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Everything you need to know about Great Loop boats
Many factors make a boat feasible for the Great Loop. Like most things in life, there is “no perfect boat.” Boats are a series of compromises, and Great Loop boats are no exception. We’ve compiled everything you need to know about Great Loop boats, including the minimum requirements, the top current Great Loop boats, how to determine the best one for you, and more!
Great Loop Boat Requirements
There are two hard requirements for a boat to complete the Great Loop. The first is height. To complete the Great Loop, you must be able to fit under a bridge south of Chicago that is 19 feet 6 in high and located at mile 300.6 on the Illinois River. If you’re considering traveling the entire length of the Erie Canal, the lowest clearance for the Westward part is 15 feet 6 inches. Not all boats need to meet this height requirement, as there are other routes boats can take.
The second requirement for Great Loop boats is the travel distance under one tank of fuel. This is less of a hard requirement because you can use fuel canisters to extend your range, but from Hoppies, Missouri, to Paducah, Kentucky (over 200 miles), there are no places to refuel.
The other important requirement for Great Loop boats that you will want to consider is draft. The colloquial idea is that you will not want a boat with a draft more than 6 ft. You will go through many waterways with varying depths. The more shallow boats are capable of going through waterways with less concern compared to boats with a deep keel. The counter to this argument is that boats with a deeper draft or larger keel make for a more seaworthy boat.
Width isn’t a challenge for most boats as you will first run into height or draft restrictions when you get larger. The one exception to this statement is for de-masted catamarans. If boaters are interested in taking their boat through the Trent-Severn Waterway in Canada, the narrowest lock is 23 feet wide.
The Best Boats for the Great Loop
Fundamentally, the best boats for the Great Loop are the boats completing the Loop! Here are the statistics for the last two years.
We can see that trawlers are the most popular, followed by cruisers, with catamarans and trailerable trawlers also making the list! The largest boat to complete the Loop in recent years is 59’, the smallest was 12’ (a PWC), and the average size is 40-41 feet.
Can you do the great loop in a sailboat?
You may notice that no sailboats are on the list above, and they are much rarer, but it is possible. Firstly, boaters must remove their mast for both the Erie Canal and Mid-West waterways (some companies can help ship your mast). Secondly, sailboats frequently come with higher than recommended drafts, depending on the boat. All this said, many people do the loop in a sailboat.
The Best Great Loop Boats
Every boat is a series of compromises, so to determine your best Great Loop boat, you should get acquainted with other popular Great Loop boats. Here are some of the best Great Loop boats, as we saw during our 2021-2022 Great Loop.
Kicking off at number 1, our boat Pivot! Pivot is a 34’ Marine Trader DC with two cabins, two heads, a single engine, and a bow thruster! You can read all about her here.
During our time living aboard our boat for two and a half years, we saw a lot of boats on America’s Great Loop. Great Loop boats come in various shapes, sizes, configurations, engine types, and styles. Here are some of the many boats we saw during our Great Loop journey:
Trawlers on the Loop
It is obvious why trawlers are the most common boats on the Loop. They are spacious, fuel-efficient, and can be found on a budget. They typically cruise around 6-8 knots, have large fuel tanks, and have great visibility due to a flybridge.
Cruisers on the Loop
Cruisers are fantastic Great Loop Boats because they are spacious like trawlers and can go slow to conserve fuel. However, they also have the capability to travel fast and sometimes by plane. This does come with the tradeoff of a very high fuel burn.
Trailerable Boats on the Loop
Trailerable vessels are fantastic boats for the Great Loop because you can complete the Loop in sections. You can trailer your boat and complete whichever section you want next. The idea of taking your time and not feeling pressured to keep up with the seasons allows you to travel at your own pace.
Catamarans on the Loop
Catamarans are a popular choice on the Loop because you get the increased space from having a wider vessel, typically have shallow drafts, allowing you to travel any waterway on the Loop, and can have a stable cruise from the two hulls, depending upon the weather conditions.
Best Great Loop Boat For You
To determine the best great loop boat for you, you must answer a few questions to narrow the search.
Like most things, your budget will be the first determining factor. You don’t need that much money to complete the Loop; check out our expense report to see how much it costed us!
There are 3 main factors that your boat will impact with respect to how much your Loop will Cost.
- Purchase Price.
- You can buy a Loop-ready boat for as little as 30k, or the sky is the limit, and you can spend millions.
- Overall Length.
- If you plan to spend time at marinas, nights are billed by LOA. Typically, as a ratio per foot, $2 per foot is average.
- Fuel burn per mile.
- One of the constants of America’s Great Loop is the distance. Your boat will need to traverse around 6,000 miles and will burn fuel to do that.
Depending on your goal route, you’re vessel needs certain characteristics. Here are the main qualifiers:
The Trent-Severn Canal
The Trent-Severn Canal in Canada has a maximum draft of 5 ft and a maximum width of 20ft. Larger vessels and wide power catamarans will not be able to transit what many consider to be not only a historic waterway but also the gateway to some of the most beautiful waters of the Loop.
The Chicago River
Cruising downtown, the Chicago River was one of our favorite moments of the entire Loop. The constraining factor here is a bridge height of 17 feet. If your boat meets the 19’6″ foot clearance for the overall Great Loop but doesn’t meet the 17-foot clearance, you’ll have to skip cruising down the Chicago River and go down the Cal-Sag instead.
Crystal River from Florida’s Big Bend
Crystal River, a haven when transiting the Big Bend on Florida’s Panhandle, is a unique spot to see Manatees. The entry canal to this harbor is pretty shallow, and you will not want a draft of more than 4.5 ft to visit this section.
Finally, to narrow down the best great loop boat for you, you must consider your goals and requirements for the Loop. Here are some questions to prompt your analysis:
- How many people will be living aboard? Will you complete it solo, with a partner, or with family and friends?
- How long do you have to complete the Loop? Are you doing it in sections or all at once?
- What are your plans with the boat after the Loop?
- Will you stay at marinas more often, or do you prefer to anchor out?
- Do you want more safety features built in, like railings?
- Do you want to spend more time in destinations (which a “go fast boat” will allow for) or enjoy the moments in between (which a “go slow boat” will allow you to enjoy more of the journey between the destinations)?
Thoughts from two Gold Loopers
As we just completed the Loop, there are a few must-haves for us on our next boat!
- A Fast Boat is a Safe Boat
- As the saying goes, a fast boat is a safe boat. We prefer to travel slowly but would have liked the option to go fast. If we don’t get a boat that has the option to go fast, we’ll definitely get stabilizers.
- Also, we had a bow thruster that really helped maneuverability on the Loop, and we wouldn’t do the Loop without one (or twin engines, at least).
- Get the Smallest Boat that Fits your Needs
- The conventional wisdom is to get the smallest boat that fits your criteria. While we have two bedrooms and two heads, making Pivot great for a family or guests, we only had guests a handful of times. We could have had a smaller boat and been a bit cramped a few times over the years instead of moving a lot of empty space for 6k miles.
- Your Great Loop Boat doesn’t have to be your forever boat
- When planning for retirement, many people try and pick one boat to handle all scenarios. Unfortunately, boats are a series of tradeoffs, and great loop restrictions may not be restrictions you want after becoming Gold Loopers. For example, many cruisers enjoy spending time in the Bahamas. In this case, with ocean hops, the most seaworthy boats have a deeper draft or stabilizers, something you might not have on your Loop Boat.
How to Find a Great Loop Boat
It’s never been easier to find a great loop boat than it is today. Our first suggestion to find a great loop boat is to try some out! You can rent boats for a week and try different ones, and if you go to an AGLCA Rendezvous, you can tour current Loopers boats! The benefit here is that you will learn what other people currently doing the Great Loop like and don’t like about their own boats, answering questions you didn’t even know you had!
If you live on the East Coast, you can visit practically any boatyard and see many boats for sale. This can be a great introductory way to see different boat types or possibly find a boat for sale.
Great Loop Boats for Sale
We bought and sold our boat by owner, without a broker, and we found Pivot by searching our local boat yard! You can often find boats from Loopers that just completed, so we recommend keeping an eye on the AGLCA forum, and if you find the type of boat you like, message the owners!
All in all, there are a variety of Great Loop Boats, and we hope you have used the information in this post to help determine which is best for you. Leave us a comment below if you have any other quesetions.
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