The Great Loop Cruise, a circumnavigation if the eastern third of the United States with an optional foray into Canada, was made more friendly to pleasure boats with the completion of the Tennessee Tombigbee waterway, which provided a path to Gulf of Mexico from the Great Lakes without running the Lower Mississippi. It has become so popular with retiring boomers that they have their own organization, the American Great Loop Cruising Association, and a whole supporting industry of guidebooks, charts, marina discounts, rendezvous, seminars, etc. An internet search will turn up all kinds of material to help turn the dream into reality.

So what is the best boat for the Loop? The short answer is the one you can afford that gets you out there. I have advised several couples on their Loop boats and sold other boats after the owners finished, ranging from a 26’ Ranger Tug with a single woman aboard to 40’ Mainship flybridge sedans. To me the ultimate Loop Boats might be the fast express yachts in the Sabre, MJM, or Hinckley style. They have the speed, seaworthiness, modest air and water draft, and range to make them a top choice functionally, but can be out of reach financially for many Loopers. A more realistic choice might be a traditional Downeaster or an outboard power catamaran. Traditional downeast style boats make a good choice because of the running gear protection they provide. Sailors do it too, usually shipping the mast from Chicago to Mobile.

Here are some features to look for:

Seaworthiness. There are about 1200 miles of open water, 800 on the Great Lakes and 400 between Mobile and Clearwater. Just because a lot of the route is on inland waterways, don’t make the mistake of buying a boat suitable only for that.

Maneuverability. Lots of time is spent waiting for bridges and locks. If the expense of a joystick boat is out of reach, look at least for a single engine boat with a bow thruster.

Air draft. The maximum air draft is 19’, but a non-flybridge express cruiser with 10’ of air draft will get you under a lot of bridges without having to wait for an opening.

Flexible accommodations. Most Loopers are couples so optimizing for that makes sense. Think hard about carrying around an extra stateroom and head that only gets used for a couple of days a month.

Speed. The Loop is about scenery, socializing, and adventures ashore along the way. Droning along at 7 knots cuts into prime time.

Fuel Efficiency. It takes more fuel to push a heavy boat. There are some modern, planing hull boats that offer fuel efficiency better than older semi-displacement boats, but they are of recent, somewhat exotic, and expensive construction. The current low cost of fuel gives a wider range of options, but that may not be the case when it comes time to sell.

Range. Research the range needed for your intended route. If you want to experience the Lower Mississippi, it can be a long way between fuel stops.

Resale. Are you buying a boat just for the Loop or do you plan to keep it for 5 years or more? What type of cruising would you do other than the Loop? This can drive the choice to a large extent. We should talk.

© Peter Bass 2013-19