Okeechobee Waterway Cruising Guide
The Okeechobee Waterway (OWW) provides the mariner with an inside protected passage across the Florida Peninsula. The entrances to the waterway are located approximately 80 NM south of Cape Canaveral at Stuart on Florida’s east coast and 77 NM south of the entrance to Tampa Bay at Punta Rassa on Florida’s west coast.
From its junction with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway at St. Lucie Inlet, the Okeechobee Waterway follows the St. Lucie River southwestward to South Fork where it enters the St. Lucie Canal. After entering the St. Lucie Canal, you continue generally west southwestward to Port Mayaca where you will enter Lake Okeechobee.
After crossing the southern portion of the lake, the waterway exits at Clewiston turning northwestward to Moore Haven where you enter the Caloosahatchee Canal. From there it is once again generally west southwestward into the Caloosahatchee River passing Ft. Myers, San Carlos Bay, and finally the Gulf of Mexico.
There are (2) routes typically used on the waterway: Route #1, often referred to as the "Open Lake or Cross Lake" route and Route #2, commonly called the "Rim Route." Route #1 offers quicker crossings and the ability to carry more draft, while Route #2 allows a more relaxed pace.
In addition to saving 165 NM or more versus going outside and around the southern tip of Florida, the Okeechobee Waterway also provides a more protected route when the weather offshore is kicking up.
The Okeechobee Waterway is operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE). For what it's worth, in the Seminole Indian language, "Lake Okeechobee" means "Big Water", somewhat apropos for the 2nd largest fresh water lake in the United States.
There is no formal "Navigation Season" for the Okeechobee Waterway since it is open to vessel traffic year round. However, normal lock operating times being restricted to 10 hours a day should be taken into consideration when planning your passage.
A factor that does impact the operation of the Okeechobee Waterway are Tropical Storms and Hurricanes. In the event of these potentially dangerous storms the Army Corp of Engineers have developed a policy regarding lock operations.
- 72 hours prior to a Tropical Storm or Hurricane making local landfall locks will be open from 0600 to 2200 to support vessels seeking safe harbor.
- Lock operations will cease 8 hours prior to land fall and all operating bridges will be locked down into a secure position.
- Lock operations will be secured if lightning is observed within five miles of the lock and will not resume operations until lightning has not been seen in the area for 30 minutes.
- Lock operations will be secured when winds exceed 35 MPH.
- Depending on damage to the waterway or control structures it is possible that the waterway could remain closed until repairs and/or safe navigation can be assured (days to weeks.)
You can view the USACE Policy concerning Tropical System closure of the waterway.
The Okeechobee Waterway stretches 134.3 NM (154.6 SM or 244 KM) from its intersection with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway near Stuart on Florida’s east coast and its intersection with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway near Punta Rassa on Florida’s west coast.
ImportantAll distances on these pages reference the United States Army Corp of Engineers base measurement of 15.1 SM for the St. Lucie Lock. It should be noted that this differs slightly from NOAA charted data. The differences seem to appear in the last 8.7 NM of the waterway (westbound) and may be due to changes in the improved channels due to past shoaling.
Aids to Navigation
Navigational aids displaying yellow triangles (typically red markers) are kept to starboard and those displaying yellow squares (typically green markers) should be kept to port when westbound along the entire length of the waterway.
NOAA Chart #11428 provides coverage of the Okeechobee Waterway from Mile Marker 0.0 in Stuart, FL to approximately nautical mile 118.0 (135.8 SM or 218.6 KM), just west of Ft. Myers.
NOAA Chart #11427 continues the coverage from Ft. Myers to the Okeechobee Waterway’s intersection with the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway just north of Punta Rassa:
Also available for download: Okeechobee Lock Chamber Waypoint’s. This is a PDF file zipped to reduce download time and is available for your personal and private use.
There are (5) locks on the Okeechobee Waterway that are of interest to those making the passage across Florida. From east to west they are the St Lucie Lock, the Port Mayaca Lock, the Moore Haven Lock, the Ortona Lock, and the W.P. Franklin Lock.
A complete listing of the Okeechobee Locks with detailed information on operating times, distances, lifts, estimated transit times, and operating restrictions can be viewed at the Okeechobee Waterway Locks Page.
Water Levels & Channel Depths
Navigation depths along a major portion of the Okeechobee Waterway are directly related to the water levels of Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corp of Engineers (USACE) takes daily water level readings of the lake and in addition to many other uses, this information is then used to compute navigation depths and recommended drafts for vessels transiting the waterway.
When water levels become too low, restrictions are placed on the locks resulting in further limiting of their operating schedules. See the OWW Low Water Lock Restrictions found on the Okeechobee Waterway Locks Page.
A complete list of suggested routes and recommended drafts can be seen at the Okeechobee Waterway Routes and Drafts Page.
There are as many as 26 bridges that cross the Okeechobee Waterway depending on the route chosen. Of these, 10 are operating bridges; some with restricted schedules.
A complete listing of all bridges along with their locations, vertical clearances, and operating times is available on our Okeechobee Waterway Bridges page.
Caution: The limiting vertical clearance of the Okeechobee Waterway is 49’± at Port Mayaca.
Okeechobee lockmasters maintain a watch on VHF channel 13 and bridge tenders monitor VHF channel 09.
During normal lock operations, the Okeechobee Waterway passage will probably require a little over 15 hours at 10 knots with no undue bridge delays.
Distances between major points along the Okeechobee Waterway can be found on our Okeechobee Waterway - Distances Page. You may find this distance table useful for planning purposes while transiting the waterway.
Notice to Mariners
If your plans are to use the Okeechobee waterway you can visit the Army Corp of Engineers, Jacksonville, FL offices' web site at http://www.saj.usace.army.mil. Once there you can check out the latest navigational bulletins.
All tables mentioned above including: Lock Chamber Waypoint's, Lock Transit Table, Bridge Clearances, Recommended Drafts, and the Waterway Distances Table can be downloaded as a single file. Okeechobee Waterway NavPak - Download