Can Boats Get From Lakes To The Ocean? (Helpful Examples)

Provided that you use the correct waterways, canals, and outlets provided for that purpose, you can boat from major lakes, such as Lake Ontario and Lake Michigan, directly to the ocean. This is to promote commercial shipping of goods as well as travel from the ocean to inland regions.

From the Saint Lawrence Seaway to the Okeechobee Waterway, many scenic routes allow all boats to have ocean access, whether they be commercial tugs or private yachts.

In this article, we’ll explain how to travel from several of the most famous lakes directly to the deep blue sea and discuss restrictions and costs that may be involved.

Can You Boat from Lake Michigan to the Ocean?

One common method of reaching the Atlantic Ocean from Lake Michigan is to start in Chicago by canals to the Mississippi River and then to the Tenn-Tom Waterway.  This is just a part of the route known as America’s Great Loop, which allows recreational vessels to take a 6,000-mile circumnavigation of the eastern portion of North America.

This massive manmade Tenn-Tom Waterway extends 234 miles from the Tennessee River all the way to Tombigbee River in Alabama, hence the name!

It was constructed in 1984, at the cost of just over two billion dollars, to provide easier routine access to major shipping routes and to stimulate the local economies, bypassing a difficult stretch of the Mississippi River.

Heading down the Tenn-Tom will allow you access to many ports of interest, starting along the coast of the Gulf of Mexico and extending to places such as the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas; beautiful stops that may well merit ending your trip early or making it take much longer than you may have initially planned.

In fact, the Tenn-Tom Waterway is just one segment of the whole Great Loop route that includes much of the whole big Mississippi River.

This will allow you a rare tour of metropolitan Chicago as seen from the water, as well as many other natural treasures, before releasing you in the Gulf of Mexico.

Can You Boat from Lake Okeechobee to the Ocean?

The Okeechobee Waterway is the best – and only – route to take from Lake Okeechobee to the oceans.

It has been officially in use since 1937 and is maintained by both the South Florida Water Management District and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Stretching just over 150 miles from the east coast to the west coast of Florida, this route is shorter than other canal systems but is still quite the investment of time and resources to traverse successfully.

However, this route allows for some stunning, majestic views, including large swathes of untouched, pristine Florida Everglades.

The Okeechobee Waterway is the only navigable cross canal in Florida.

Yet it remains one of the calmest and serene routes you can take as a boater, whether you ultimately end up by Fort Meyers and the Gulf of Mexico or pass through Stuart on your way to the Atlantic Ocean.

Can You Boat from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean?

The Saint Lawrence Seaway, as part of the Great Lake Seaway, is the best route to take from Lake Ontario to the Atlantic Ocean.

One of the largest seaways in the world, the entire route runs over 2,340 miles, from Lake Erie to Montreal, with connections to all the great lakes.

Combined with the sheer volume of commercial traffic (which always prioritize private vessels), trips of this magnitude can sometimes take over a month to complete!

Fortunately, Lake Ontario is the easternmost great lake, and as such, the last lake in the hydrologic chain.

This means that oceanic journeys starting from Lake Ontario are already closer to the endpoint. By sticking to the Saint Lawrence River, you’ll end up in the Atlantic relatively quickly.

However, if you’d like to take a quicker, less congested route, a southerly shortcut through Lake Champlain will allow you to follow the Hudson River.  And there is also the Erie Canal stretching 363 miles from Lake Erie to Albany on the Hudson River.

Either of these “routes less traveled” does not lack for views, as they cut through the heart of New York and end right at the Statue of Liberty.

How are Bigger Boats Transported from Lakes to Oceans?

Although many boats can make the trip under their own power, some massive vessels cannot safely traverse from lakes to oceans.

Frequently, this is because it would not be safe to attempt. Fortunately, there is a multitude of companies that engage in vehicular transport.

Some options include:

  • Tug-behind or towing services, meaning that another vessel designed for this purpose helps the ungainly boat safely navigate the waters
  • Loading services, where a boat can make the trip loads the large vessel on board as cargo, typically partially or wholly disassembled.
  • Delivery services, wherein a boat too large to safely travel through locks and canals, is instead delivered across roads or airways to a usable port.

Regardless of the method used, all boaters need to be aware of their options, discuss alternatives, and prepare in advance.

It is advised to check with a local professional to make sure one knows the laws and limitations behind these services, any unexpected fees that might arise, and proper documentation.

It is important to have a licensed marine surveyor check the condition and dimensions of the boat.

While manufacturing specs are a helpful baseline, even slight deviations can rack up expenses, and undiscovered stresses or flaws in the vessel may make vehicular transport prohibitive – or even impossible.

Of course, standard safety cautions apply even to larger boats.

One should always secure all hatches and loose gear, drain water and fuel tanks, disconnect batteries and plugs, and ensure proper clearance to prevent delivery disasters.

How Large of a Boat can you Transport on Roads?

This varies depending on the state and locality, and it has three independent factors.

Typically, the maximum length allowed is between 50-60 feet long. Beam (or the widest points of the boat measuring width) is typically a concern, but excessive widths that take multiple lanes of traffic to cover may require oversize load permits.

Height must be kept ideally below 13 feet 6 inches to ensure proper clearance. For example, depending on the route taken, one may need higher clearance or not need to be concerned with clearance.

All of these dimensions are subject to variance and other restrictions.  For instance, I know of a 65′ wooden schooner that was moved by truck from California to the east coast, but it could not get permits for the highways in New England, so it needed to be launched Chesapeake Bay and sailed to Maine.

Most boats have beams small enough not to need a special permit, but boats wider than 12 feet require a certified escort.

Remember: the dimensions are measured “firm point to firm point,” which means that extensions and outboard accessories may push the final estimate higher.

Things like motors, bowsprits, antennas, and other non-essentials should be collapsed or detached for the trip.

Every inch trimmed down will contribute to lowering the cost, requirements, and hassle of the delivery.

How Much Does it Cost to Move a Boat from a Lake to the Ocean?

At a bare minimum, moving a boat costs around $1.50 per mile.

For a trip from Lake Superior to the Atlantic Ocean, this can easily run over $3,500 one way – even for small yachts.

Several key factors impact this cost:

Distance Traveled:

Naturally, the further the anticipated trip, the more money it will end up costing.

Type of Delivery:

The method used to deliver – whether on water, land, or even air – will affect the cost.

Dimensions and Condition of Boat:

Oversized boats, unusually dimensioned, or in poor repair cost more to deliver.


Whether one uses their own boating insurance or the delivery company’s policy can rack up additional costs, as well as any special licenses or legal necessities for transportation.

Choice of Moving Company:

Different companies specialize in different types of transportation, and they may charge extra for non-standard requests.

Seasonal Variance:

Costs fluctuate throughout the year depending on anticipated traffic volume, predicted weather conditions, and observed holidays.

To make sure one receives the best price, the optimal thing to do is request quotes from multiple boats moving companies before making any determination.

Make sure they understand the anticipated route and complications (especially if clearance, escorts, or oversize dimensions are concerns):

  1. Check for special sales or reduced rates.
  2. Verify the reputation of the company.
  3. See if their competitors offer any price matching, guarantees, or other services.

In most cases, it is much more affordable to deliver the boat under its own power by water, if at all possible. However, before doing so, make sure to have all proper documentation, licenses, and other required paperwork.

Plan for potential weeks spent on the water and account for fuel, food, and accommodation/docking fees.

Lastly, verify that the chosen route won’t have unexpected complications due to weather or changing conditions, make necessary arrangements for additional services as needed, and (if delivering a boat overland) make sure to obey all local laws for vehicular transport.

Remember to take extra care to secure the boat for non-standard travel methods.

Bubble wrap, cardboard, insulating foams, and even shrink wrap plastic may help avoid costly “road rash” on all surfaces and hardware on the boat.

Final Thoughts

Taking your boat from an inland location to the ocean by waterway can be a fantastic adventure if you have the time and the resources.

For more information about many of these routes, a good start is America’s Great Loop Cruisers Association.


Sail Far Live Free – Escape to the Sea: How to get from the Great Lakes to the Caribbean

Florida Backroads Travel – The Okeechobee Waterway: From the Atlantic to the Gulf

uShip – Boat Transport Rates

Yacht Unlimited – Boat Transports Over The Road

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