Frequently Asked Questions About The Great Loop

Brenda and I have completed America’s Great Loop twice and have over 32,000 miles of boating under our keel. We are frequently asked questions by boaters and non-boaters, current Loopers, and people considering doing the Great Loop.

Here are a selection of the most common questions. We will try to keep them updated as new questions come up or situations, technology, and regulations change.

If there is a question we haven’t covered or something you would like more information on, please “Contact Us,” we will be more than happy to help!

(click on the + or – to expand or close each question)

When we did our Loop trip, we picked up some used single-speed, non-electric, folding bikes. We did use them from time to time and enjoyed it. Tom used his bike to run errands several times. In general, we are not big “bicycle riders” to begin with, and as we got away from the coast and into hill country, we tended to use them less and less. We met folks who were big bike riders who used them all the time, and boaters with electric bikes seemed to use them more than peddle bikes.

When we did our “Loop 1a” trip in December 2021, we bought folding electric bikes from Enzo and have used them quite a bit since. If we had had our electric bikes on the Loop, we would have used them much more.

Having them on our second Loop, was great. We used them frequently and rode along nature trails, to museums, shopping, and restaurants there were just a bit too far to walk to. We put over 200 miles on the bikes during the trip!

Here are a couple of thoughts on bikes:

  1. Unless you have a large enclosed cockpit to store them, they are going to get wet, and a lot of that water is going to be salty. I looked for bikes with a lot of aluminum, stainless steel, and titanium.
  2. Get yourself a good cover for them. Look for a cover that’s rated for use on car bike racks so that it can withstand the wind.
  3. Get a good bike lock. Lots of bikes for boaters get stolen. It’s just a sad fact. A lock is only a deterrent. If they want your bikes, they will get them. We use small cable locks when we are out riding around. For overnight storage, we have a larger, stronger 15 ft cable lock that we can thread through both wheels, the frame, and something fixed (lamp post, bike rack, boat stairs). We use a good weather-proof combination lock for it. If possible, bring your bikes on board your boat at night. The closer to your boat, the less likely they will get stolen. Avoid leaving them on the bike racks away from the docks. Some marinas will let you lock them up on the docks, but most don’t, as it restricts dock access. Lock your bikes even when they are on your boat! I prefer combo locks so I don’t lose the keys or forget to take them.
  4. Don’t buy the “Best,” most “Expensive” bikes. Because the bikes are going to get exposed to the elements, especially salt water, fall in the water walking down docks, and might get stolen. We suggest that you find a good, reliable bike, but stay away from the top-of-the-line bikes. You can find good electric bikes on Amazon for under $1,000 that will work just fine and will last for a few years. We got our Enzos on sale for about $1,200, shipping included.
  5. Get some good accessories. You will want to get bikes with fenders (so that you don’t get a big wet stripe up your back when you ride through the inevitable puddles). You will want a bike rack (either front or rear) to carry groceries. And as mentioned a good bike lock. We also purchased a phone holder so that we can have navigation in front of us and rearview mirrors. Another key accessory is a small thumb bell to let walkers in front of you know you are coming up behind them. For some reason, people walking on the side of a path will move to the middle when they hear a bike coming! I also got a set of panniers to mount to the rack to make carrying supplies easier. Another recommended accessory is a front AND REAR light. We use the rear flashing light even during the day.

Yes! We met people with three golden retrievers on their boat, one with two dogs and a cat on a small sailboat, and many people with one or two pets. If you plan to take your pet on board, please think about the logistics of taking care of them in advance. First, there is “Shore Patrol Doody” and how (and where) they are going to do their business. For cats, it’s pretty straightforward. Just find a place for the litter box that won’t stink up a small enclosed boat.

For dogs, it’s a bit more complex. Some can be trained to use an artificial turf mat on the back of the boat. However, most people we met didn’t find that workable. So, you need to get them to dry ground at least twice a day. This means a dinghy ride if you are at anchor or staying in marinas so you have easy access to land.

Another consideration is age. We know of several Loopers who have older dogs with mobility issues. Think about having to lift and carry your dog on and off the boat, up to docks, down from docks. Also, in some cases, the first patch of grass can be a quarter-mile or more walk down the docks. Having your dog pee or poop on the dock is frowned upon and means you’ll have to carry a water hose to clean up as well! While on the subject, please, if you do bring a pet, pick up after your animal. Finding poop piles in the grass and even on the docks was common. Please be courteous and pick up after your pet!

We would also just take off for a few days to sightsee in an area. If you have pets aboard, this limits your mobility somewhat, as you need to find pet-friendly accommodations and rental vehicles. Also, leaving a pet locked up in a hot boat is the same as locking it up in a hot car, so you’ll have to leave your a/c on and arrange for a fellow boater to feed, water, and walk them.

To enter Canada, you will need a current rabies certificate and a health statement. We crossed into Canada on our Loop 2 with friends who were traveling with their dog. They had all of the paperwork ready and were prepared for the dog to be “viewed”. All the Customs staff wanted to see was the rabies certificate. They never even came out to the boats.

It’s very common to see pets on boats. I would say that 25% of the people we met on the loop had pets aboard. Dogs were most common, cats (popular on sailboats for some reason), and we have even met a parrot or two (mostly on pirate ships).

If you do not travel with a pet, be sure to keep treats handy! We always have a tub of dog cookies (small ones) for a meet and greet as they walk down the docks. We always ask the owner first, as some dogs, especially older ones, have dietary restrictions. We have become VERY popular with the dock dogs, several making regular stops at the side of the boat for their treat!

That’s three separate questions, but I’ll address them all at once.

Cell Service, Text, & Data

Cell Service is generally available on 98% of the Great Loop Route. There are a couple of exceptions in Canada where, due to roaming contracts, you may have an issue. Also, if you go offshore or out of sight of land on the Great Lakes and cross the Gulf of Mexico, you will probably lose service. Some of the areas on the Mississippi River, and the Tenn-Tom are spotty as well because they are so remote. Aside from that, you should be fine for making phone calls and sending/receiving text messages.

I’m going to put a second Loop update early here. Starlink is a game-changer! While a bit pricy at $150 per month for a roaming contract, we found it to be well worth the price. With Internet access, you can steam TV services, we used YouTube TV so that we could get our local TV channels. Also, most cell phones today, have a internet calling feature, where if cell service is not available, it will automatically switch to the internet. There are some other caveats, which we cover in our “Starlink” blog post.

Internet falls into three categories. Internet through your mobile provider, marina Wi-Fi, and Starlink. In the US, mobile internet is okay but can be spotty in rural areas. We’ve had 1x or no coverage in many areas along the rivers and in more rural areas of the Tenn-Tom Waterway and Georgia. We had an extra mobile hot spot on the boat but rarely found an area where we needed it. Verizon and T-Mobile seem to have the best overall signals, followed by AT&T. Remember that lots of the Loop Route is rural and can be away from highways and metro areas, which is where most cell towers are, so signal strength and 5G will be limited.

Canada is another story. If you are on a US-based mobile plan, your internet use in Canada will probably be limited. We got 1.5 Gig a day of fast internet from Verizon but were then throttled back to a very slow speed. This is okay for checking email but not for streaming video (or uploading photos for a blog). We tried to get a mobile sim from a Canadian carrier, but they require a Canadian address and Credit Card, even for pre-paid plans.

Wi-Fi Internet

Marina Wi-Fi was available at most of the marinas we stayed in. The Canals (Erie, Rideau, Trent-Severn) are an exception because you stay on the lock walls, and there is no internet provided. The quality of marina wi-fi varies tremendously. Many marinas have one connection that is shared among all of the boaters and the marina office. I’m an early riser and from 5 am to 6 am I got good speeds, when the rest of the world started waking up and going online, the speed would drop right down. Also, some marinas block video streaming to keep usage down. Another factor is distance. The majority of Loopers are “Transient,” staying for just one or two nights, so they tend to put us on the outside docks to make it easy to get in and out. This means that in many cases where the wi-fi antenna is onshore, you are far from the access point. We installed a wi-fi booster on our mast, which made a huge difference! In some areas, we would give out passwords to our guest network to other boaters because we could connect when they could not!

We use the Rogue Pro DB antenna booster. It is stainless steel so can take the marine environment, it is Dual Band covering both 2.4 and 5 GHz Frequencies. (Being able to do 5GHz when available moves you to a faster, less congested antenna) It’s easy to use and very reliable. There are a bunch out there, but make sure that you get one that is made for the marine environment.

Television

There are four options for Television on board.

  1. Digital Antenna – An external antenna mounted on your boat (most look like thick frisbees). In metro areas, they work okay, but channels are limited. Also, remember that being on the water, you are at the lowest point in an area, so signals get blocked. The price, however, is right; antennas can be under $100, and the signal is free. We found NO digital TV signals in Canada except near the US border, where we would occasionally pick up a US station. Also, you must re-scan for channels every time you move.
  2. Satellite TV – We had a KVH-M5 Satellite TV receiver on our boat with DirecTV service during our first Loop. We were able to get a good signal at pretty much every place we stayed, including Canada. Some of the considerations are: a) It is expensive. Our subscription is $80 per month. We pause it when we are not traveling to save money. Our boat came with the Satellite Antenna, but if you have to add it, its systems start at $3,000 and go up rapidly. Also, our “local channels” are from New York City, not where we are. We had to lower our mast when traveling through the canals, so if we wanted Satellite TV, we would have to raise our mast when we tied up for the night and lower it again in the morning.
  3. Streaming Television – Streaming TV is very hit or miss as it relies on a good internet connection. If you have Starlink, it works great. If you rely on marina or cell based internet services, it can be spotty and very slow. If you are going to stream through a cellular device, we found that using a tablet or phone connected to the TV with an HDMI cable worked in areas where wi-fi didn’t, as we were able to use our mobile carriers’ internet connection, which was faster than the marina wi-fi. In Canada, you will be able to watch about 15 minutes of TV before your bandwidth runs out and you get throttled back to slow speed.

    One of the issues with Steaming TV is that you will get blocked from local programming as you move around the loop. Streaming Services are Location-based, so if your home is in Florida and you are in New York, you may be unable to watch your local stations. Also, once you are in Canada, most Streaming Services like Apple TV, Netflix, Disney+, YouTube TV, and Sling will block you because you are in another country and your subscription is probably for US only. A way to get around this is to use a VPN. We use NordVPN’s SmartDNS service, which is easy to set up on your Smart TV to “appear” to still be in the US. Also, while traveling, a VPN is an excellent security tool for your Phones, Tablets, and Computers! Check out NordVPN’s special offer of up to 66% off!
  4. Cable TV – In a few marinas we stayed at, Cable TV was available on the power pedestal. You need to provide your own cable to connect to your boat/tv. With the satellite, we didn’t try it except at one marina where our satellite signal was blocked by a large building next to the marina. The quality was horrible.

If mobile connectivity is important to you, check out the Mobile Internet Resource Center, they are boaters and RV’ers who specialize in mobile internet!

If you plan to anchor out frequently, especially if you have a dog on board, the answer is YES. You will need a dinghy to go ashore for supplies when anchored out or to bring your pet for “shore duty.”

We didn’t anchor out much, and we didn’t bring a pet on board. We only used our dinghy a few times the entire trip. Getting our dinghy off our boat is a bit of a chore, which probably impacted our usage. We used it once while anchored out to get to shore and the rest to just explore the area we were in. We took a ride up a creek off the Hudson River, and we explored the mangrove islands to see the manatees in Florida.

If you don’t plan on anchoring out, you may not need it. One consideration, either way, is how you carry it and how easy it is to get on and off your boat. Swim platforms or transom-mounted dinghies can increase your overall length, which may be a cost/availability issue at some marinas. Dinghies that take a lot of effort to deploy, like ours, may reduce your willingness to use them. I would say that most Loopers carry a dinghy; however, we did meet a few without.

No, you don’t. We thought about installing one before we left but decided to install a stern thruster instead. The majority of marinas we stopped at have laundry facilities either free or at a nominal cost. In a few places, we had to walk or take an Uber to a laundromat.

Usually, we would load the washer or dryer, set a timer on our phone, and do something while we washed and dried. We never had an issue with leaving our laundry. In a few cases, we found that someone had taken our laundry out of the machine when it was done so that they could use it, but it was always carefully placed. It was rare that we would have to wait for a machine. We did try to pick our laundry times to avoid the “rush.” Saturday morning is NOT the time to do your laundry, especially in marinas with many liveaboards.

We kept a container of quarters (get CANADIAN quarters for Canada) and a small container of soap pods and dryer sheets. Typically, a load would cost between $1.25 and $2.00. I think the most we paid was at a laundromat in Canada at $2.50 (Canadian) per load. Washers and dryers on boats use a lot of water and put a lot of soap into the marine environment. We are glad we got the stern-thruster instead!

On our second Loop, we felt the same way; doing laundry at the marina facility was easy and a great chance to chat with other Loopers. The only difference on Loop 2 was that the prices increased, sometimes as much as $4.00 a load!

The short answer is no. We met many boats without thrusters that did the loop just fine. There was one occasion when a boat had to be towed out of the slip because the wind was up, and it could not get off the dock.

That said, we are glad we had both bow and stern thrusters. It made getting in and out of tight slips much easier and safer. It allowed us to get into slips and into spaces on lock walls that we would otherwise not have been able to dock at. By having both bow and stern, we were able to go “Sideways” into tight spots. I can think of at least a dozen times when we used them to get into spaces that we would have had to pass up without.

They were also very handy for docking in windy conditions (there were a lot of those), and they minimized the risks involved. They were also fantastic in the Locks! When the water starts coming in, it can get hard to hold your boat against the lock wall, wind also caused us to pull away from the wall in some locks. Having thrusters lets you give yourself a quick “tap” back over to the wall, reducing the strain on your arms and improving safety. We saw several boats end up sideways in the locks due to current or wind!

Our boat came with a bow thruster built in at the factory, and we added a Side-Shift stern thruster. This is a great accessory. All of the installation is above the waterline, so it can be installed without hauling your boat in many cases. It comes with a remote and will integrate with most bow thrusters to give you a single control. They also make aftermarket bow thrusters!

Second Loop Update. We still highly recommend bow and stern thrusters. The only change on the second loop is that we replaced our Side-Shift brand thruster with a Sleipner Side-Power thruster. We wore the first Side-Shift out and replaced it. Unfortunately, the second unit was not of the same quality, and the company would not stand behind its product. I don’t recommend Side-Shift anymore.

We installed the Side-Power SX35 External Pod Thruster which was a more involved installation requiring a haul out and holes below the waterline, but it is MUCH stronger and has been very reliable.

Prescriptions are pretty easy in the US. Most major pharmacies (CVS, Walgreens, Walmart) will fill your prescription at any of their locations, and they are all over. You will need to plan ahead so that you can have your prescription transferred to a local pharmacy, this can sometimes take two visits. One to request the transfer, and one to pick-up the prescription.

If you are in Canada, you have the option of having your prescriptions sent to someone in the US and then having them trans-shipped to you in Canada. You can send them to a marina (see “How do you get mail on the Loop?“) or to any Canada Post office for pickup. We’ve had mixed results with Canada Post, so we suggest a marina or Harbor Host. We have found that most US pharmacies and mail-order pharmacies will not send prescriptions internationally. The other option is to get a three-month supply just before you cross the border.

Be sure to carry copies of your prescriptions with you (even if they are out of date) so that if you do go to a doctor, you can show them what you are taking. Especially for narcotic prescriptions, be absolutely sure they are in the original pharmacy package with the label, and again having a copy of your prescription as backup can help if you are ever questioned by customs.

Speaking of prescriptions, if you wear glasses, make sure that you carry an extra set of both regular and sunglasses in case they fall off and end up in Davey Jones Locker! Also, carry a copy of your prescription to get replacements in an emergency. Using the straps to hold your glasses around your neck to catch them if they fall off while leaning over tying up lines can save the day.

For routine medical and dental care, we would schedule appointments when we planned to make a trip home. There are urgent care clinics in almost every town for emergency care, and many locations will have dentists with whom you can make urgent care appointments. I had to have some minor surgery on our second Loop and was able to go to a walk-in clinic right near the marina to have it taken care of.

As far as medical care insurance is concerned, check with your insurance company. Most US insurers, including Medicare, will cover you anywhere in the US for emergency procedures. It is best to check with your insurance company for the procedure and notifications you need to make BEFORE you leave on your trip.

Medicare will not cover you internationally in most instances, and commercial insurance also has significant limitations. (Tom had to pay $35,000 out of pocket before they would release him from a hospital in England when he got sick). We ended up getting reimbursed by the Blue Cross, but it took several months.

A relatively inexpensive solution is to get a “Travel Medical Insurance Policy” from a company like GeoBlue (Blue Cross, Blue Shield), World Trips, Travelex, AIG, or AXA. These cover you when you are outside of the US (for example, in Canada and the Bahamas) and provide you with medical evacuation coverage to get you back to the US if needed. These plans are relatively inexpensive (typically a few hundred dollars for a couple traveling for a few months) and more than worth the cost. In Canada, there are many clinics and hospitals, so getting medical care is pretty straightforward. In the Bahamas, you have to pick and choose your medical provider and hospital.

Also, if you have pets on board that need medication, make sure that you carry and adequate supply especially when traveling in Canada and the Bahammas.

Folding Wagon
Folding Cart available on Amazon

Getting around while in port depends on where you are.

First, Walking! You will do a lot of walking, so bring good shoes! We’ve walked up to 3 miles to get to some attractions. You will probably be walking to grocery stores to re-provision in many cases.

We recommend a folding cart of some type. Many marinas do not have dock carts available, and if they do, they usually don’t allow you to take them off the property.

These carts fold down to almost nothing and store easily. They are also great for hauling laundry, and we’ve seen other Loopers use them as a dog carrier!

Second, bikes. We brought two manual-peddle folding bikes with us. We used them a few times and enjoyed it but neither of us are big bike riders so if there were hills, we tended to shy away from them. We have since purchased folding electric bikes and use them a lot! (See our “Are Bicycles a good idea?” question for more information) Some marinas and many cities have loaner or rental bikes and scooters available.

Third, Courtesy Cars. Many marinas have Courtesy Cars that are either free or available for a small cost. Usually, these are intended for short-term (1-2 hour trips) provisioning or going out to dinner. Be sure to put gas into them from time to time or if you go a long distance. We even put new wiper blades on one. A note about Courtesy Cars: don’t expect much. Most are near the end of life and are pretty rickety. Our best Courtesy Car was a brand-new BMW that was provided by the local dealer who kept his boat at the marina.

Fourth, pick-up services. In some areas (usually rural), grocery stores, restaurants, and attractions will provide pick-up and drop-off services. Ask at the marina office, as they usually know. We have gotten rides to the local Piggly-Wiggly in the “Pig Mobile,” to small family restaurants, and to an Airboat ride. Even if they don’t advertise the service, you can ask. Also, a reminder to tip the drivers, as many are using their own personal vehicles and taking time away from their jobs.

Fifth, Taxi and Ride-share. In the U.S. and in larger towns and cities, Uber & Lyft are available pretty much all the time. We did find we had to switch between them in some areas to find an available vehicle. Be prepared to wait on rainy days and in more rural areas. In Canada, they were pretty rare except in larger cities. In non-urban areas, it is pretty much hit or miss. Also, we found there were fewer vehicles available in the morning, so if you have an appointment to go to, be sure to use the pre-booking feature a day ahead if possible. Another hint with Uber & Lyft is that if you get a good driver who is from the area, you can sometimes arrange for them to give you a guided tour. We did this several times, and it was always excellent. In a few cases, we did it as part of our trip; they just switched to “time-distance billing,” or we made it up to them in a cash tip. In others, we arranged for them to pick us up later on their own time and negotiated a rate with them. We got an excellent tour of St. Louis from an ex-school teacher this way!

Another ride-share service is called Freebee. Freebee is a free ride (the drivers work for tips). You just call them, and they pick you up! It’s sponsored by the local Chamber of Commerce or Municipality and is funded by a grant from the federal government. They operate in many areas in Florida like Islamorada, Miami, St. Pete, Key Biscayne, and many more. Check out their service areas at https://rideFreebee.com

Sixth, Public Transportation. There are many options if you ask at the marina office and look around. Public bus service in metro areas are very good. Many resort areas like the west coast of Florida, and the Keys have Free or Tip driven shuttle services. Trolleys, small buses, or golf carts that run back and forth on short routes. You can get from Clearwater Beach all the way to Tarpon Springs on a free shuttle Trolley! There are also commuter and passenger train services (especially in Canada and along the Hudson River). Florida has its Brightline service on the eastern coast.

When we go on a short trip, the Post Office holds our mail and packages from UPS and FedEx until we return. You can go on-line and request mail and package holds on the carriers websites. For longer trips like the Loop, there are a few options.

First, you can have your mail forwarded to a friend or relative and re-direct packages to them as well, then they can periodically send you your mail and packages when you will be at a marina for a few days. Note that the USPS requires that you go to your local post office in person to set up mail forwarding.

If you don’t have a friend or relative who can do this for you, there are services that will handle it for you. These services will receive your mail and packages, take a photo of the address label, and post it to a web portal for you to review. You can then ask them to open and scan the mail, recycle it, shred it, or hold it to forward to you later. When you know that you will be somewhere for a few days, you ask them to forward your mail to that address. It’s an excellent way to manage your mail while away and is not hugely expensive.

The most popular service for boaters (and RV’ers) is “Saint Brendan’s Isle” in Green Cove Springs, Florida. They are unique in that in addition to mail and package forwarding, if you want to, you can declare them your “Home Address” and register to vote, register your car, etc. Many of our live-aboard friends use this service as they do not have a dirt home to use as a permanent address.

Another excellent provider is “Traveling Mailbox.” This is our current provider, and we have been very happy with the service. I suggest using their main office in North Carolina as your address especially if you get packages, as they have a more extensive staff for processing.

We have also used a service called “Anytime Mailbox“. This is a national company that partners with local mailbox and package centers. They provide the web portal, and the local companies provide the service. The benefit here is that they have affiliates in many towns and cities in the US, so you can usually find one near your home. This lets you keep your forwarding local (this is important for UPS and FedEx packages), and you can go there to pick your mail up when you are home. We have used them in two locations (South Carolina and Florida) and have had excellent service. Because you are typically dealing with owner-run businesses, they are more than willing to accommodate special services.

Note: There is a company called iPostal1 that uses Staples Connect to process mail. (Staples as in the office supply company). We tried this service, and it was horrible. We had mail and packages go missing, there was no customer service, and as Staples copy centers are understaffed, it’s not uncommon to wait 30 minutes to pick up your mail.

The UPS Store is also an option. However, they do not open and scan mail, and if you forward, they only use UPS, which can be much more expensive than the USPS.

The short answer is “all you can afford.” The best investment is safety equipment that you have but never use; the worst investment is safety equipment you need but do not have!

First, there is the Coast Guard required equipment. Fire Extinguishers, Life Jackets, and Flares are the minimum. Don’t skimp here, especially on Life Jackets and Fire Extinguishers. On our Loop trip, we heard about two people who went overboard and died. We were involved with two people who fell into the water in marinas and needed rescue. Have more life jackets than you need, and keeping them close at hand is a good idea. When things go south (like when we hit the rock), everything happens fast, and going to look for life jackets, fire extinguishers, or hull patch kits takes precious seconds that you probably do not have.

Next, there are smoke and CO2 detectors. Again, this is not an area to skimp on. There are countless incidents where people have died onboard boats due to CO2 inhalation or fire. Fire, especially on a fiberglass boat, moves fast, produces toxic fumes, and can quickly cut off your only escape route.

CO2 is a silent, deadly killer. We have permanently installed CO2 detectors in our salon and both berths. We’ve had them go off and thought that they were false alarms, then realized that a boat blowing lots of exhaust had passed us with our window open, or we were in a lock and the boat upwind of us still had engines running. We suggest installing smoke and CO2 detectors in your engine compartments, all bedrooms, and enclosed areas like your lazaret. Consider linked detectors that all go off if one detects something so that you hear it all over the boat. As expensive as boats are, a couple hundred dollars for 6-8 detectors is not worth your life!

Another bit of advice is to ensure you are up-to-date on all your safety equipment. Make sure that you have checked your nav lights, that you have your placards, that your through-hulls for your overboard discharges are in the correct (off for blackwater) position and preferably labeled, and that your fire extinguishers have been inspected and labeled in the last 12 months. We were boarded and inspected by the Coast Guard. Our boat was all current, and it was a very friendly encounter. We got many “attaboys” for having things labeled and everything up to date. Many boaters who are inspected get fined. Some can exceed $500 per violation! We’ve talked to a few boaters who were escorted into port and held until they corrected some defective equipment. Keep your safety equipment up to date! It could save your life!

Before you leave for your Loop, contact your local Coast Guard Auxiliary; they will provide a free vessel safety check. While not quite as thorough as a full Coast Guard Vessel Inspection, it will give you a good basic check of your safety equipment. If you do get inspected by the regular Coast Guard, you will get a “yellow” copy of the inspection report. As long as you pass the inspection, this is referred to as the “Golden Ticket” because if you get stopped for an inspection again within a year, you can show them the prior report, and most times, you will get a pass!

Make a “Ditch Bag”. We have an official “Ditch Bag” from ACR, the EPIRB people. When we get underway, we put our wallets in it. We also keep a flashlight, our PLB, copies of our vessel documentation and insurance, our flare kit, and a couple of water bottles in it. It floats, and if we had to jump ship, we would have what we needed for a short-term survival/rescue situation. You don’t need an official Ditch Bag, a cheap dry bag that, when inflated, will float is more than enough. Again, it is all about saving precious seconds if disaster ever strikes.

All that said, you don’t need to go overboard (pardon the pun). We carry a PLB rather than a full EPIRB because we don’t go off-shore that often. We don’t have a life raft, but we carry some off-shore life jackets when we are out of sight of land. Use good judgment!

Again, there is a short answer and a long answer. The short answer is YES. In general, all the places on the loop are safe and have reasonable security. As with anything, you have to use good judgment. If you are in an inner-city location like Baltimore, Norfolk, New York City, etc. You must be more aware of your surroundings than in places like Fenelon Falls, Ontario. We found that most marinas provide pretty good security. Also, with “Looper Midnight” being 9:00 PM, the tendency to be out walking around late at night is rare.

On our Great Loop trip, there were only two places where we felt “uncomfortable.” Amsterdam, New York, where the public park that the town docks are located at, was a night-time hangout for the local teens. And Joliette, Illinois, where the “wall” that you tie up to is on the “wrong” side of the river, and there are reports of nocturnal drug traffic. On our Loop trip, we didn’t personally experience any issues with theft or security in general while walking around. When we did our “Loop 1a” makeup trip, we got boarded by kids twice in the middle of the night at the Tampa Convention Center Marina.

On our second Loop trip, we only had one incident in Troy, New York, where some kids set off fireworks on the wall right above the boat, and then there were the bodies floating down the river.

Here are some hints:

  • Lock your boat when you leave for extended periods.
  • Lock or tie down anything you store on the decks of your boat.
  • Get to know your boat neighbors. They will keep an eye on your boat when you are gone.
  • Leave a light on inside of your boat when away.
  • Keep valuables like phones, tablets, binoculars, radios, etc., out of sight.
  • At marinas without controlled access gates, be more conscious about security.
  • Lock your dinghy and motor to your boat, especially if you anchor out!
  • When moored in publicly accessible areas like parks, lock walls, and city docks, run your lines from your boat to the cleat, tie them off, then run them back to your boat, and re-tie them on your boat. Kids will untie your lines as a joke but will rarely board your boat to untie them.
  • Leave firearms, bear spray, and mace at home for the Loop. State laws vary greatly, and guns and mace are a big no-no in Canada! We carry wasp and hornet spray. It will reach 30′ and is a good deterrent for “multiple” types of “pests!”
  • Stay in groups. You’ll have more fun, meet more people, and be safer!

While we Looped we only heard of one or two incidents, none of them severe. There was one case of a boat untied, some petty theft, obnoxious drunks (some of them fellow boaters), and the occasional boarding, either kids as a prank or someone trying to steal something. There were two dinghies stolen, one at a marina and one overnight while at anchor. We did hear of a boat anchored in Canada that was boarded by a bear that swam out while they were away and raided the refrigerator!

We heard of more people who were injured or died due to falling into the water than we did from external risks. Wear your life jacket when docking and locking!

During our trip, we came home three times: from Half-Moon-Bay on the Hudson River in New York, Kingston in Ontario, Canada, and Mobile, Alabama. In general, if you live East of the Mississippi, there is really no place on the Loop that is more than a two-day drive away.

Many marinas give excellent weekly rates, and if you slip the dockmaster $20, they are happy to watch your boat (and water your plants). We rented cars in New York and Mobile to drive home to South Carolina. Enterprise car rental agencies have discounts for Loopers and are located close to many marinas on the route. When we came home from Ontario, we decided to make it an adventure. We took a VIA-Rail Train from Kingston to Toronto, then flew from Toronto directly to Myrtle Beach. We took the same route back. The trains in Canada are excellent!

We know a couple who are still working and did most of the loop in two-week sections. Two weeks on the boat, then leave it and come home for two weeks. They never had a problem finding a place to leave the boat. We also met several boaters who moved a car along with them. Typically, they stay in marinas along the route for several weeks before moving along. When they get to the new marina where they are staying, they will go back to the prior marina (either by rental car, Uber, or public transport) and move the car to the new marina. One hint we were given is that in a pinch, U-Haul is a great alternative for one-way when rental cars are not available.

On our second Loop, we only traveled home once from Mobile, Alabama. We have moved to Florida, so it was only a six-hour ride in a rental car. Another trick we learned is that if you rent at an airport location, there frequently is no one-way drop-off fee.

First, a disclaimer: while I’ll throw a line in the water when I’m bored, I’m not a big fisherman. I do have a Florida Fishing license, but I don’t go fishing much. On the Loop, you will be on the water, well, pretty much all of the time! So if you like to fish, there are many opportunities to do it. The problem comes in that you will be in a new state every few days and since there is no “National Fishing License”, you are going to have to get non-resident day licenses on a regular basis, so it’s pretty expensive. (We saw many Fish & Wildlife officers stopping boats with poles and asking for licenses all along our trip). Also, in Canada, you will need an Ontario license, either an 8-day ($54) or a 1-year ($82); at least that’s just one! Another complication is fresh vs. saltwater in some states.

All that aside, we did see lots of Loopers fishing and saw some great catches. It seems that it’s popular to drop a line on slow boats when crossing the Gulf of Mexico overnight. When I did fish, it was usually when we were in marinas. I’m strictly a “catch-and-release” fisherman, especially when in marinas. There are lots of catfish, bottom feeders, and even in the CLEANEST marinas, I wouldn’t trust what they might eat on the bottom (oil, fuel, “accidental” overboard pump outs). For us, when we consider the cost of a license, bait, tackle, and then cleaning, cooking (the smell in the boat), we are happy to go to a local restaurant for the “catch-of-the-day” and support the local fisherman and restaurant staff! If we anchored out more, it might be a different story.

There are tons! We like to eat out when we travel and tend to look for “non-chain” restaurants when we are in port. We typically ask liveaboards on the dock or the marina staff for recommendations. They can give you the low-down on the hidden gems and tourist traps in the area. There were only a very few places that we stayed (very rural) where there was nothing available and we’ve only had a few bad experiences.

Delivery services are also an option if you don’t want to cook but don’t want to go out either. Pizza, of course, is the go-to option. There are also the apps like UberEats, DoorDash, and GrubHub to name but a few. We always look for local places that deliver first, then go to the services. A hint we use is that if you find a restaurant listed on one of the delivery apps like Uber Eats, go to their website and check out the full menu, and see if they will take an order over the phone first. Many restaurants limit the items they show on delivery apps, and there is an up-charge. By calling the restaurant directly, you may get a better deal or be able to fine-tune your choices. (Extra jalapenos for Tom, no cilantro for Brenda)

Several times on the trip, we would get together with other boaters and order several extra-large pizzas or a big bucket of KFC chicken and fixings. By ordering more, we had more choices and got a better deal by getting larger sizes and sharing the cost.

In general, we had great weather for most of our Loop trip. The #1 Rule in boating is “Do Not Have A Schedule”! When you have a schedule, you feel obligated to go out when you are better off staying in port. Over our entire loop, we had three days where we wished we had stayed in port but didn’t and two where we went out but had the good sense to turn back and seek shelter.

Note: Don’t ever be afraid to turn back or change your plans and duck into a nearby port or anchorage if things get close to your comfort limits. Don’t wait until the last minute to run for cover. Thunderstorms and bad weather can sneak up on you, and it can get really bad, really quickly. When things begin to look bad, start by donning your life jacket (no one will see how dorky you look), then run for cover. That way, there WILL be a tomorrow. It CAN happen to you! It DID happen to us and many of our fellow boaters. Everyone has a story!

Our worst day was at the south end of Lake Michigan, where we had 4-6 foot waves for a couple of hours. Here, we were on a “schedule” and should not have been out in that weather. Our boat handled it just fine, the crew not so much!

You will experience some rough weather. We advise checking several weather sources and talking with the locals for local knowledge. In some areas a 20-knot wind, is not an issue, in others, you’ll wish you didn’t own a boat. Set your minimums and stick to them.

Another consideration is that just because you are in a marina doesn’t mean that you will be comfortable. We had several days/nights where we were in a marina, but because of the winds, the boat was rolling and banging against the docks, so it was not comfortable to be on the boat. In these cases, we quickly learned to “abandon ship!”. We would pack a bag and find a local hotel or B&B to stay at. It was safer, we got a good night’s sleep, and got to have an “off boat” night. (Very important to have from time to time). In one case in South Haven, Michigan, the local fire department ordered us off the boat for the night because of the waves coming into the marina. Remember, you are a “Pleasure Boater.” If it’s not Pleasant, you are doing something wrong!

On our second Loop, we followed our own advice and didn’t go out in rough weather. We did have a few bumpy days, but nothing like the 4-6 footers on our first Loop! It was much more enjoyable.

As for abandoning ship and sleeping ashore in bad weather, some boaters we traveled with were at a marina in Panama City, Florida. The area had high wind and tornado warnings, and many boaters decided to get off their boats and go to hotels for the night. It was fortunate for them that they did. A tornado went through the marina during the night. One boat was picked up, turned on it’s side, and slammed into the dock, tearing out fiberglass and shattering the windows. The boat was a total loss. Another boat at the same marina had the bimini and windscreen torn off. Fortunately, both boaters had gone ashore for the night, and no one was injured.

Propeller Strikes! That’s an easy one! Over the course of the loop, we had four propeller strikes on submerged “stuff” (railroad tie, fishnet, log, something in a river we never saw) and one big event when we hit the rock in Canada and tore up both props. The rock strike was arguably avoidable, but the others we never saw until after the event. We met many other boaters who had had similar issues. Our advice is to keep your eyes open. If you travel with other boats (especially in the rivers), call out debris on the radio to help each other avoid them. Carry spare propellers. There is usually a place within a day’s limping cruise to get hauled out and swap your propellers. However, propeller repair shops can be quite a distance and can take days to complete the repair. Before we had our spare props, we were told we might have to wait 8 weeks to get a replacement prop!

The second Loop was a bit better. We only had to swap props once! Woo-Hoo!

This is another hard question to answer as we enjoyed so many things on the Loop. In looking back, our favorite thing was meeting other Loopers. We met over 200 other boats, where we were able to exchange boat cards. We attended lots of “dock-tails,” “lock-tails,” “boat-tails,” and “dock-luck dinners.” We met some fantastic people who have become good friends.

In our entire Loop, we can only think of one or two people who were “unfriendly”, and usually it was because they were having a bad day.

Our second Loop served to confirm our opinion from the first Loop. It’s the other boaters that you meet that is the BEST thing about Looping!

Tipping is a personal thing. Most dock hands and marina staff are not highly compensated. They rely on tips for a large portion of their compensation. We did go to a few marinas where tipping is not allowed, and in Canada, Parks Canada staff at the locks and marinas are not allowed to accept tips. However, they do love getting cookies, candy, and other treats. We made up little zip-lock bags with treats in them that were easy to toss from the boat to the lock staff, and it was very appreciated!)

We consider ourselves generous tippers. A minimum tip for tie-up assistance by a dock hand in calm water is $10. If it’s rough or windy and they help us get in safely or take the time to roll up our docklines and hook up power and water, it’s $15. For extra help on rough or windy days or if we mess up our docking and they bail us out (it happened once or twice), it’s $20.

If we get fuel, it’s $10, even if we pump it. Same with a pump-out, it’s $10 at the dock, or $20 if they come to the boat and THEY do the dirty work. These, for us, are additive, so if we came into a marina on a windy day or with a strong current and they worked to get the boat tied up, fueled us up, and did a pump-out, we might tip $30 to $40.

In general, you are rewarding good service, and if you tip well, you will get extra benefits during your stay, like advice on where to go or watching your boat while you are away. Some boaters are not able to or just do not tip, so we try to make a point of tipping well to help make up for them. If we don’t get good service or there is no one to meet us on the dock when we come in, then I speak with my tip and don’t tip, but I’m polite about it and let them know I missed getting help.

If you leave your boat for an extended period (like for a trip home), get to know one of the dock-hands or the dockmaster, and give them a tip before you leave when you ask them to keep an eye on your boat. Then, tip them again when you return (if your boat is still floating).

The other folks that you might encounter are service people. Especially if you need to get your boat hauled out for work. I have friends who are mechanics, and a tip goes a long way! When I get hauled out, I always talk to the lift operator and hand him a tip (typically $50) before the boat gets hauled out. I use the approach with mechanics. I ALWAYS ask to meet the mechanics who will be working on my boat. (I’ve changed the repairs I am going to have done based on my initial impression of a mechanic, sometimes more, many times less!) I tip them in advance, usually $50 for a prop change or regular service. It’s incredible how much better a job they do and how much they clean up after themselves. When the work is done, I will typically tip about 15% of the final bill total to the mechanics and another $50 to the lift operator when they re-splash the boat.

I know many people will not be able to tip at this level, but please think about these folks. They are taking care of YOUR BOAT, your floating home. If a mechanic is crawling around in your hot engine room, offer them a bottle of water. If they work on your boat for multiple days, treat them to breakfast or lunch one day. Finding good mechanics is getting tougher and tougher, and a little consideration goes a long way.

That is such a tricky question to answer because we have visited so many great places. If we had to pick our favorite section, it would be the Canadian Canals. The Rideau and Trent-Severn were amazing, and the people were very friendly. It was fun to do all of the locks, and there were many small towns for us to enjoy. Also, because the locks are relatively close, you tend to do short periods underway and spend more time exploring. We also really enjoyed the Hudson River; it was a unique experience to cruise through hills and valleys. Again, there were many interesting smaller towns and cities to stop at and explore.

On our second Loop, we revisited the places we enjoyed from our First Loop or wanted to share with our Travel Buddies. We purposely took a different route in some areas to experience new places. On our second Loop, one of the highlights was Tobermory, Ontario, and Soo-Saint-Marie! We also traveled down the Wisconsin side of Lake Michigan this time, rather than sticking to the Michigan side.

If you have read our blogs, you might think that when we hit the rock in Canada was the least favorite part. However, aside from the actual hit, it gave us a chance to explore parts of Georgian Bay that we really enjoyed and would not have otherwise experienced.

Lake Michigan, especially the last part makes the list, but with a caveat. The caveat is that it was pretty much self-inflicted. We ended up on Lake Michigan late in the season (October) because of our rock strike, so were at the end of the “boating weather”. Aside from the washing machine waves, we enjoyed the little towns and villages along the Michigan shore. We would go back and do the Michigan and Wisconsin sides of Lake Michigan, just not in October!

The real answer to our least favorite part for us is the Rivers. The Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio. All of these were very industrial, with lots of large barge traffic to negotiate, and especially in the Mississippi, tons of large debris in the rivers (sticks, logs, trash, cables, wing dams). There was not much to see, and the cruising was somewhat stressful. We see it as a necessary evil from Chicago to the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Once we got to Paducah, Kentucky, on the Ohio River, things calmed back down, and the trip became much more enjoyable again.

On our second loop, not much changed; the rivers were still a necessary evil. The only other spot that we would add is our visit to Greenbay, Wisconsin. It is an interesting town, but not much there for boaters unless you are a Packers fan! If we end up in Wisconsin again, we will explore Door County rather than go to Green Bay.

While not every place you stop has a grocery store nearby, you will always find one within easy access to a marina every few days. They are often within walking distance, sometimes a bit farther, and you will need bikes, a marina courtesy car, public transportation, or an Uber/Lyft ride. Several grocery stores along the route had a free courtesy shuttle (Piggly-Wiggly’s Pig-mobile) and would pick you up with a bit of notice.

Also, many grocery stores will deliver. Look for the stores near the marina, and use their App to place your order for delivery right to the marina. Also, check out App sites like Insta-Cart, Amazon Grocery, and Whole Foods.

The delivery options have only increased on the second Loop, which was post-COVID. If you must take an Uber, we suggest getting together with another Looper and splitting the cost!

We are Harbor Hosts! Harbor Hosts are AGLCA members who volunteer to assist other boaters at their home marinas. The MTOA also has a similar program called “Port Captains.” We provide a range of services, including advice on local services and restaurants, transportation, package delivery addresses, and just about anything you might need! We do it because we are giving back (or paying forward) to other Harbor Hosts who have helped us and the boating community. We primarily do it because we want to meet you! When we are home, it’s our connection to Loopers.

We have helped boaters with “Docktails!”, assistance in finding a local Emergency Medical Clinic, transportation to restaurants and local attractions, transportation to regional airports, transportation to find repair parts, help in installing parts, referrals to local mechanics, boat watching when they were away from their boat, assisting in negotiations with the local marina, and even help with buying and installing a new mattress! Please reach out to us, even if it’s just a quick “Hello we are at your marina!” it kis appreciated!

We highly suggest that you contact your local Harbor Hosts or Port Captains. You can look us up on the GreatLoop.org or MTOA.net websites. If you don’t reach out to us when you visit our marina, you just might hear a knock-knock on the side of your hull when we come and find you! How embarrassing would that be?!?!?!

Okay, this is probably the most asked question, so I’ll put it first. The answer is a qualified “Yes”. We thoroughly enjoyed the trip and would love to do it again. There are sections we had to fast-track through because of our “incident” in Canada that we want to visit again. There are a few areas we probably would not go back to, but that doesn’t mean that if we had a good excuse, we wouldn’t do it. We have already returned to Florida and completed the side trip down the St. John’s River that we skipped due to the pandemic. We’ve also sold our house in South Carolina and purchased a condominium in Florida on a marina to spend more time on the boat. Watch for future blogs!

UPDATE April 2024: The answer is a definite “YES,” we would do it again! We know because we just completed our Second Loop! We are now Platinum Loopers!

So, would we go around a THIRD time? Probably not all the way. We really didn’t care for the Rivers (Illinois, Mississippi, and Ohio) on the first Loop, and it was not any better on our Second Loop. We do plan on revisiting most of the rest of the Loop. We are planning a trip back up the Hudson River and into Canada for next year, and we would like to go backward up the Tenn-Tom waterway and visit some of the side stops like Nashville and Chattanooga. Watch for updates!


Kiss Some Frogs To Find Your Prince
Thanks for visiting! –Tom & Brenda