Thriving on the Intracoastal Waterway - Sailors for the Sea

Thriving on the Intracoastal Waterway

 May 17, 2024  | By: Damon Gannon

The boating community is diverse; from dinghy racers to megayacht owners. With increasing opportunities for remote work, there is an increasing number of people choosing to live and travel aboard their boats full-time. Liveaboard cruisers are an important constituency to Sailors for the Sea. Being on the water 24/7/365, not only means that cruisers can have a disproportionate impact on marine habitats, but also that they can be very effective environmental stewards and ambassadors for marine conservation.

One of the hot spots for cruising is the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). The ICW is an inland route along the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts of the United States, running continuously from Norfolk, Virginia, to Miami, Florida, and then around the Florida Peninsula and along the Gulf Coast to Brownsville, Texas. Every year, thousands of cruising boats, both sailboats and powerboats, migrate along the ICW. 

Fulmar, the author’s boat, moored along the Intracoastal Waterway

My wife, Janet, and I recently completed a year of cruising on the ICW and Chesapeake Bay. Currently, I’m writing a guide called Thriving on the ICW. It is not a traditional cruising guide. Rather, it’s a nuts-and-bolts description of the maritime skills and practices that can make it much easier to navigate the ICW, and it is intended to help both novice boaters and seasoned mariners who have not yet experienced the ICW. Along with navigation tips, Thriving on the ICW also provides information on how and why cruisers can safeguard the sensitive aquatic habitats of the waterway. 

The ICW is infamous for its narrow, shifting channels; shallow water; swift currents; low bridges; and heavy vessel traffic. But it also offers miles and miles of unfettered nature: tranquil waters, expansive marshes, ancient forests, undisturbed barrier islands, and abundant wildlife. Additionally, The ICW provides cruisers access to some of the most picturesque and welcoming towns on the East Coast.

Navigating the twists and turns of the ICW can be challenging.

Cruising on the ICW gives boaters access to incredible places that land-bound people never get to see. For example, just on the Atlantic segment of the ICW (between Norfolk and Miami) there are four National Seashores, five National Estuarine Research Reserves, and 14 National Wildlife Refuges. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. This same stretch of waterway also has innumerable coastal preserves, state parks, state and national forests, wildlife management areas, and privately-owned conservation areas. One such place is the Alligator River National Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina, which is the only place on the East Coast where red wolves are found in the wild, and the ICW goes right through it. The ICW is the gateway to the last great coastal wilderness areas on the East Coast. 

Herons and egrets are a common sight in the coastal marshes along the ICW.

Most cruisers are keen to protect the special places that they visit in their boats. This guide will empower them to ensure the continued health of these vulnerable coastal habitats by providing practical, actionable advice, based largely on Sailors for the Sea’s Green Boating Guide. The environmental topics range from wastewater disposal to eliminating oil leaks, improving fuel efficiency, and fishing sustainably.

Damon and Janet Gannon

Thriving on the ICW will be available for free on Blogspot earlythis summer, and eventually as an e-book. It will be a “living document” that will be updated and improved over time.