Can You Sail From The Great Lakes To The Ocean?

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The GLW (Great Lakes Waterway) is a series of artificial canals and natural channels through which navigation is possible through the North American Great Lakes. This region is made up of five main lakes, namely, Lake Erie, Lake Huron, Ontario, Superior, and Michigan.

Sailing the Great Lakes leaves enthusiasts with a feeling of accomplishment and fulfillment. 

However, you may want to go beyond the lakes during your next expedition.

Although all the lakes are interconnected, natural barriers like St. Mary’s River rapids and Niagara Falls have limited water journeys between them for many years.

Can you sail from the Great Lakes To The Ocean?

Yes, sailing to the ocean from the Great Lakes is possible. For this voyage, the sailboat takes the adventurer to the Atlantic Ocean. All five lakes are connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Saint Lawrence River, which also serves as the drainage outflow for the Great Lakes Basin.

If you are interested in trying the voyage, read on to learn what you need to know before going on the journey. From the recommended routes to sailing timetables and the conditions to expect during your travel, we’ll review every piece of information that will prepare you as a traveler. 


Can You Sail From The Great Lakes To The Ocean?

If you are planning to sail over any of the lakes and get to the  Atlantic Ocean, here is how you can accomplish this:

The St. Lawrence River

For starters, you will need to primarily rely on the Saint Lawrence River, which also goes by the popular name, the Saint Lawrence Seaway. The river flows north-eastwards and connects all the five lakes to the Atlantic Ocean.

Before planning this trip, it is important to ensure that the sailboat you intend to use has a length of at least 20 feet. A shorter sailboat may be prohibited from using the route.

People are often in excellent company when traveling, since approximately 2,000 adventurers take the route regularly.

Also, you’ll need to be on the lookout for tie-up regions and docks for when you need a break. As you travel, you will sail through the Ontario Thousand Islands, Canadian parts like Quebec, Ontario, and Montreal, and possibly through New York or Maine.

In Montreal, the journey via the Saint Lawrence River takes travelers to the St. Lawrence Gulf, Labrador, Newfoundland, and New Brunswick. There are many places to visit and sightsee as you travel through the river and the lakes. You can also choose to wind up your adventure in Nova Scotia’s Bay of Fundy, which is a nice starting point for the return trip.

How Long Does It Take To Get to The Atlantic, Sailing from the Great Lakes?

Ideally, the trip takes nine days if you depart from Duluth-Superior and travel along the Atlantic Ocean. This is a distance of 2,038 miles and by no means a short trip.

The 2,038 mile trip takes nine days if you depart from Duluth-Superior and travel along the Atlantic Ocean. 

You should also prepare for delays that may be caused by various reasons such as the weather or giving room for commercial vessels to pass. This means your voyage could take longer than you had planned. 

Picking Great Loop Travel Route – Great Lakes to Atlantic

It is always important to dedicate some time and plan for the trip. Among the things that should be factored in during the planning include:

  • The amount of time the traveler intends to spend on the voyage
  • Number of travel hours per day
  • Desired levels of comfort during the open ocean travel
  • Clearance necessary for the boat to go under bridges.

Route #1: Saint Lawrence Seaway – using the Lake Champlain shortcut

This route is ideally suited for adventurous people. From the Great lakes where it begins, adventurers get the chance to see various sceneries. Towards the northeast provinces of Canada, travelers will come across some of the the most aesthetic coastline on the planet.

The coastline’s natural beauty extends to the Maine coast and can still be accessed using this route.

Furthermore, travelers sail via the Thousand Islands Ontario region before exiting Lake Ontario and advancing to Montreal. Due to the additional mileage introduced using this route, the recommendation is to begin the voyage early (about July 1st or earlier). In addition, sailors using this route also get to leave their mast hoisted throughout the journey. Alternative routes necessitate stepping and un-stepping the mast once or more times.  

The Lake Champlain shortcut:

Using the shortcut, travelers go from the connection of the St. Lawrence River with the Richelieu River at Sorel-Tracy, Quebec, to Lake Champlain downstream from Montreal. They then follow the Hudson River from Lake Champlain’s southern end to New York City via Albany.

The route bypasses most of the whole Gulf of St. Lawrence in place of which travelers make a quick trip via New York and end up at Lady Liberty’s feet.

Route #2: Erie Canal – includes Trent-Severn Waterway, Oswego Canals, and Welland

This is among the most common Great Lakes routes that open to the ocean. Using the route, sailors will be required to lower the mast as they go through the Erie Canal. At the two ends, they will come across decent boatyards known for assisting cruisers step and unstep their masts.

Travelers intending to use this route should have a way to support and carry their masts on deck when lowered.

In addition, they also need to factor in a couple of variations while using this route. The first decision they will need to make will be around Lake Huron while traveling from the Upper Great Lakes region. The options are to either head towards Lake Huron’s far southern end and into Lake St. Clair following the St. Clair River and via the Detroit River south into Lake Erie. 

The other option is to head south using Trent-Severn Waterway and out of Georgian Bay on Lake Huron via cottage country in Ontario. Through this route, travelers bypass the entire Lake Erie and Detroit and experience a great side trip via the North Channel of Lake Huron and Parry Sound.


There are multiple paths to get from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. You can absolutely make the trip! Pay close attention to the weather requirements when planning your trip, and don’t forget the mast requirements as well.

With some thorough planning, you can achieve an unforgettable trip from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic!