Buying a Boat for The Great Loop

If we want to cruise America’s Great Loop, we need a boat for that. The Great Loop has a few requirements … mainly height, draft & fuel range restrictions, although if you have a super wide catamaran (23’+), you won’t be able to cruise the Trent Severn Canal System in Ontario – one of the highlights of the route.

Click on The Great Loop to go directly to Captain John’s Boats for the Loop Recommendations.

Overall, here are our limiting factors …

  1.  Sail or Power?  The Great Loop is successfully completed each year on sailboats, but for a majority of the adventure, the mast must be down to accommodate bridges etc.  We learned during our sailboat cruising years that often we were motoring anyway.  So temporarily going to the “dark side”.
  2. Fuel Economy & Range.  To cruise the Loop, you must have a range of at least 250 miles – more if you want to go down the Mississippi, but that’s not us. Single engine diesel.  On Winterlude with our 30 hp Kubota diesel, we were burning .7 gallons of diesel an hour when motoring. The Great Loop is 6000 miles plus, all motoring, sometimes against the current…  At 7 knots, that’s over 850 hours.  At 2-3 gallons an hour:  $5,100 – $7,650 for fuel.  Spread over 12-24 months, it doesn’t seem so daunting, but still a significant consideration. David would have loved twin diesels for maneuverability, but we quickly decided we couldn’t afford the fuel  for twins.  All boats are compromises…
  3. Height over water … no more than 17′ – to get under the bridge necessary to cruise between the skyscrapers in downtown Chicago.  19′ if we take the alternate route south of Chicago.  But more than 19′ and, as Capt John says “Your Great Loop becomes a great U TURN.”
  4. Draft.  Seems the water can get mighty skinny in places around The Great Loop.  Recommended draft is no more than 4′, preferably less.  Legally, you can get by with 5′ but it’s not recommended.

So what are we looking for in a boat specifically to cruise The Great Loop?  Here’s our “short list” of 20 ….. 

Our Perfect Great Loop Boat

Newer … maybe 10 years old-ish.  We loved our 30 year old Passport, s/v Winterlude, but not the maintenance required to keep a 30 year old sailing classic mostly-restored. So if we decide on a new-to-us boat, it must be less maintenance intensive  with minimal exterior teak.

Budget:  It’s important to have a set budget and not become side-tracked by amazing boats outside the limits of our finances.  We considered financing to get a newer boat, but rejected the idea as we’ve always been cash only  – one of the secrets to happy retirement in our opinions.

Nordhavn 47

Re-sale value after The Great Loop.  Assume that we’d sell the boat after our Great Loop adventure – but maybe we’d love it so much we’d decide not to sell, but we’d like to keep that option open.

Adequate hull construction – no cored hull.  After all, cruising down rivers and even the ICW submerged logs and other obstacles may be a challenge.

Outside steering – preferably enclosed, good visibility.  This is a hold-over from our sailing days.  Although we like the sleek look of some of the newer designs, and even the real “tug” style boats, neither of us like the idea of sitting INSIDE all day long steering.  After all, a big part of the fun of doing the Loop is watching the wildlife, river action and whatever else there may be to see.  Plus it seems like docking would be much easier with an all around view, not a view from inside.

Nordic Tug

38 to 42’.  If we decide to do The Great Loop, we want a boat with a second cabin in case we have guests.

Max Draft:   4’

Max Height: 17’-ish

Engine: single diesel.  Then the question becomes low engine hours versus normal engine hours.  Talking to diesel mechanics, we learned that sometimes 10 year old boats with less than 1000 hours are more troublesome than boats where the diesel has been used and maintained well.

Fuel Efficient – prefer 2 – 3 gph at 7 knots or better – this one may be a challenge….

Adequate Power for maneuvering in current/wind in close quarters. Bow/stern thrusters to help.  Winterlude was woefully underpowered at 21,000 lbs and 30 horsepower.  We understand currents & turbulance can be issues especially around locks and that it’s necessary to have enough power to be safe.  But we want to balance that with fuel economy.  Catch 22.  🙂

One head is fine, separate shower w/ adequate space to use.

Heat, A/C

“Real” galley – Propane stove, fridge bigger than dorm size & microwave.

Adequate battery power/inverter/generator for anchoring out.

Adequate Ground Tackle, with electric windlass, prefer chain to rode.

Sabre 45

Adequate Electronics.  Our first trip from Annapolis to Ft. Myers Florida, we cruised with a Magellan GPS with no screen other than a pointer arrow, paper charts and cruising guides and had no complaints.  Latest electronics are nice but as long as the boat has a GPS, depth sounder, compass, a VHF and adequate autopilot, we’ll be good.  David would like AIS and radar but they’re not requirements.

Good Dinghy 9.8-ish hp Yamaha or Tohatsu; dinghy & outboard storage system

Flat screen TV & other “nice but not necessary” extras.

Attractive Appearance – I love a dark hull, but it’s not a requirement.  What is a requirement is a boat that makes us feel good when we dinghy up or walk down the dock each day – something we’re proud to own.

From this list, we’ve narrowed the boat to a trawler style, hopefully with up top enclosed steering. I’m sure we’re missing something important, but right now, we don’t know what it is. 🙂  Onward!  Cheers!  Jan


  1. Your priorities and preferences seem parallel to ours! If we ever go to a power boat, we may just take your list and start shopping!

  2. Excited for you. We bought an Endeavor 38 CC and will begin our Great Loop trip in April from Massachusetts. Cheers!

  3. Gerald Wallace says:

    A twin engine trawler was definitely the best for us, believe me once you’ve completed the loop the cost of fuel will not be a major expense of the trip. When we did the loop (1 1/2 times) diesel was $4 a gallon in 2013 and 14. At today’s price it will be a lot more insignificant it’s more important to get a good comfortable boat that is mechanically and structurally sound.

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