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Navigating the Canals

Navigation Information with Water Depths

Navigation Information Key

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Navigational Aids and Rules

Picture of Boats on the Canal

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 Leaving NYS Canal's Website (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.

Navigational Charts

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) Leaving NYS Canal's Website or through NOAA Certified Printers, Leaving NYS Canal's Website 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 Leaving NYS Canal's Website and supplemental information difficult to portray in a nautical chart in Coast Pilot 6 Leaving NYS Canal's Website .

Rules, Regulations, Registration

All mariners must to adhere to the U.S.C.G. Inland Navigation Rules Leaving NYS Canal's Website 

Recreational mariners should be aware that there are minor differences between state Leaving NYS Canal's Website and federal Leaving NYS Canal's Website boating regulations, the more stringent of which apply. Boater Safety Courses are listed on the NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation website Leaving NYS Canal's 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 Leaving NYS Canal's Website .  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!

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How to "Lock Through" Canal System Locks

Illustration of a Boat Approaching a LockApproaching 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.

Illustration of a Boat Entering a LockEntering 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.

Picture of a Boat Exiting a LockExiting 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.

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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.

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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

Lake Champlain – North end of Champlain Canal

  • Chipman Point Marina, Orwell, VT (802) 558-4574, Mast storage.

Lake Ontario – North end of Oswego Canal

Cayuga Lake – Cayuga-Seneca Canal

  • Johnson Boat Yard, Ithaca, NY (607) 272-5191

Seneca Lake – Cayuga-Seneca Canal

Lake Erie – West end of Erie Canal

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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 Leaving NYS Canal's Website and Canada Boarder Services Agency Leaving NYS Canal's Website websites or by calling:

  • U.S. Customs: (800) 827-2851
  • Canadian Customs: (888) 266-7277

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