Erie Canal Navigation & Cruising Guide
The Erie Canal is the longest canal section in the New York State Canal System. Beginning at Waterford, NY, the Erie Canal runs generally west following the Mohawk River, Lake Oneida, and the Oneida River to Three Rivers Junction where the Oswego Canal intersects.
The Erie Canal then continues along the Seneca River to its junction with Onondaga Lake and then the junction with the Cayuga-Seneca Canal at Kipp Island. Beyond that, the Erie Canal follows a combination of river and manmade land cuts to its convergence with the Niagara River at Tonawanda, NY.
From the end of the Erie Canal it is a short distance to Buffalo, NY and Lake Erie via the Niagara River and the Black Rock Canal.
The navigation season for the Erie Canal is the same as for the rest of the New York State Canal System with the exception of the Cayuga-Seneca Canal. Typically, mid-May through October or November with the standard hours of operation being from 0700 to 1700 daily.
A number of locks and bridges on the Erie Canal also have extended hours, operating until 2200 daily until shortly after Labor Day when they revert back to 1700 for the remainder of the navigation season. These hours are subject to change from year to year.
A complete listing of the operating schedule is located in the right sidebar (“NYSCS Operating Schedule”) and is published prior to the start of each year’s navigation season.
The Erie Canal stretches approximately 351 SM (305 NM) From the Hudson River at Waterford, NY to the open waters of Lake Erie.
To break this down further, the distance from the first lock E2 in Waterford, NY to the last lock E35 in Lockport, NY is a total of 320.75 SM (278.7 NM). From lock E35 on to the junction with the Niagara River is an additional 18 SM (15.6 NM), then 8.3 SM (7.2 NM) to the Black Rock Lock and finally 4.0 SM (3.5 NM) to Buffalo, NY and Lake Erie.
Complete distance tables can be found at the Erie Canal Distances Page . The tables are published in Statute Miles, Nautical Miles, and Kilometers. They are available for download.
Aids to Navigation
When making the passage on the Erie Canal, red markers are kept to starboard when westbound for the entire length of the Canal.
Once reaching the Niagara River, the standard (IALA - Region B) lateral buoyage system begins and you will keep the red markers to port heading upstream, (southbound on the river), until reaching the open waters of Lake Erie.
NOAA Chart #14786 provides coverage of the Erie Canal system with the exception of a small section of the western end between Lyons, NY and Tonawanda, NY for which no chart coverage exists.
The individual charts are listed below and can be viewed by clicking on the "Chart #." The chart will open in a new window.
Chart Pages for the Erie Canal
|Erie Canal - Waterford to 3 Rivers Jct.||Erie Canal - 3 Rivers Jct. to Tonawanda|
There are 34 locks on the Erie Canal. All Lock chambers are the same as the rest of the NYSCS; 328 feet long and 45 feet wide.
All Lock chambers are the same; 328 feet long and 45 feet wide and offer either lines, cables, pipes, or in some cases, a combination of these; on the lock walls for your vessel.
Photos of each lock can be viewed here:
A complete listing of the Erie Canal Locks with distances, lifts, and estimated transit times can be viewed at the Erie Canal Locks & Transit Page. Available for download.
From Waterford, NY to Three Rivers Junction, project channel depths are 14 feet with 13 feet over the lock sills. Three Rivers Junction to Tonawanda, NY you have 12 feet in the channel and over the lock sills.
For the eastern portion of the Erie Canal the minimum vertical clearance at normal pool level is found at the CSX Railroad Bridge (E-40) with a clearance of 21 feet 4.4 inches. At maximum pool level, the least vertical clearance is found at the Lock E-23 Guard Gate at 19 feet 2.3 inches.
Beyond Three Rivers (the junction with the Oswego Canal) Wayneport Road Bridge (E-123) with a clearance of 15 feet 7.4 inches at normal pool level. At maximum pool level the minimum clearance is found at the Guard Lock – West with a clearance of 14 feet 8.4 inches.
For a complete listing of Erie Canal bridges, guard gates, pipeline, and utility crossings along with their clearances, visit the Erie Canal Bridge Clearances Page. These tables, in Statute Miles, Nautical Miles, and Kilometers/meters, are available for download.
All lockmasters maintain a watch on VHF channel 13 (156.650 MHz). Phone numbers of each lock can be found at the Erie Canal Locks & Transit Page.
The speed limits for the eastern and western Erie Canal segments except in the vicinity of the locks and unless otherwise posted is as follows:
The eastern half of the Erie Canal from Waterford, NY to Three Rivers Junction, the maximum speeds run between 5 mph (4.7 knots) and 45 mph (39.1 knots).
On the western half, the maximum speeds run from 5 mph (4.7 knots) to 30 mph (26 knots).
Speeds broken down by each canal leg segment and provided in MPH, Knots, and KPH can be found on the Erie Canal - Distances Page.
As a general guide, Waterford, NY to the Niagara River could be done in approximately 37 hours or 3.7 ten hour days. Keep in mind to accomplish this you will need to maintain the maximum posted speed limits and all the locks, lift bridges, and don’t forget the planets, will need to be in alignment (good luck with that).
More realistically, with an average speed of 10 mph (8.7 knots), the eastern half between Waterford and Three Rivers Junction will require about 3 days and Waterford to the Niagara River about 5 to 6 days .
Distances between major points along the Erie Canal can be found on our Erie Canal - Distances Page. The distances table is useful in planning overnight stops while transiting the canal and is available for download.
NOAA Weather broadcasts for the Erie Canal will originate out of Albany, NY on 162.550 MHz, Middleville, NY on 162.425 MHz, Syracuse, NY on 162.550 MHz, Rochester, NY on 162.400 MHz, Spencerport, NY on 162.525 MHZ, and Buffalo, NY on 162.550 MHz. These stations provide almost continuous coverage of the canal; offering current and forecasted weather and emergency alerts.
A table with locations, frequencies, and channels is available for download.
Notice to Mariners
The latest navigational information can be found at Canal System Notice to Mariners. Anyone planning to transit the canal system should check these notices for last minute information on hazards, restrictions, and closures.