Taking on America’s Great Loop

If you are looking for the ultimate boat trip in the U.S., you may want to set your course for America’s Great Loop. The Great Loop is an extended boating trip along the coast of Eastern North America. Also known as the Great Circle Route, the trip varies from 5,000 to 7,500 miles depending on which route or detour you take. 

The Great Loop is known as the world’s safest and most scenic continuous waterway. For boating enthusiasts, it is the boating adventure of a lifetime that will take you to shorelines extending from the Florida Keys to Canada. As you make your way along the coast, you will cruise along beaches, past the Statue of Liberty by way of the Hudson River, journey through the Historic Erie Canal, across downtown Chicago, down inland rivers of the heartlands and finally to the Gulf of Mexico.

Loop Overview

Most “Loopers” cruise the Great Loop in a counter-clockwise direction to go with the natural flow of water.  The first leg of the trip consists of heading up the Atlantic ICW to the Hudson River. Cruising speed is normally between 8 or 9 knots, which will average about 50 miles per day. At most, it will take between 9 months to a year to complete The Great Loop and “pass your wake”, as they say. 

The loop is a leisurely cruise. You will enjoy the trip more if you take your time and frequently stop to take in all the amazing sights you will encounter. As opposed to a long ocean passage, you will never lose sight of land while cruising the Great Loop. Being close to shore allows you the comfort and security of moving through waterways that have easy access to hospitals, banks, pharmacies, airports, etc. 

What to Consider Before Cruising the Loop

Regardless of what type of vessel you have, a good boat size for the Great Loop is 28 to 38 feet. Your vessel’s size will depend on what you are most comfortable in and what allows you to maintain the lifestyle you prefer. A comfortable boat interior is essential. You’ll want plenty of headroom, a nice galley and salon and good berths. 


Your boat must have a minimum fuel range of 250 miles. This will be the farthest distance between available fuel stops if you take the standard Tennessee-Tombigbee route. If you want to go the optional Lower Mississippi River route from Cairo to New Orleans, your diesel-powered boat will need an even larger cruising range of 376 miles. Your gasoline-powered vessel must have a cruising range of at least 450 miles.

Boat Clearance

Between Chicago and the Illinois River, your vessel will need to clear a fixed bridge with an above-water height of 19′ 1″. There is not an alternative route around this bridge. After taking down all removable objects such as antennas, masts and Bimini tops, your boat’s structure must not exceed the 19′ 1″.

Boat Draft

Your boat should have a draft of no more than 5 feet. As a rule of thumb, the less draft you have, the less you will have to worry about depths in certain areas.

Fresh Water Capacity

You want as much freshwater as you can get. You’ll have to decide when and how you want to use it. On average, most families use 500 gallons of water every day, with 70% of that being indoor use related to showers, flushing the toilet and brushing teeth. 


Your speed will be limited for the duration of your voyage. It will not matter how fast your boat can go. If you are looking to make this voyage on a frugal budget, select a boat or an engine based on its minimum hourly fuel burn rate.

Holding Tank Capacity

Both freshwater capacity and holding tank capacity will depend on your lifestyle, boat type and individuals aboard. The more water you have on board, the better. However, boat manufacturers never include enough water storage. If you don’t learn to conserve your water, you will be filling your water tank daily.

Additional Supplies

Here is a list of items you should have on board your vessel.

  • Navigational charts (Paper charts are discouraged as they quickly become outdated)
  • GPS Navigational System
  • Secondary depth finder 
  • VHF radio
  • Dinghy
  • Waterway guides 

Electrical Power

This depends on the amenities you bring aboard. It is recommended that you have two 30-amp versus one 50-amp shore power connections. Additionally, you will need a 30-amp female to a 15-amp male reducer.

Top Side and Deck

Your vessel should contain unobstructed walk-a-round decks with flat, clear, easy access from bow to stern. For working docks & locks, the flatter and wider the walkways, the safer and better. You will pass through over 100 locks on the loop. If it is difficult or slippery to walk around the sides, you will have to be extra careful in the locks.


You need two heavy anchors and a solid anchoring system on board. Make sure your anchors surpass the size recommended for your boat. This will reduce your chances of running into any issues. You will need strong, heavy anchors, a heavy chain and all the USCG recommended rode. You will also want the second anchor as a spare.

Fresh Water Filter 

Avoid drinking directly from your freshwater tank unless you have a good water filtration system. If you decide to go without a filter, you will need to bring bottled water as part of your on-board provisions. 

Bimini Top or Flybridge Top

Whether it is a large Bimini top or a hard top of a flybridge, your boat will need to be equipped with something that can provide you with adequate shade when you are outdoors. 

Do You Need Boat Maintenance Before You Take Off?

Your boat is an investment. You want to protect your investment, and professional boat maintenance is part of that. There are many facets to taking care of your boat. The independent contractors at Pensacola Shipyard are seasoned experts who can guide you through needed repairs or handle them for you. We are the perfect facility for storage and maintenance.

Contact us today at 850.780.8441, and let us help you keep your boat in peak condition.