The One Where We Got Our Boat Through Canada

There is so much to this story. Hope, heartache, big decisions, government regulations, research, and so much more. I’ll try to include as many details as possible for those curious. Or for other boaters attempting to do the same. And, if nothing else, for our own personal memories!

First let me begin by saying, this wasn’t an ideal situation. This wasn’t what we planned or wanted.

We never set out to merely get our boat through Canada. In fact, we’d hoped to spend at least a month in Canada this summer.

But Covid.

It’s been both a blessing and a curse to our Great Loop adventure. And, in this particular situation it was a huge curse!

Let’s rewind to June 1st when we tossed our lines in Brunswick, GA and set out around The Great Loop. At the time, both the NY Canal System and Canada were closed due to Covid. We naively assumed it was only a matter of weeks before things would open back up.

Unfortunately, by the time we reached the Chesapeake Bay it became obvious that we were wrong.

After a lot of debate we chose to call The Chesapeake Bay “home” for about 5 weeks (more on this in a future post.) At that point the Erie Canal was projected to open fully on August 10th. And Canada was going to open on August 21st.

Most boating experts assumed the Erie Canal would open at some point this summer. There’s a lot of commerce along the Canal and towns needed boaters traveling the waters.

However, Canada was a wildcard. As US Covid numbers continued to trend up, we didn’t have a lot of hope in them opening their borders.

We held our breath, prayed a lot and explored other options for getting our boat through Canada.

Unfortunately, the height of our boat became the biggest challenge. We are 16′ 6″ with our antennas folded down, and full water/fuel tanks. On the west side of the Erie Canal there are several bridges around the 15′ mark.

At one point I asked Kim Russo (director of the AGLCA) if she thought we could weigh down our boat a full foot to fit, but it wasn’t a realistic idea for multiple bridges.

Our ONLY option was to take our boat from the east side of the Erie Canal, up through the Oswego Canal and into Lake Ontario. Then we’d need to take our boat through Canada and down the Welland Canal into Lake Erie.

Approaching New York we were hopeful that this route would be possible. According to the “Rite of Innocent Passage” rule we should have been able to transition through Canadian waters providing we didn’t stop, dock or anchor anywhere.

The Canadian government actually gave us the green light to transition our boat through Canada following these guidelines.

But then Canadian Customs told us to pump the brakes.

Sound confusing? It was! We’d get one answer from one person, and then a totally different answer from someone else.

As we began making our way through the Erie Canal we decided that the only surefire way to get our boat through Canada was to hire a captain.

Hiring a captain makes the journey a commercial transaction, and therefore is allowed even under the Canadian Covid restrictions and laws. We began working with several contacts of the AGLCA to find a captain. (If you are looking for one, please reach out. I would LOVE to help you through this process!)

We hired Captain Bob and he explained all of the paperwork that would need to be submitted. He also checked the schedule for the Welland Canal to know which day the locks would run from Lake Ontario to Lake Erie.

*They run the Welland Locks going upbound and downbound every other day. In other words, one way boat traffic!

Once settling on a date we were required to:

  1. Provide Bob with a lot of information on our boat.
  2. Sign a contract with Bob for the transitioning of the vessel.
  3. Pay a $200 toll to the St. Lawrence Seaway (We downloaded an App for this step and then sent a copy to our Captain. When transfered to the American dollar it actually ends up being closer to $150.)

From there, Bob was able to do all of the necessary paperwork with Canada for the transaction. All of this paperwork had to be submitted at least 48 hours in advance.

Also, because the Welland Canal requires 3 people on board we had to hire 2 crew. (Bob took care of this too.)

Our main responsibility was to get Light & Salty to Youngstown, NY where we’d hand over the keys to Bob.

Yes, we were preparing to hand over the keys to our home and essentially move out for a day so that our boat could take a trip to Canada.

Here are a few things we needed to do to be ready for the big day:

  1. Bob asked us to remove any alcohol on board. (We would have also needed to remove any firearms and tobacco products, if we’d had them.)
  2. We did all of the engine checks and prep work that we’d normally do if we were boating ourselves.
  3. We set all of our fenders on both sides of the boat for the Welland Canal locks.
  4. Our family packed a day bag with everything we anticipated needing including a change of clothes in case there were any holdups.

5:45AM came early, but were were anxious and ready to have this headache behind us!

The logistics didn’t end with just the boat…

We had ourselves to worry about!

Obviously we needed to stay on American soil through all of this process. Bob was nice enough to offer our family his jeep. After some debate we decided to rent a hotel room for the day.

This gave Brent a quiet place to work. And allowed me and the kids a safe place to relax and play. While many boaters may consider this step unnecessary, it worked REALLY well for us!

After arriving at the hotel there was very little do do except pray that our boat cleared Canadian customs and transitioned through the Welland Canal easily!

As the hours dragged on, we assumed that no news was good news.

We began tracking our boat using the App Marine Traffic. This gave us some peace of mind because we could see Light & Salty. But it was also frustrating because our boat was sitting still and we had no idea what was going on.

Long after we expected our boat to be back in our possession, our spot at the dock sat empty. Eventually we put Miller to bed (thank goodness we had the hotel room and overnight bags for “just in case.”)

Close to 10PM we received a phone call that Light & Salty cleared the last bridge and was about 2 hours out from the marina.

Brent was waiting at the dock, just before midnight, when our boat arrived back on American soil.

Captain Bob relayed that it had been a pretty bad day overall, but our boat handled very well. They got caught in a storm with 60 mph gusts, Canadian Customs searched Light & Salty for over 20 minutes, and then a bridge broke- preventing our boat (among others) from entering Lake Erie.

It was an extremely long day for all of us! I’m so thankful Captain Bob and his crew for taking such good care of our boat.

*If you are a boater also considering this option, PLEASE leave me a comment or send an email to sarah@momwithamap.com I’d love to chat and walk you through the details of the process.

As always, thank you for following along on our crazy adventures! Here’s a few other posts you might enjoy:

The One With The Big Decision

Montana Misadventures: Mistakes We Won’t Make Again

The One Where We Decided To Live On A Boat

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  1. […] you read my last post (Getting Our Boat Through Canada) or if you’ve been following along on social media- you probably know that we spent quite a […]

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