Navigating the Canals
Navigation Info. | Navigational Aids | How to Lock Through | Mooring | Mast Stepping | Customs | FAQs
Navigation Information with Water Depths
- Hudson River (Albany to Waterford)
- Champlain Canal (Waterford to Whitehall)
- Eastern Erie Canal (Waterford to Three Rivers)
- Oswego Canal (Three Rivers to Oswego)
- Central Erie Canal (Three Rivers to Montezuma)
- Onondaga Lake (to Syracuse)
- Cayuga-Seneca Canal (Montezuma to Cayuga)
- Cayuga Lake (to Ithaca)
- Seneca Lake (to Watkins Glen)
- Western Erie Canal (Montezuma to Tonawanda)
- Genesee River (to Rochester)
- Ellicott Creek (Tonawanda)
Navigational Aids and Rules
Aids to Navigation (AtoN)
Aids to Navigational on the New York State Canal System conform to the U.S. Coast Guard lateral system of buoyage (red right return). Note that buoyage reverses from red on starboard (right) to red on port (left), north of Champlain Canal Lock 12 at Whitehall, and on the entire length of the Oswego Canal.
Failures and displacements of navigational aids may occur. Please report discrepancies in navigational aids to Canal staff.
The Canal Corporation recommends that boaters carry the latest edition of navigation charts on board - Chart #14786. Charts may be downloaded from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) or through NOAA Certified Printers, and at some local bookstores, marinas and boat chandleries. Charts may also be downloaded from the rightmost column of the Navigation Information with Water Depths pages above. There are no NOAA charts available between mile 222 and 337 of the Erie Canal (including the Genesee River). For these waterway reaches mapping from the Canal Corporation Cruising Guide is posted instead. Symbols, abbreviations and terms used on paper and electronic navigational charts can be found on U.S. Chart No. 1 and supplemental information difficult to portray in a nautical chart in Coast Pilot 6 .
Rules, Regulations, Registration
All mariners must to adhere to the U.S.C.G. Inland Navigation Rules .
Recreational mariners should be aware that there are minor differences between state and federal boating regulations, the more stringent of which apply. Boater Safety Courses are listed on the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation website .
No sewage may be discharged into the New York State Canal System. Additionally, no grey water may be discharged into Lake Champlain.
All mechanically propelled vessels - regardless of size or fuel type - operating on the waters of New York State must display numbers showing valid registration in the principal state or country of use, or, if in transfer, be able to produce U.S. Coast Guard documentation . Human powered vessels are exempt from registration requirements as well as Lock & Lift Bridge fees.
All vessel operators and visitors are advised to exercise extreme caution and stay well clear of all dams!
How to "Lock Through" Canal System Locks
Approaching the Lock
On approaching the lock, hail the Lock Operator on Marine Channel 13, call using a mobile phone or sound three blasts on your horn to signal that you are approaching and request service. A red light indicates the lock is not ready. Stop at a safe distance and stand by for a green light. Before entering the lock, check that fenders are properly positioned.
Entering the Lock
A green light means come ahead. Enter the lock slowly and stay in line of approach. In the lock chamber, station vessels alongside the lock wall as directed by the Lock Operator. During the lockage, keep bow and stern close to the wall by looping line to holding apparatus (pipes or cables) in locks so equipped, or by holding the lines provide (all locks except Troy Federal, which only has pipes & cables). DO NOT TIE LINES. Serious injury can result from using hands and feet to fend a moving boat off a wall. Use a boat hook, paddle or oar. Do not wrap lines around hands or feet as lines may tighten and cause injury.
Exiting the Lock
Take in lines when lock gates are fully open and shove off away from the wall. Proceed slowly out of the lock chamber in order. Observe "lock limit" speed before increasing cruising speed.
Mooring at Canal Corporation Facilities
Under the New York Codes, Rules & Regulations, vessels may moor at a Canal Corporation owned dock or terminal up to 48 hours in a calendar month. Such mooring is free of charge, though services provided at the facility, such as electric, water and pumpouts, may have a charge associated with them. Vessels wishing to moor in excess of 48 hours must apply for a permit from the Corporation. Unless extenuating circumstances exist, such permits are usually granted only to commercial and other non-recreational vessels.
Sailboat Mast Stepping
The minimum clearances of overhead structures (bridges, guard gates, and utilities) range from 15.5' to 21' for different sections along the canal; so sailboats need to de-mast prior to entering the system. Sailors looking to cruise within the canal system, as opposed to transiting through, may not want their masts and rigging with them (in order to conserve deck space), and so may leave them at select facilities. Below is a list of marinas that perform mast stepping, and additionally which ones store masts.
Hudson River – East end of Erie Canal / South end of Champlain Canal
- Riverview Marine Services, Inc., Catskill, NY (518) 943-5311, Mast storage.
- Hop-O-Nose Marina, Catskill, NY (518) 943-4640, Mast storage.
- Castleton Boat Club, Castleton-on-Hudson, NY (518) 732-7077, Self-serve gin pole.
Lake Champlain – North end of Champlain Canal
- Chipman Point Marina, Orwell, VT (802) 558-4574, Mast storage.
Lake Ontario – North end of Oswego Canal
- Oswego Marina, Oswego, NY (315) 342-0436
Cayuga Lake – Cayuga-Seneca Canal
- Johnson Boat Yard, Ithaca, NY (607) 272-5191
Seneca Lake – Cayuga-Seneca Canal
- Stivers Seneca Marine, Waterloo, NY (315) 789-5520
Lake Erie – West end of Erie Canal
- Wardell Boat Yard, North Tonawanda, NY (716) 692-9428, Mast storage.
- Rich Marine Sales, Buffalo, NY (716) 873-4060, Mast storage.
- RCR Yachts, Inc., Buffalo, NY (716) 856-6314, Mast storage.
Masters of foreign flag vessels must report arrivals immediately to U.S. Customs at the first U.S. port of entry. Boaters entering Canadian waters must contact a reporting station at their first opportunity.
Detailed instructions can be found on the U.S. Customs and Border Protection and Canada Boarder Services Agency websites or by calling:
- U.S. Customs: (800) 827-2851
- Canadian Customs: (888) 266-7277
Boating & Navigation
Notices & Alerts
Notice to Mariners
Office of Canals
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