The Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway winds down the East Coast of the United States for 1,200 miles, serving ports from Boston to Key West. This great sheltered artery was built between 1793 and 1939 by private canal companies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers; the section through North Carolina was built between 1914 and 1934.
An “inland waterway” was authorized by Congress in 1919 and utilized many existing canals and natural waterways, but it was not until the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1938 that the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway was authorized and man- dated by the government.
It is maintained today by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The waterway consists of a series of rivers, inland bays, estuaries, sounds, and inlets linked by canals. Vessels are sheltered from the open ocean except for about fifty miles from Boston, along the coast of Rhode Island, and for about thirty-seven miles along the coast of New Jersey.
The completion of the final link in 1939 came just in time for the waterway to provide important service to the nation in World War II. The waterway protected barges carrying much-needed oil and other supplies from enemy submarines lurking off the North Carolina coast.
The “River,” as the Brunswick County portion of the waterway is called by the local people, is of enormous economic benefit locally. It becomes especially heavy with traffic twice a year.
In the fall a constant string of boats, large and small, clogs the Waterway, seeking refuge from the wintry blasts of the North. The vessels present a dazzling parade of chrome, fiberglass, and varnished teak in their southward progression during what has come to be known as “the Fall Migration.”
In the spring the flow is reversed as boaters seek their summer nestings.
All year, seemingly endless strings of barges pushed by small but powerful tugs chug up and down the great ditch. It is truly marvelous how the tug captains manage to keep these trains of barges in the narrow channel from so far in the rear.
The U.S. Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway has contributed a great deal to the nation. It has undoubtedly also saved the lives of countless commercial and recreational boaters who, without its existence, would have been exposed to the perils of the open sea.