On the Job

What You Should Know about Navigating Fort Lauderdale and the Intracoastal Waterway

2 January 2023By Patrick Levitzke
Photo: Patrick Levitzke

Written by

Patrick Levitzke

Patrick Levitzke is from Port Macquarie, Australia. He left in 2019 to begin yachting, and found his first job on a private 82-foot Horizon, cruising the U.S. East Coast, with just the captain. Currently, he’s a deckhand on a 210-foot private yacht and has plans to complete his 200-ton license this year.

The waterways making up Fort Lauderdale are home to North America’s busiest and most recognized center of yachting. On any given weekend, there are hundreds out on the water, from all-varnish sailing classics to 30-foot center consoles with five outboards, and everything in between.

The ICW, which intersects Fort Lauderdale, provides a passage sheltered from oceangoing hazards and has been in use since WW1 largely for military use. Nowadays, it’s used commercially and recreationally.

The New River is the most popular river that flows through downtown Fort Lauderdale — it’s well worth your time to go over the local chart so that you’re familiar with buoyage as lateral markers can appear slightly confusing to the untrained eye, especially just north of the SE 17th Street bridge before you enter the New River, where it intersects the ICW. This is because the “red right return” rule applies to a southward-bound direction when on the ICW, so it may be easier to think of “red right, return to Texas.”

The Coast Guard has also added additional aids to navigation, placed on top of regular lateral marks for the ICW. If you’re traveling southbound, a yellow reflective square indicates a port-side mark, and a yellow reflective triangle indicates a starboard-side mark. Expect to see these on existing port or starboard lateral markers; the ICW intersects many channels with opposing buoyage such as the New River.

Before departing, read up on Coast Guard publications for Inland Waterway rules as they differ slightly from standard International Regulations. As protected as the inner waterways are, be sure to check the weather and tide and avoid transits around peak tide flows (especially if you’re a larger vessel) as they can reach up to three to four knots.

When entering New River, monitor VHF Channel 9; if you’re on a vessel larger than 40 feet, you’ll generally be required to regularly radio ahead your position and intention for outward or inward bound, and keep an ear out for vessels coming the opposite way.

There are also several bridges, each with their own air draft located on a tide gauge next to the bridge. If you do require an opening, call the bridge tender on Channel 9 and courteously request a bridge opening. Some bridges may have restrictions or specific opening times, so research ahead (visit fortlauderdale.gov) to find schedules. If there’s a vessel waiting on the other side, the vessel with the right of way will be whoever has the tide flowing in her direction of travel.

Hopefully you’ll get many chances to navigate one of the busiest U.S. waterways — when you get the hang of it, Fort Lauderdale is a different city from the water.

This article originally ran in the February 2022 issue of Dockwalk.

More from Dockwalk