Written by Captain Juan Watson
The Okeechobee Waterway is the second largest fresh water lake in the United States. The 152-mile long waterway is a man-made waterway stretching from Fort Myers on the west coast to Stuart on the east coast of Florida. It was built to provide a safe water route across Florida rather than travelling the long route around the southern end of the state.
The entrances to the waterway are located approximately 80 NM south of Cape Canaveral at Stuart on Florida’s east coast and 77 NM south of the entrance to Tampa Bay at Punta Rassa on FL west coast.
From its junction with the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway at St. Lucie Inlet, the Okeechobee Waterway follows the St. Lucie River southwestward to South Fork where it enters the St. Lucie Canal.
After entering the St. Lucie Canal you continue west to Port Mayaca where you will enter Lake Okeechobee. After crossing the lake, the waterway exits at Clewiston to Moore Haven where you enter the Caloosahatchee Canal. From there, head west into the Caloosahatchee River passing Ft. Myers, San Carlos Bay and finally the Gulf of Mexico.
There are no transit fees crossing the Okeechobee Waterway. Since it is open to vessel traffic year round, normal lock operating times are restricted to 12 hours a day. The waterway’s controlling channel depth is normally 6.44 feet.
There are as many as 25 bridges that cross the Okeechobee Waterway depending on the route chosen. The limited vertical clearance of the waterway is 49’ at Port Mayaca.
The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) operates 5 navigation locks and dams along the Okeechobee Waterway. From east to west they are:
- St. Lucie Lock and Dam near Stuart
- Port Mayaca Lock and Dam Near Canal Point
- Moore Haven Lock and Dam at Moore Haven
- Ortona Lock and Dam east of LaBelle
- Franklin Lock and Dam east of Fort Myers
Each lock location has a recreational area that is open to the public for year round use. Some of these areas have camping and picnic facilities.
Click here for more information about the locks, operating times, distances, lifts, estimated transit times and operating restrictions.
Juan Watson is a 14-year mega yacht veteran. Currently, he owns and operates Pelorus Yacht Consulting, LLC in Annapolis, MD. PYC focuses on educating yachtsmen and owners.