We live in Gulf Breeze (next to Pensacola) and are very familiar with the area you’re asking about. The waterway depths are ample throughout – all the way to Apalachicola, and you’ll have no trouble with a four foot draft (or much greater) in the channel. Greens to starboard in the ICW heading east from Mobile Bay.
Best, Tim and Marguerite Burr READ MORE!
The panhandle portion of the ICW from Mobile to Apalachicola the depth is good in the channel as tows travel it daily.
Gary & Coleen Barger
Sanctuary is a 4+ ft draft boat. We have done the OWW at all lake datum levels – high and low – many times; crossed Lake O in late-May, 2017, where Route 1 (cross-lake route) was at only 5.1ft; we have never grounded on OWW, but there are places that can happen. Watch the areas around hurricane gates. Generally, follow the outside bend on curves. Be extremely cautions in Clewiston channel to stay in that channel; MUST be able to backlight there.
All of the panhandle and all of western Florida is shallow by Great Lakes standards. If you stay between the markers, you’ll be good to go with your draft. We traveled inside from Mobile to Apalachicola to Carrabelle without incident. Tides in those bays are 2 ft or less. During neap phase, there is only one high tide per day along the gulf coast. In SW Florida, that occurs in mid-to-late afternoon.
In many places in the SE, I see false shoaling hazard markers in ActiveCaptain. I really believe many cruisers do not understand the markers. Markers on pilings are often placed beyond the actual edges of channels. Often in the Carolinas, Georgia and Florida, day markers are actually out of the water – dry – at low tide. Sometimes, that’s because of how the markers were surveyed and sometimes as a result of ongoing shoaling. In general, DO NOT CUT TOO CLOSE TO FIXED DAYMARKS. Often, you will find the bottom if you do that. Floaters usually mark the edge of hazards, but not so daymarks.
Hope this is useful.
As others have stated already, you’ll find sufficient depths for 4′ draft all along this stretch IF you stay in the marked channels. Consult your charts, but also watch especially for buoys–they often mark “wandering” shoals or channel restrictions. The last few times we’ve done this stretch, the shallowest area was across Lake Wimico, then the N-S channel leading from Apalachicola out into the bay (but it was being dredged this past January).
Red ATONs will be to port generally along this entire route, since you’ll be going “out to sea” while going down Mobile Bay, keeping the “mainland” on your port while proceeding east on the ICW (that’s the lateral marker convention for the Gulf and Atlantic ICWs), and going downstream on the relatively short stretch of the Apalachicola River that you traverse. HOWEVER, there are some exceptions near major inlets when the ICW shares the harbor entrance. For example, going east from Pensacola and from Panama City you’ll have reds to starboard for a few miles each, then the convention will flip once back in the ICW-only portion.
With good eyes (or in my case, binoculars), lateral aids-to-navigation serving the ICW have small yellow triangles and squares you can spot to know which side to take them. The shapes of these yellow stickers are “in agreement” with the larger ATON to which they are attached (i.e., yellow triangles on reds; yellow squares on greens) except in those spots I mentioned in the previous post where what might be “returning from sea” for a major inlet also happens to be “heading towards Hampton, VA” on the intracoastal.
“what is the channel marker convention when cruising from Mobile Bay to Pensacola” – use the rule ‘reds are on the major land mass side ‘ .. this is the same for the OWW and it is easy to remember ..
for your ‘final leg’ cruise from the Panhandle to Fort Myers you may want to check out our buoy reports .. ie go to www.marvsweather.com and click on ‘buoy reports’ .. at this time we have three buoy reports for your Gulf crossing .. if you find that our reports can help you out with your crossing you can sign up for our free daily service ..
Marv and Carol Market
aboard M/V Dee Light – did the Loop in 2003
The convention of marking the ICW is in a clockwise motion around the US, keeping the reds on the right. This means when you go from Mobile to Ft. Myers, keep the reds on your left. ALWAYS follow the ICW marks when following the ICW route. The red side will be marked with a YELLOW TRIANGLE and the green side will be marked with a YELLOW SQUARE. Very often, theses marks are faded or covered with bird do-do or other debris, so you must look hard to verify what the ATON (Aid to Navigation) is marking. For the overwhelming majority of the markers, the yellow triangles will be on red triangular ATONs and the yellow squares will be on green square ATONs. Be cautious anytime the ICW intersects with an opening to the ocean as sometimes there are single ATONs serving a dual purpose to mark both channels. Occasionally, you may see a red marker for the inlet display a yellow square which tells you to treat it as a red for the inlet and keep it on the right (if returning from sea) and treat it as a green for the ICW and keep it on your left if going in a clockwise direction around the US. One such marker is at the St. Augustine inlet with a 2 foot deep shoal on the wrong side. I suspect Sea Tow and Boat US towing make money from boaters who do not pay attention to this marker.
Follow the yellow squares and yellow triangles and you should be good to go. There are a few spots where you will need to pay attention to set and drift caused by wind or current – probably the most classic example is in the “miserable mile” where you transition from the ICW to the Caloosahatchee River at Ft Myers. There is a cross current that will quickly set you out of the channel if you are not paying attention. Back sighting the markers behind you with the ones in front of you will help you keep in the channel. Keep in mind that the entire west coast of Florida including the leg to the Keys is all shallow water. Down there, they consider 6 feet as “deep water”
I have seen many Loopers with simple “reminder aids” at the helm to help them remember which side to keep which ATON on as you transition around the Loop. They range from simple popsicle sticks with the ends painted red and green to much more elaborate “reminder aids” such as model ATONs turned from wood dowels. Pretty simple to make and easy to use as long as you remember to switch them when changing directions (ICW transition to move up a river and then change it as you turn around to go toward the ocean). I suppose you could have two sets – one red and green and one with yellow triangles and yellow squares.
As part of your daily preview of your charts for what is ahead of you for the day’s journey (you DO preview your charts daily, don’t you?), you should make a note of the areas on the chart where there are intersections and then take a look at each marker on the chart so you know which side to be on when you arrive at the intersection. There are a few places where there are multiple intersections and correlating your chart with what you are actually seeing with your eyes is critical for safe navigation. Learn how to read a navigational chart. Chart Number One (Google it) is a key reference to reading all nautical charts. It shows you what each and every symbol on a nautical chart means. Preview the potential trouble spots and figure it out before you get there. It will be much less stressful and your confidence will appreciably increase.
Be safe and have fun!
Dave & Nan Ellen Fuller