change. This is mostly a matter of personal preference but while stopping at marinas is a great way to discover nice little towns and meet other cruisers, anchoring in scenic and possibly remote locations can be very enjoyable. Active Captain data includes hundreds of anchorages with information and useful reviews. There is something almost magic about being the only boat around and watching that sunset somewhere in a remote spot in complete silence. Try it...