The waters of southwest Florida from Boca Grande Pass south to Naples and Marco Island are full of surprises and enchanting destinations. Cape Coral with its beautiful waterfront homes and boating communities is located right in the center of this water wonderland.
Our canal system works as followed: Direct access canals which means they are open to the river at all times and also called Sailboat access canals are those without any bridges. Not direct access canals require to enter under a bridge. Most bridges in Cape Coral are between 9 and 13 feet high.
Plenty of room for boats without a high radar arch. Some of the Cape Coral canals connect with the river by passing through a lock operated by the city. Some of the canals in Cape Coral do not allow connecting with either the Caloosahatchee River or the Gulf of Mexico, called fresh water canals.
Leaving Cape Coral a boater can make his way up the Caloosahatchee River which is part of the Intercoastal Waterway System. There are numerous waterfront restaurants and marinas available. Approximately 30 miles up the waterway you will come up to the W.P. Franklin Lock. This is the first lock on the way to Lake Okeechobee.
Leaving Cape Coral and heading towards the Gulf of Mexico a boater has a choice of many destinations.
Going north at Marker 101 in San Carlos Bay will take you to Pine Island Sound. The waterway is clearly marked as this is a continuation of the Intercoastal Waterway. There are many waterfront restaurants along this route and on week-ends the boat traffic can get pretty hectic.
There are islands where you can anchor and wade ashore and Pine Island Sound is a dolphin watchers paradise. If you see dolphins do not stop your engine, just slow down, at the right speeds dolphins are liable to follow your boat and play in the wake.
A warning is due for Pine Island Sound, there is a lot of what looks like open water here but if you stray out of the marked channels you could go aground use caution and go slow any time you leave the channel.. A set of charts are a necessary item for safe navigation in all waters and they allow you to find restaurants and marinas The fishing in Pine Island Sound is always good because of the tides bringing in bait fish.
Cabbage Key near the north end of Pine Island Sound is a favorite destination for many local boaters, they have a restaurant and adult beverages are available. During cooler weather they will have a fire in the fireplace, a nice touch on a cool day.
Going south west at Marker 101 will take you under the Sanibel Bridge and out into the Gulf of Mexico. After clearing the bridge and following the markers you will see Sanibel Island off your starboard (right) side. Many people go to Sanibel, anchor their boat and go shelling, one of the best shelling beaches in the world. Caution should be used when anchoring here, do not get close to the tip of the island as the tidal currents can get very strong, boats can swing with the current so leave room for your boat to move.
Going directly out into the Gulf of Mexico you will see Ft. Myers Beach on your port (left) side a few miles from the bridge. Many people anchor on the gulf side of FMB and wade ashore. If you follow the channel around Bowditch Point you will enter Matanzas Pass. This area is all slow speed and home to many restaurants with dockage available. This is also home to the Ft. Myers Beach shrimp fleet. After passing under the Matanzas Bridge you will enter the anchorage area, again idle speed only. Matanzas Pass will lead you to Estero Bay and you can travel the length of Ft. Myers Beach and beyond. Caution, stay in the channel the water is very shallow. Estero Bay connects to the Gulf of Mexico via Big Carlos Pass.
If you plan on buying a boat there are some things to think about. The most popular type of boat in SW Florida is either a center console or walk around cuddy cabin type with outboard power. The size range most popular is 24-28 foot. This will give you a stable boat and with the outboard power you can get in to islands and other shallow water areas. Outboards used to be noisy and smelly, no longer are they either. Modern four cycle outboards give good fuel economy, are easy to maintain and dependable. The Golf of Mexico and the open water in some of the bays is normally fairly calm but can change quickly with storms. Whatever size or type of boat you decide on do not forget the laws requires certain safety equipment depending on the vessel size. A GPS and VHF radio are not required on pleasure boats but do not leave home without them. If you have an emergency you need to know where you are and be able to call for help. Cell phones do not always work, a VHF radio is simple and reliable and if you need help many people will hear you, maybe somebody that can get to you in just a few minutes.
Anyone planning on boating in SW Florida should take a boating course. One is available on line at www.boat-ed.com . This test will get you a certificate so that you can legally and safely boat in Florida.