One of the things that makes South Florida, and Ft. Lauderdale in particular, a yachting hub, is our miles and miles of inland waterways and canals.

These can make for some very interesting yachting adventures. However, there are some things that make navigating on canals a little different, and in some ways, somewhat more challenging, than out on the open ocean.

There are currents in canals, and these can be very strong. The currents are also effected by tides. Understanding how to deal with these starts with understanding the canal you will be traveling through. Sometimes, as in the Cape Cod Canal in Massachusetts, the designated times for safe passage of the canal are determined by the tides. The best way to understand the impact of tides on the navigability of a given canal or waterway is to contact the local authorities.

If there is no specific restrictions on times of passage, get to know the tide tables. You will always want to traverse the canal with the tide, and not against it. The idea is to wait until the tide turns in your favor, and then begin to make your way through the canal. That doesn’t mean you have to dead stop and wait until the exact moment that it turns, but you do want to make sure that you have enough time to pass all the way through the canal before the tide turns against you.

A yacht navigates Florida's Intracoastal Waterway

A yacht navigates Florida’s Intracoastal Waterway

Navigating a Yacht or Boat Through a Lock

The other thing you may find on a canal, river, or other inland waterway that you will not find on the open ocean is a lock. A lock is a way to pass through a navigable dam. It is a watertight compartment, or series of compartments that can be filled with water at controlled rates so that your boat can move “downhill” or “uphill” through the structure of the dam. The Panama Canal is famous for its locks. Large dams will have experienced operators on the locks, others may require boaters themselves to use the locks.

To pass safely through a lock:

  • Have your fenders tied on so you do not scrape up against the walls of the compartment
  • Pay attention to the traffic around you
  • Steer your boat carefully through the lock and out to the other side


Aids to Navigation in Canals

While there are things to be aware of such as shallows, eddies, locks and tides when navigating canals and rivers, one thing you can count on is that they use the same navigational markers as any other body of water.

These are known as Aids To Navigation, or ATONs.

The U.S. ATON system is maintained by the U.S. Coast Guard. It consists of visual, audible, and electronic signals which are designed to assist boaters in the process of navigation. ATONs include: buoys, day beacons, lights, lightships, lighthouses, radio beacons, fog signals, marks and other devices used to provide “street” signs on the water. The Aids To Navigation system is not intended to identify every shoal or obstruction to navigation which exists in the navigable waters of the United States, but rather provides for reasonable marking of marine features as resources permit.

ATONS are “coded” with odd and even numbers, red and green colors, and other markings.

A complete guide to understand symbols and colors of the various ATONs and what they mean, has also been published by the USCG.


On Demand Yachting Provides Peace of Mind

When it comes to making sure you and all of your guests are as safe as possible, understanding the “rules of the road” is only part of the equation. In the unlikely event it is ever needed, you must also ensure that you have all the right safety gear on board, and it is always ready and operational. That means PFDs need to be checked and replaced, fire extinguishers maintained and recharged as necessary, first aid kits restocked, etc.

Also, tantamount to avoiding accidents and other trouble at sea, is making sure your yacht is clean, detailed, and properly maintained. Maintaining your yacht’s safety gear, and ensuring that her engines and other critical systems are always at operational readiness is just one of the services you can count on from our On Demand Yachting Solution. 

A Superyacht Carefully Navigates a Dutch Canal

A Superyacht Carefully Navigates a Dutch Canal


Operating a motor yacht can be costly. You can reduce your expenses, and avoid costly repairs by keeping her well maintained. On Demand yachting from FYM can help. If you would like to learn more, or if you have any questions or comments about this blog post, do not hesitate to contact our Yacht Management specialists, or call us at (954) 900-9968.