Beyond The Atlantic: The Intracoastal Waterway

Call me stupid (Thanks, thanks so much), but when I first moved to our island, I could have included in one unimaginative sentence everything I knew about the Intracoastal Waterway (ICW). The sentence would have gone something like this:

The Intracoastal Waterway extends throughout the Carolinas (this part would be based on my astute powers of observation during all our trips up and down the Carolina coast exploring its islands) and is a body of water that I cross to get to my island.

Meaty and highly informative, isn’t it? It’s also probably a strong indicator of why no one has ever asked me to teach geography.

It turns out the body of water I’d been crossing (so filled with my own ignorance when doing so), often referred to as “the Intracoastal” by those around me, is technically the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway, and extends far beyond my backyard, arguably (yes, arguably) spanning from Massachusetts or even Maine to the north to Florida to the south. There’s also a Gulf Intracoastal Waterway, incidentally, from Texas to Florida. The ICW provides a passage for boats to travel along the coast without having to traverse the more difficult waters of the Atlantic. Not completed until the late 1930s, many sections of land, often marsh-like in nature, had to be dug out to connect the separated natural bodies of water that line the coast. The Intracoastal is maintained by the United States Army Corp of Engineers, whose responsibilities include keeping the waterways navigable, as they are prone to shoaling.

While the purpose of the ICW is largely to facilitate commercial and military transportation, it’s also a beautiful place to explore via pleasure craft. Many islanders do the majority of their boating activities on the ICW, whether it’s in kayaks and jon boats or in larger fishing boats and cruisers. Oftentimes even, you can guess the time of year based on which way the pleasure craft are heading, as large numbers of boaters head south for the winter and then turn around and head back north in the spring.

If you are interested in exploring the ICW via boat, websites such as strive to keep boaters abreast of newer shoals, marina information, and so forth, and provides important information on various boating topics including scheduled bridge openings.  In addition to checking the internet for the most up-to-date information, two books that give detailed information about navigation, marinas, sight-seeing, restaurants and the like in the Carolinas are Cruising Guide to Coastal North Carolina and Cruising Guide to Coastal South Carolina and Georgia, both by Claiborne S. Young. As these were published in 2005 and 2007 respectively, however, Dozier’s Waterway Guide Atlantic ICW 2012 might also be a good print source for more current information.

Without question, some of the most beautiful sunsets I’ve seen have been over the Intracoastal, as the sun dips red beneath the dark outline of trees on the mainland in the distance, or else dips deep into the water itself, depending on the island and its positioning. I’ve watched many sunsets and sunrises over the ICW in both states and the views are always stunning. Someday, LCB and I hope to take a long boat trip up and down the Intracoastal, seeing the Carolinas entirely from a seafarer’s perspective. Those who have done it say it is a voyage without match.

3 Replies to “Beyond The Atlantic: The Intracoastal Waterway”

  1. That photo took my breath away! GORGEOUS! What a great backyard you have. 🙂 I loved the sunsets when we were on Cape Cod and I hope with all hopes that we can get back there. My friend lives in NC and just loves it there and hopefully I can get there as well to visit. She lives in Mt Pleasant.

    1. Isn’t it stunning? I came here for the ocean, but I had no idea how beautiful the Intracoastal is. And the sunsets really can be to-die-for. I’d love to explore the Cape Cod area more. I can imagine why you’d want to return! 🙂

  2. I love the Intracoastal! Hubby and I dream of retiring to a little intracoastal bungalow after the kids leave/get pushed out. Before kids and becoming a stay-at-home-mom, I was a maritime museum curator. Every day I had the joy of crossing the intracoastal to work and back again. I loved it. Watching the life of the waterway, especially during “the moving season” for the full-time boaters, was a delight.

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