Advice: The Great Loop

Feb 16, 2024

By Allegra Smith-Herriott

Looking to embark on the bucket list journey, The Great Loop?

The Great Loop is a continuous system of waterways that includes the eastern U.S. and part of Canada. This circumnavigation boating route includes major waterways like the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, the New York State Canals, the Canadian canals, the Great Lakes, the inland river system and the Gulf of Mexico.

The Great Loop is 6,000 miles long (9,700 km) and typically takes a year or more to complete.

The Great Loop map, courtesy of the AGLCA

America’s Great Loop Cruisers’ Association (AGLCA) is an organization created in 1999 that assists boaters in any part of their journey around the Loop. They help prepare, plan, cruise and enhance boaters of all types. The AGLCA has created a nationwide network and community of Loopers.

Canadian Boating recently reached out to The Great Loop public Facebook group to ask Loopers their best advice they would give someone looking to prepare for the loop.

The Facebook group currently has well over 100k members and is a great community with a wealth of knowledge – and entertainment!

Here’s a list of the best advice from current and previous Loopers:

· Go slow!
They say the most dangerous thing to have on the Great Loop is a schedule. If you have to be somewhere at a certain date it pushes you to go when weather is adverse and not to stop when you get tired and grumpy. 
Throw away the schedule.

· Only plan 3 or 4 days in advance – keep a very flexible travel schedule. If the weather looks sketchy or you just don’t feel like it, take a day off. Just don’t go!
Have at least 3 possible anchorages.
Friends and family only get to choose one – a location for pickup or a date, not both.
Weather is #1 always. Don’t take chances. 
If nerves are getting frayed, take a day to explore & enjoy.

· Have a “go no-go” system.
Only one veto for the day is required to stay put. No questions, no resentments.
Remember that you are “pleasure boaters”. Do not take unnecessary risks to stay on schedule.

· Get headsets or “marriage savers” for docking and practice talking calmly to each other so you learn not to yell when things get challenging.
Whatever is said during docking/anchoring should not be held against you. Learn to let things roll off your back.
REMEMBER: boats can be fixed… relationships, not as easily.
Trust your partner… literally your life depends on what he or she does.
Pick a day a week where you and your partner do something separately.

· Buy your loop boat at least 1 year before you plan to start and practice. Learn the boat, practice, work out all the bugs, practice, learn the rules of the road, and then practice some more. 
Know your boat like the back of your hand.
Learn to steer the boat with precision. We’re talking 2 inches from lock walls.
Anticipate problems… bring spare parts and proper tools.

· Surround yourself with talented people!
Travel in packs… buddy boats are great company and very helpful if there’s an issue.
Docktails are an important part of the experience. Shared learnings.
Talk to the locals or reach out to boaters that you see just ahead of you on the Nebo boating app for local information.

· Bring a dinghy or kayak for exploration and adventure!
Bring bikes. Make sure you have a cover for it if you store it outside. Salt will trash even aluminum.

· Make sure you always have more than 3 days of food aboard. You would be surprised at the number of travellers who don’t! You can’t always find a grocery store close by.
Bring 20 pairs of knickers. You never know when you’ll be stopping and if laundry is available! 😉
Bring warm clothes – it was colder than we thought.

· Learn to trust the anchor. Have a good anchor/sufficient chain & know how to use it. Sleeping is important.

· Fender management. One set for lock walls and another cloth covered for against boats. Invest in 2 huge inflatable fenders!

· Invest in good navigation systems & learn how to interpret charts & systems so you can navigate safely.
Understand tides & what it will mean for navigation & planning. Especially if you’re a sailboat with a tall mast!
Interpret the weather from several sources so you can make informed “go no go” decisions.
Get the paper charts, you can always sell them later. They will save your bacon some days. Don’t trust one electronic source… we’ve had ours blank out more than once and needed to be rebooted and it always seemed to be at the worst time.

· Get some notebooks and keep a detailed daily diary. You will be amazed at how many times you refer back to it, even years later.
Get some boat cards (at least 250) and a card book to keep them in. 

· Have someone you trust look after your mail, etc.
Photocopy all of the stuff in your wallet. Take copies of your passports. Find a good place in the boat to hide all cards, passports, etc. Only carry the card(s) you need when leaving the boat.
Do not cancel your car insurance!

Loopers Heather and Cam onboard Sea Clef, who recently finished The Loop in July 2023

There are many Loopers who have documented their Loop experiences on YouTube. Check out some of these channels:

Sea Clef

North of 45

Sea Clef also contributed their interactive Google Map on their specific Loop route they took. Check out the map here:

The interactive map by Heather and Cam is packed with great information on The Loop

· In retrospect it was incredible… in real time it was many things, challenging and frustrating and still incredible.

· There will be difficult times… really difficult & downright scary. I laugh at some of our pictures making it look so serene & beautiful when in reality the day may have really sucked. The sense of accomplishment is unmatched.
You won’t be the same person after this.

· Do your own thing – your way at your comfort level. Just do it!!

· My advice is a quote from an old sailing tag… don’t dream the life… live the dream.

· Don’t wait… JUST GO!!!

· Join the “AGLCA.” It’s a fantastic resource for “Loopers in Planning” & “Loopers in Progress”!

Beware! There are legends that loopers and bananas don’t mix well. If you have any insight, please contact us…

Experienced Loopers, Lynn and Pat Lortie, recently contributed a story in Canada Boating magazine about their experience doing the Loop – twice! Read this fabulous story full of advice in the February issue of Canadian Boating magazine here: Thinking of Becoming a Looper? Tips From a Looper Who Has Done the Loop Twice

Scenes from Lynn and Pat Lortie’s Loop journey.
Left: Early morning on the Mississippi River is serene.
Right: Exiting the first lock at Chicago and heading downtown. That is a fantastic trip

To visit the original post on Facebook, click HERE.

To learn more about the Great Loop and the AGLCA, visit www.greatloop.org.

Allegra Smith-Herriott is the Associate Editor of Canadian Boating. She is a Sport Media graduate as well as an active sailor and power boater on Georgian Bay. She can be reached at asmithherriott@kerrwil.com.

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