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Sharon & Wallace Gouk
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Cruising the New York State Canal System, the best deal on the water

Lakes Oneida, Onandaga, Cayuga, Seneca, Champlain and the Hudson River. All within vacation range of Ontario boaters and quite simply the best deal on the water. The New York State Canal system is comprised of the interconnecting Erie, Oswego, Champlain and Cayuga-Seneca systems and has always been a bargain with free docking at pretty little parks at almost every lock and town, some secluded and others in the heart of small and not so small towns. Miles of incredible variety. At the bottom of this page we'll also have some tips about handling the locks and some links for more detail on the system. If you don't mind long days an Ontario boater in a reasonably fast boat can be in Manhattan in four days (We've done it many times on deliveries).

New York State is going to great lengths to encourage cruisers to spend time here and you will be treated accordingly. For some strange reason dockmasters, lockmasters and everyone else seem particularly fond of Canadians and are exceedingly friendly, helpful and a great source of information about their local areas. Once you pay for your lock pass ($100.00 season pass for our 40') you can spend every night for the entire summer on a dock for free. Free docking at dozens of small towns, most with power and water, lots of free wifi access, some with free laundry facilities and almost all with washroom and shower facilities that put Parks Canada to shame and compare the free or $2 pump outs to the $30 you'll pay in the Thousand Islands of Lake Ontario. We could happily spend all year every year cruising these waters but for the unfortunate conditions imposed by winter.

2024, NY State canal fees have been waived for this year as they have for many other years. A few (4) ports are charging niminal docking fees now. i.e. $10/night at Spencerport, $14/night at Pittsford.

This map is incomplete as there are many, many more stops (including the locks) than I am not able to show here

South from Oswego to Three Rivers Junction -
Upon entering at Oswego check in with the CPB Roam app which you have already downloaded to your phone right ! You can proceed through the first lock and spend the night on this wall which is a few minutes walk from everything you might need.
You need not pay for a single nights docking for the rest of your stay in the system as your lock pass includes free docking at every lock (Except a couple of locks where docks are not physically possible) and almost every town in the system.

Try not to arrive in Oswego during "Oswego Harbourfest" as you will not find a square inch of this large harbour or the canal walls open for anchoring or docking. I think most of NY state shows up for this party weekend and the biggest fireworks show I've ever seen.

The wall south of Oswego lock
Not a lot of space in the free marina for bigger boats but lots of room on the canal wall. A good spot for provisioning but we have not spent a lot of time here.

Free dock at Fulton
Not much here but a gas station, still a nice spot to stop for lunch as we did. Even in this spot note the free power post.

Walk across the street to Stewarts convenience store (a chain). They make their own ice cream and it is the most flavourful, creamiest you will taste between Duluth MN and the Bahamas. If you miss it here there is another Stewarts in Waterford.

Sharon on DIRT FREE at Minetto
After we stocked up on cheap rum and dirt cheap (and I mean CHEAP) beer in Oswego we moved south on the canal to another of our favourites to visit the "Bridge House Brats" at Phoenix. Here you will find free docks with shorepower and free pumpouts. The affectionately named "Brats" are a bunch of volunteer local kids who greet boaters, provide local info, water the plants, clean up the docks, walk your dog and a host of other chores. The kids are supervised by Cathy Lee (and a few adults) who started the program 30yrs ago and you will not meet a nicer bunch anywhere. We slip the kids a couple of bucks to walk the dog but no tips are expected.

The "Bridge House" contains a small museum and a kitchen where you can purchase snacks and have a free morning coffee with the locals who make the docks a gathering place.

Phoenix free pumpout unlike the $30 pumpouts in Canada

On MONDAY MORNING 2012 Bridge House at Phoenix

Bridge House Brats Sarah and Yuan

Phoenix sunset

Docks at Phoenix

Spent three days sanding the Phoenix Bridge House picnic tables in 2022

Sharon likes to watercolour Erie Canal tugboats
Three Rivers Junction to Waterford and/or Hudson River
South of Phoenix you come to the 3 Rivers junction and decide whether you'll head east to the Hudson River, Montreal and Manhattan or west to the Finger Lakes, Tonawanda, Lake Erie and the Welland Canal.

For now we'll look east and run a few miles to Winterhaven Marina at the western end of Lake Oneida where as all snowbird cruisers know, they usually have the lowest price fuel on the system (as much as 85 cents a gallon lower). Most of the canal system has a 10mph speed limit so this fuel should last a long time.
We'll continue to Waterford at the Hudson. A little later in this missive we'll look at turning to look at the Western Erie to Tonawanda.

Three Rivers Junction

On MONDAY MORNING 2012 Take your bikes ...... hundreds of miles of bike paths

Drop the hook and put the kids ashore in a tent for a quiet night onboard
If you continue east from Brewerton you will find at the other end of Lake Oneida, Sylvan Beach which is the NY state version of Wasaga beach complete with lovely sand and waterside amusement park for the kids and the usual lots of free docking. On a long weekend this spot may get busy so try to avoid arriving then.

Sylvan Beach, the Wasaga of NY

Free dock at Sylvan beach
Bike night ,Sylvan beach.... Sharon and I with our belt drive, gearless Trek bikes is not quite what they had in mind.

Sharon buys a t-shirt everwhere we stop :)

Works dept. Gave her a t-shirt. Bridge tender gave her booze :)
Most cruisers bypass Rome, NY due to the rough log/piling walls and few cruising guides mention much about this small town but we suggest you give it another look. There are a few spots on the rough log walls that are quite secure if you find a spot that matches your fender height. One must be a little limber to get over the pilings onto the main dock. There is a floating dock at the west end but half of that is silted in. Itís still worth the effort. There are two power posts at the east end.
There are two liquor stores, an independent autoparts store, pharmacy, two grocery stores and an Ace Hardware and Fort Stanwix National Park within an easy 8 minute walk. The Fort Stanwix National Park re-construction and museum (hint-watch all the large screen videos) alone are worth the stop.
Try the wonderful fresh bread and pastries at the famous Herkimer Bakery (Famous among snowbird cruisers).

After Herkimer try friday night concert at Lock 20 between Rome & Utica.

July 2022 - could not get on the wall this year as it had silted to a depth of less than 2'


After Rome try the friday night concert at Lock 20 between Rome & Utica.

Below the lock - Docking at Amsterdam costs a few dollars but worth the free concerts on the waterfront. We'd discovered a new beer in Oswego and in talking with a local, he offered to drive 5 miles to get us a couple of cases while we enjoyed the concert. The friendliness of the people on this system is unparalleled.

Amsterdam free concert
Above the lock - free power

A spectacular small town with summer concert series, terrific museum, farmers market, groceries. I think this is one of two places in the system where you pay for docking ($20) and pumpouts are $5.00.

Make sure you stop by the Copper Moose to sample some of their 50 craft brews and order a Porter Burger (porter marinated Angus beef and irish Porter cheese) to go with them ..... maybe the best burger you'll ever taste.


Best burger at the Copper Moose

Me and my best friend at Little Falls

Sharon on the wagon

Saw an empty pot ....What did you expect ?

Little Falls

Litle Falls
The town that Beech Nut gum built - We have been small town museum buffs for many years and poked around some exceptional
small museums and art galleries but the Arkell Museum and Art Gallery is truly a gem among gems and should not be missed. Take your bathing suit on your walking tour and have a dip in one of the "potholes" shown below. This lovely little town is one of our top three picks and as usual .... free docking with immaculate facilities.

July 2022 - These free docks and power posts have been removed. You can still dock of the wall in the creek entrance.

free dock




There are boaters welcome centers (WiFi, showers, laundry facilities) on the system such as the one here where you will be welcomed like the prodigal son by the volunteer seniors. Imagine that ! there is still a place where boaters are wanted. (Ask about the inexpensive all you can eat pancake breakfast at the local seniors center). Like almost every other town on this system there are special events. The big feature at Waterford is the annual. "Tugboat Roundup" which features converted and working tugs that you can tour. Many unusual boats can be seen at this sometimes busy juction of the canal and Hudson River.

From Here you can turn south down the Hudson to Manhattan or north through Lake Champlain to Sorrel and Montreal.

Free docks with lots of interesting boats at Waterford

Waterford Tug Roundup

What did you expect ?

Mmmmmmm .... didn't see this til' fter the ride

Waterford. Giant DIRT FREE next to little Ranger Tug

Hawaiian Proa diverting from a circumnavigation
Just around the corner from Waterford you can turn north to Lake Champlain and Montreal or turn south and be in Manhattan in 2-4 days depending on your speed. We have run boats from Manhattan to Port Credit in four days but you should take more time to enjoy the spectacular Hudson Valley.
There are a number of restaurants on the Hudson where if you buy a meal you can stay on their docks overnight otherwise there are no more free docks but quite a few beautiful anchorages.

If you decide to go to Manhattan you may want to read Boating in New York Harbour

West of Three Rivers Junction towards Tonawanda, Lake Erie and the Welland Canal ... and a Doe rescue :)
Back to the 3 Rivers Junction to take a look at the western end of the system to Lake Erie. You could head straight west to Tonawanda or take the offshoots south to the Finger Lakes, Onandaga, Seneca and Cayuga. In these finger lakes you can visit Syracuse and the Salt Museum and the Erie Canal Museum or or anchor off the wineries to sample their wares or you can head down to Watkins Glen and watch my brother race one of his Lotus' in the classic car races.

See you at Watkins Glen
Lovely little town with everything you need within two blocks, a couple of great restaurants (Best crab cakes ever at the Lock 24 restaurant, well except for Sharon's and free weekend concerts at the open air Budweiser stage just across from the docks (best seats in the house).

Sharon swims at Baldwinsville

Sharon too dressed to be a boatie

Baldwinsville free dock
State parks, Watkins Glen race track, Montour Falls, lots of wineries to visit, good fishing and something for every member of the family. Once in these lakes you are off the canal system and the free stuff pretty much stops but it is also dirt cheap compared to what we pay in Canada

On the canal that joins the lakes is this lovely small town (back to the free stuff) with a couple of very inexpensive restaurants servimg awesome homemade burgers (pint of draft for $1.50), a terrific deli and yet another superb little museum and John the happy, outgoing dockmaster to tell you all about it. Few places we have cruised are as welcoming as this. Help yourself to the fresh veggies in the community garden across from the docks. All they ask is that you do a little cleaning up or weeding. The tomatoes taste the way they did when you were a kid.

Sunset from Seneca Falls free dock

Entering Seneca Falls

On MONDAY MORNING 2013 Seneca Falls free dock

Seneca Falls Community Garden

Art Walk at Seneca Falls

Art Art Walk at Seneca Falls

Seneca Falls free dock
Dockmaster Mike (Mrs.Mike if he's not there) will greet you and provide keys to the immaculate washroom and laundry facilities and provide directions to everything available. after dark take some bread down to the end of the dock and hand feed (yes, right out of your fingers) the fish. You can do this during the day but the murals and fish are beautiful at night. Mrs Mike also runs the ice cream shack not too far from the docks.

Upon entering Newark we were greeted with a wall of smoke which turned out to be 300 BBQ'd chickens .... delicious.
Newark wall of smoke Newark BBQ

Newark murals ... a must see at night

On MONDAY MORNING 2013 Newark free dock
A neat little spot with a touristy flavour, the usual good restaurants and impeccable facilities. Note the sign on the dock stating that if you want free docking for more than two weeks you have to get permission.

Pittsford-Docking more than 2 weeks requires permission !

On MONDAY MORNING 2013 Pittsford free dock
Sleepy village with supermarket, wifi, dockside restaurant, showers, washrooms and laundry facilities in the renovated trolley station.

Spencerport free dock
Small college town with friendly visitors center at the docks all you might need within easy walking distance ... bars, restaurants, movies antique shops. and the usual well maintained docking facilities.

Brockport free dock
Beautiful little town and another great little museum. Walk through the gorgeous little park that parallels the free docks, you can make a left to see the waterfall or continue on for another 30 seconds and come out at the back of the supermarket where I bought 30 cans of Labatts Ice on sale for $8.99.

Spent some time with friendly bridge tender Don Phillips. Don is much happier than he looks in the photo below. I think he thought I was going to play with his bridge controls.

Bridge tending lesson from Don.... not as simple as it appears

Holley park

Me and my best friend in Holley

Holley waterfall

Climbing Holley waterfall - what did you expect ?
never stopped here but is sure is pretty.
What a great spot and gets very busy on weekends but there is so much dock space on both sides of the river you'll find a way to squeeze in. Live theatre, antiques, free concerts on weekends,small museum, water side bars and a whole slew of Canadians from the east end of Lake Erie make this a regular weekend run. This is by far the biggest docking facility on the system with a small dock fee of $10.00/day (but still $2.00 for a pumpout) since you are now at the western end of the line and outside of the canal system. Next stop, Port Colborne and the Welland Canal on the way back to Port Credit Yact Club on Lake Ontario.

Tonawanda entrance from Erie Canal



Locking on the Welland is little different than the Erie canal ( other than lock size) but you will have no choice on what side to go to or where you stop.

Downbound - back to Lake Ontario is quite easy in fact the first lock is so gentle and lowers so little that you don't even have to take a line. When entering every other lock there will be a worker ready to hand you lines so thats where you have to stop. Downbound is easy and our 45 LOA was easily handled by two.

- if you do our route counter clockwise you will be upbound in the Welland and a crew of at least three is mandatory. You can hire a third hand for the upbound trip, just ask Seaway control when you check in. Many of the hands hired for this are off-shift Seaway workers. Upbound is a little trickier than downbound due to the increased turbulence at some of the gates upon exiting the lock and there is some more turbulence while the lock is being filled. Fill turbulence is why three crew are required, one each at bow and stern and one at the helm in case throttle is needed to hold your position. Upbound you will enter the cavernous lock and only two lines will be dropped to you, so again you do not have a choice of position or side.

You must remember that this can be a very busy commercial canal and that pleasure craft take a back seat to the big ships. I have done this canal in 6hrs and I've done it in 36hrs. it ain't a pretty place and you cannot stop for a break.

When you check in with the phones provided at both ends of the canal it might be wise to ask for an estimated transit time. Ask is it's worth waiting til' the next day due to traffic and make your decision.
If you are a power boat capable of travelling at the speed limit of 10nm/hr you might want to think twice about going through with a sailboat who has trouble getting over 5.5. There is no point in trying to get ahead of a slower boat as Seaway control is going to make you wait for them at the next lock anyway.

Check in dock at west end of Welland Canal

Sharon entering Welland lock

Welland Canal traffic

Newbies are often intimidated by locks as was I the first time after listening to the experts who said you needed bales of hay as fenders and 2X6 fender boards to save you from damage on the walls... Bunk !

Year ago on my first trip through these canals I took this stuff seriously but dumped the fenderboards and hay bales after the second lock. Sure you will get some slime on you fenders and some will drip onto your decks, just hose it off. Photo at right shows a fella single handling the locks.

1 - Fender position is very important. You want your fenders on the rub rail. this keeps your boat off the wall and minimizes slime transfer to your hull. Buy a bunch of mesh laundry bags at Dollarama to cover your fenders and dispose of them when they are slime saturated. Once you become accustomed to the lines, your boat should rarely touch the wall.

2 - Have lines and fenders ready on both sides of the boat as traffic may dictate which side wall you go to.

3 - Always have a boat pole ready to snag a line if its a little out of reach.

4 - The approach ... enter the lock slowly. Any wake you drag in will bounce off the walls and the gate and come back at you and anyone sharing the lock will get rightly ticked off. Enter in the middle and approach your stopping point at an angle then gently kick your stern towards the wall. Trying to drive parallel to the wall over a distance is difficult and you'll likely roll your fenders up and scrape the wall with your rubrail. Your mate will be at the turn of the bow ready to grab a line. The mate should be watching you and you give him/her a nod as to when to grab a line as the pilot is the one who decides where to stop and will grab the aft line.

5 - There are two types of lines in the the lock. Some are just ropes that hang from the top of the lock and some are cables that are fixed top & bottom. Grab the hanging rope or loop your own line around the fixed cable. Never ever tie off your line to a lock line, disaster can result.

6 - The departure ... Never let go of the lines until you see the green light come on. Never let go of the lines until the boat in front of you is well under way. If you are opposite a boat on the other wall, agree who will go first while you are waiting. Push off the wall and try to leave the lock in the center of the channel as there is sometimes turbulence at the downstream gates which can push you around a little bit.

7 - There will be more turbulence near the gates on the low side. ie. locking down.
NYS Canal website with step by step photos of each lock in the system.

Official NY State Canal website with lots of good info. You can purchase a cruising guide here.

The Travels of Tug 44 Tug 44 is a long term cruiser on the system and has lots of useful information on his website.

Erie Champlain Canal Boat Company Rent an English style narrowboat to cruise the canals

Erie Canal Boat Company Conventional houseboat rentals

Canal Cruises Another English style narrowboat rental company
Arkell Museum Amazing museum/art gallery in Canajoharie

Newark Just Google the name of any town on the system. They all have websites with info on museums, special events and more.

Skipper Bob's Cruising Guide For a measly $13.00. A must have, mile by mile guide with details on every stop on the entire system.

Seneca Falls Museum Yet another superb little museum and like all the others ... it's free !

Many Chandleries carry or can get you the chartbook, Official Cruising Guide and Skipper Bob's Guide or if you are going to be in Toronto near the waterfront call the Nautical Mind bookstore and see if they have them in stock.
So cruising the Erie has given you the itch ? Check out Primer For First Timers Heading South if you want to travel a little further.

Wallace Gouk
Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors, 2000 Ret'd
ABYC® Standards Certified, 2009
ABYC® Certified Corrosion Analyst, 2015
Transport Canada Licensed Master, 2002 Ret'd
Transport Canada Tonnage Measurer, 2003
BoatUS® Approved Marine Surveyor, 2003

Society of Accredited Marine Surveyors

American Boat & Yacht Council