Boat Requirements & Recommendations

We all have a “Dream Boat” in mind. I certainly do. Problem is, I can’t afford it. If someone gave it to me free, I still could not afford the fuel required to cruise even once around the Great Loop. . . But, that’s just me. I live on a frugal budget.

Yes, I have dreams of a bigger, nicer, much more luxurious boat with 3 or 4 waitresses in bikinis serving me Umbrella Drinks – but that’s a fantasy. It’ll never happen and I know it, even if I played and won the Lottery.

The boat I cruise the Loop in is less than half the size of my ‘dream boat’ but the great news is, it is the one I live my dream in. That’s what makes the difference.

When looking for your “Looper Boat”, the first thing to keep in mind is: The moment you select your boat – You have selected your long term, long distance and forever cost of cruising and boat ownership.

Forget the purchase price for a moment. Fact is, you can purchase a boat that requires $40,000 (or more) in fuel to cruise the Loop or you can purchase one that requires $3,000 (or less) in fuel. The choice is yours, so be sure you choose wisely.

Having spent 23 years cruising the Loop, I’ve met lots of “Loopers”. I’ve met some that actually have spent $40,000 in fuel. I’ve met many more that have spent between $7,000 to $15,000 for fuel. Personally however, my most fuel efficient voyage around the Loop cost $1,300 in a 28′ sailboat my son & I “motored” around the entire Loop. My most expensive fuel cost was $5,300 in a 34′ full displacement hull, single engine Trawler. As a result, I now cruise the Loop in a 36′ sailboat with the mast off, and motored around, at a cost average of only $3,000 for my normal 6,300 mile journey.

  • Don’t do as I do. Do what is right for you!

I’m NOT here to suggest you cruise the Loop as I do. Believe me, we all have our own boating philosophies, lifestyles & comfort zones. Furthermore, some of us are cruising solo, maybe with or without an occassional friend or guest. Most ‘Loopers’ are cruising couples, and a couple will typically require more comfort & space (for sure a bigger galley & bed). Some still are two couples or a family cruising together. . . So for sure, your circumstances, your boating preferences and your lifestyle and comfort zone will be different than mine. Comfort on this (normally) year long voyage is critical


There are really only two basic boat size restrictions most of us have to be aware of.

1. Height: There is a 19 foot 1 inch fixed bridge just south of Chicago – WE ALL MUST GO UNDER! There is no other waterway route around this bridge. This fact alone eliminates the really big boats.

Additionally regarding Height: There is a 17′ fixed bridge at Downtown Chicago. If you can clear 17′ you can boat right through Downtown Chicago.

The Erie Canal – if you intend to cruise the full length of the Erie Canal from the Hudson River to the Niagara River and Lake Erie, you must be able to clear a 15′ 6″ fixed bridge on the west end of the Erie Canal at Tonawanda. If you can clear this 15′ 6″ bridge, you will enjoy complete access to all route options on America’s Great Loop.

2. Depth: A Five (5) feet draft or less (less is better) is recommended. A surprising fact about cruising the Loop is while the “reluctant spouse” may have visions of the Titanic sinking… chances are if your vessel sank cruising the Loop, it would most likely touch bottom before dissappearing beneath the water. You will have more concern over “running aground” on this voyage than anything else. A five (5) foot ‘when fully loaded’ draft is about as deep as you will want to go. Some have done the Loop in 6′ and even 7′ drafts. A draft this deep however will limit the routes you take and the places along the way you can go. It will also result in a great deal of Nervous Netty “white knuckle” cruising.

For most of us, the above restrictions are all we really need to know. For those dreaming of a much bigger boat however:

3. Maximum Beam: is 23 feet

4. Maximum Length: is 90 feet

Actually, the maximum length on the American side of the Loop is 300 feet, while the maximum on the Canadian Heritage Canals is 90 feet. If you have a 300 foot vessel, we’re pretty positive you will have a real problem getting under that 19′ 1″ fixed bridge south of Chicago. Lol


Your vessel’s fuel requirments will depend on the route you take.

If you take what is known as the “Tennessee-Tombigbee” route to Mobile Bay, you must be able to cruise 250 miles on a tank of fuel.

If you plan to take the Mississippi River route to New Orleans, you must be able to cruise 450 miles on a tank(s) of fuel.

FYI – Regarding fuel: It is also critical that you know your vessel’s ‘fuel burn rate’ per hour. That’s your GPH not your GPM. Reason? Between long ‘wait times’ at Locks & Lift Bridges and boating against the tide in tidal waters and upstream on rivers, if you don’t know your GPH, I can almost guarantee you might run out of fuel.

Have Questions?

Capt. John’s #1 Best Seller “Once Around Is Not Enough” answers 120 of the most FAQs about America’s Great Loop. It also provides over 100 valuable cruising tips and suggestions to make your voyage around the Great Loop safe, comfortable and stress free.