Intracoastal Waterway

The Intracoastal Waterway is a 3,000-mile waterway along the Atlantic and Gulf coasts of the United States.  Some lengths consist of natural inlets, salt-water rivers, bays, and sounds; others are artificial canals.  It provides a navigable route along its length without many of the hazards of travel on the open sea.

In October 1855, construction began on one of the most important artificial waterways, the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal.  Today, the Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal is maintained and operated by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and is part of the well-traveled Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway.  It consists of sea level water connections between the Chesapeake Bay and the Albemarle Sound.

The Canal has the distinction of having been one of the earliest of all American canals, suggested and actually surveyed and mapped in 1772.  Construction of the canal could not begin until technology had advanced to allow steam power to operated mechanical dredges.  In 1856, nine "Iron Titans" were obtained and went to work chopping out living and petrified trunks.

The "line of navigation" of the canal measures some 70 miles, with only 14 miles of land excavation. 

Norfolk, Virginia merchant and ship owner, Marshall Parks, was the person responsible for reviving the 18th century canal-building plan.  Parks worked to get bills passed through both the Virginia and North Carolina legislatures.

In 1912, the canal company, now in financial straits and unable to meet mortgage payments, was purchased by the United States government.  During World War II, enormous quantities of military cargo used the Intracoastal Waterway, safe from the submarine activity off the Atlantic.

Today, virtually all commercial traffic, plus sail and motor cruisers, make their annual seasonal trek from North to South by way of the quicker Albemarle and Chesapeake Canal route.

Source: Alexander Brown, Juniper Waterway

Mariners Museum, 1981.

*ICW Docking Information:

There are multiple free docking sites along the ICW and Chesapeake welcomes the many migrating during the Fall & Spring months.  In response to some recent questions regarding the use of the free dock at the south edge of the Great Bridge, that dock is closed due to construction.  There is other available, free dock space on the south and north bank of the canal to the west of the bridge.  However, once construction is completed we welcome your visit at our new dock and visitor center!  Be sure to stop in and say hi! Want more info on marine navigation? Visit!

More Things to Do

Fishing Do you like to fish? There's an old adage in...More
Restaurants If a trip to Chesapeake is in your future, prepare...More
History Since the arrival of colonial settlers in 1620,...More