The inter-coastal waterway was ordered constructed by President Woodrow Wilison during the First World War. The German U-boats posed a threat to American shipping and we needed a way to move goods around our coastline without exposing them to German submarines. The inter-coastal waterway tied the natural occurring sounds (bodies of water between the mainland and the barrier islands) with man made canals to create a man made salt water river just inside the coast. Following the war it was realized that the inter coastal waterway was also a shipping lane for tugs and barges that avoided the rough weather in the exposed Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic Ocean.

These same waterways today have an unintended side effect in that they create a protected (from weather) route for recreational vessels as well. This allows private vessles to return home during rough weather where they would be stranded if they had to go outside to return. Further the waterway itself allows vessels that otherwise couldn’t navigate along the coast (due to their size or lack of it) to cruise to other bays and sounds connected by the intercoastal waterway.

Now navigating the ICW does take some care as slower moving tugs with their bargeswill be encountered. A VHF radio set to channel 16 will allow you to hear and or make hails to the tugs skipper. The rules of the road are like you would expect. Stay to the right just like you would on a two way road. There is some simple terminology to know however. When two vessels are passing each other by steering to the right (passing port to port) this is a “one whistle pass”. Passing each other on the left (passing starboard to starboard) is a “two whistle pass”. Overtaking a vessel and passing by steering to the left (passing on his port side) is a one whistle pass. Overtaking a vessel and passing by steering to the right (passing on his starboard side) is a two whistle pass. Obviously if you don’t have a radio you can signal with a boat horn. Remember if you don’t have a radio he may blow his horn not because he is mad but because he is trying to talk to you by the terms in this paragraph.

Now it is true that there are “right of way” issues with boats; however, tugs with a push barge are considered “under tow” further they are “a displacement vessel in a channel” both of these conditions gives them the right of way. Even if some lawyer or old salt tells you that under some circumstance the tug doesnot have the right of way, remember this: He is always going to win the collision by the law of gross tonnage, give him room. It is for this reason that I would not anchor near the inter-coastal waterway. You never know when a barge is going to break loose or a Capitan cut a corner. But as a route to explore remote areas safely and in a protected manner the inter-coastal waterway can’t be beat.