Tips For Boating The Inland Waterways | Quimby's Cruising Guide

Going on a multi-day journey along the river takes careful planning. The time of year, your vessel and your crewmates are factors in the type of trip to plan. We followed Captain Bob and his crew on their recent journey on the Tennessee River and asked them for travel tips for boaters who might want to cruise the 652 miles of the river.


Traveling the TN River Gorge


Planning a journey on the Tennessee River begins with whether you are going upriver or downriver. There are nine locks and dams between Knoxville, TN and Kentucky Dam where the Tennessee River enters the Ohio River. If you are traveling downriver, each lock will act like a bathtub and lower you the next lake below the dam. Conversely, going upriver means your vessel will rise up to the next lake. The time of year is a factor as spring rains bring lake levels to full pool and careful navigation of the main channel is needed as debris such as large logs may impede your travel. The full lakes also can create deceptive coves that can draw you away from the navigation buoys on the river. Quimby’s provides boaters an excellent resource for sighting markers even if you do get off course.


Kentucky Lake and Captain Bob


Vessels come in all shapes and sizes. Your choice of vessel will determine how you pack and plan stops. Captain Bob chose a 21-foot pontoon because its affordability. In planning his trip, he wanted to travel 100 miles per day. He projected gas mileage at 1.5 miles per gallon. To prevent a situation of running out of gas, stops were planned for every fifty miles although his tank capacity was 100 gallons. The longest treks without opportunities to refuel are in the Gorge between Chattanooga and Hales Bar Marina and between Nickajack Dam and the first marinas in Guntersville.


Securing to a bollard


Overnight accommodations are important and can range from campgrounds to a cabin rental to a boutique hotel in one of the river cities. Using the Quimby’s Guide, Captain Bob reviewed the amenities of each marina, and planned based on the amenities of the marinas.

Before you launch, here are nine tips to check off your to-do-list:

Know your vessel – Knowing your gas mileage is important for planning the cost of your trip and for when to refuel. Check your vessel for the working condition of navigation lights and horn.

Bring a guide of the navigation markers – When in doubt, look it up.  Captain Bob relied on his Quimby’s Cruising Guide with its wealth of information about the marinas and locks.


Quimby’s Cruising Guide Marina and Lock Listing Information


Have a marine radio – You will need to call the lock master at each lock or may need assistance such as a tow. Cell phones are a nice back-up but must stay charged and dry to be of any use.

Pack smart – Captain Bob is a big fan of Discovery Channels’ Naked and Afraid so we couldn’t resist asking him what is a necessity for traveling the river. His list included a cooler with potable water, a one-day supply of non-perishable foods (ice melts quickly on the river), sunscreen, lip balm, life jackets, marine rope for tying up, flashlight, bug spray, mosquito net, cell phone charger and rain gear.  Always pack in water proof containers as weather can be unpredictable.

Plan to explore – You will be passing by some of the most historic and cultural assets in this country. Plan a few days off water and use the ExploreTRV mapguide to find places of interest to you.

Expect delays – The locks and dams on the river prioritize commercial barge traffic.  It is not unexpected to wait up to three hours to lock through. Plan your trip to lock through earlier in the morning or plan for a break at a nearby marina while waiting.


Locking through


Plan your stops – Refueling is a priority but enjoy all of the amenities that the marinas provide, such as courtesy vehicles, showers and laundry facilities. Captain Bob could not say enough about the hospitality of each of the marinas that he visited.

Protect the river for future travelers – Pack trash bags and a plan to pump out if needed. Practice Leave No Trace principles while traveling the river. This river is considered one of the most biodiverse rivers in North America is sometimes called the Amazon of North.

Make it a trip of a lifetime – Bring your camera and explore your interests. If you like to camp, you can do that and be sure to shop local. The Tennessee River communities are pure Appalachia and the workmanship from local artisans can be seen in museums and high-end collector shops. If you consider yourself a foodie, explore the palate of the river by stopping at iconic eateries or sampling local foods.


TN River Flag


A journey on the Tennessee River can be a fun, inexpensive way to travel for families, friends or solo adventurers. Using these learned tips can help with planning that perfect trip.

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