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Quite simply, there may be no better freshwater boating in the world than in the Great Lakes region. This incredibly varied part of North America features great cruising and a wide range options on and off the water.

Both veteran and beginner boaters may be surprised to learn that, taken together, the Great Lakes comprise the largest body of freshwater in the world. Eight U.S. states and two Canadian provinces border this massive boating playground.

“With 10,000 miles of shoreline, the Great Lakes is the single largest boating market in North American,” says Chad Schlegel, editor of Lakeland Boating magazine. “Lots of people don’t realize how vibrant our cruising scene is. Our mission is to help our readers enjoy what’s arguably one of the world’s premier freshwater or saltwater cruising grounds.” They definitely fulfill this mission with an incredibly informative magazine and five big Ports O’ Call cruising guides that are crucial (along with appropriate charts) for enjoying Great Lakes boating.

Several major connecting waterways expand the region, providing links to boaters along the Mississippi River, St. Lawrence Seaway, Tennessee-Tombigbee Waterway, the Ohio River, and several more. Numerous inland lakes and rivers allow trailer boaters to reach an incredible number and diversity of locations.

Generally speaking the Great Lakes boating region includes Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, Lake Huron, Lake Michigan, and Lake Superior, as well as many smaller bodies of water. The states of Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Wisconsin, Michigan, New York, and Minnesota all have direct access to Great Lakes boating, while many other states have convenient access by way of rivers and roads. Up in Canada, Great Lakes boating is expanded to the provinces of Ontario and Quebec.

Great Lakes boating can mean metropolitan meanderings to big cities like Chicago (six harbors), Milwaukee, Detroit, Cleveland, and Toronto, as well as completely quiet areas where you may not see other boaters (or people on land) for hours. Facilities can also very from huge marinas with every possible amenity to one-person operations with a gas pump and little else (except that Great Lakes friendliness that pervades the boating community).

The weather can also vary as greatly as the scenery, making your choice of lake and boat as important as ever. The conditions can vary from pond-like to ocean-awesome by the lake and by the hour.

Climatologists refer to the Great Lakes basin as a climatological battlefield for three specific reasons: the Great Lakes feature huge bodies of water surrounded by large land masses; the air masses that tend to flow in from other regions; and the influences on the weather by the lakes themselves. Air masses alternate often between humid air from the Gulf of Mexico and dry and cold air from the Arctic. This means weather systems change frequently between cyclonic low-pressure cells and anticyclonic highs. For Great Lakes boaters, this means quick changes, frequent rain, and lots of other interesting weather.

But GPS, loran, and radar, as well as the Weather Channel and expanded local TV weather coverage, have all made boating easier when it comes to weather changes. Thus, Great Lakes boaters can plan to make time when the weather is calm and predicted to stay calm, why staying close to shore or laying over when the weather turns nasty or is predicted to do so.

Wave height is definitely beyond a boater’s control and is to be taken very seriously in the Great Lakes. This means laying over when the waves reach your boat’s critical height, whatever that may be. In the Great Lakes, as elsewhere, boaters are definitely better safe than sorry.

Along with charts (see below), the best way to stay safe and happy while boating in the Great Lakes is with Lakeland Boating’s Ports O’ Call cruising guides. They remain the most comprehensive full-color resources on the market. These fun-to-read guides offer more than 300 pages packed with information on each lake’s port towns and the attractions and amenities found there, including restaurants, tourist and historical sites, marinas, and more. The Ports O’ Call series includes Lake Michigan, Lake Huron, Lake Erie, Lake Ontario, and Lake Superior.

Racine, Wisconsin, resident Bill Friedleib says, “It's about time someone put together a complete cruising guide for this area. The full-color layouts and the aerial photos are head and shoulders above any cruising guide I've seen. I've used my guide on two recent cruises and have enjoyed it thoroughly." Buying one or more of these cruising guides provides the perfect introduction to Great Lakes boating. Whether you’re heading to the Windy City by water or cruising up to Canada for some Great Lakes backcountry boating, it’s a great start to a great adventure on and off the water.


As mentioned above, Lakeland Boating magazine (800/827-0289, www.lakelandboating.com, regularly $21.95, but just $11.00 for ABA members) is a great resource for Great Lakes cruising. Their Ports O’ Call cruising guides (800/892-9342 or directly through the website, regularly $44.95, but 10% off for ABA members) are ‘must-haves’ for the area. Marine Navigation (708/352-0606) in La Grange, Illinois offers a huge selection of up-to-date Great Lakes charts, as well as information, advice, and charts for practically everywhere else in the world.

Upcoming Issues: Lake Michigan: Lake Huron; the Gulf of Mexico