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New York State Canals

About the Canal Corporation

New York State Canal System

The New York State Canal System is a navigable 524-mile inland waterway that spans upstate New York. The waterway connects the Hudson River with Lake Champlain, Lake Ontario, Cayuga Lake, Seneca Lake, and Lake Erie via the Niagara River.

The Canal System includes four Canals: the Erie, Champlain, Oswego and Cayuga-Seneca; canalized natural waterways, plus five lakes: Oneida, Onondaga, Cross, Cayuga and Seneca; short Canal sections at Ithaca and Watkins Glen; feeder reservoirs, canals and rivers not accessible by boat from the Canal; and Canal terminals on Lake Champlain. The Canal System passes through 25 counties and close to 200 villages, hamlets and towns.

At one time, more than 50,000 people depended on the Erie Canal for their livelihood. From its inception, the Erie Canal helped form a whole new culture revolving around Canal life. For many, canal boats became floating houses, traveling from town to town. The father would serve as captain, while the mother cooked for the family and crew and the children, if old enough, would serve as “hoggees” and would walk alongside the mules to lead them along at a steady pace.

For those who traveled along the Canal in packet boats or passenger vessels, the Canal was an exciting place. Gambling and entertainment were popular pastimes on the Canal and often, families would meet each year at the same locations to share stories and adventures. Today, the Canal has returned to its former glory against a backdrop of tugboats and barges, tour boats and recreational vessels, fishermen and cyclists riding the former towpaths where mules once trod. The excitement of the past is alive and well.

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New York State Canal Corporation

The New York State Canal Corporation is a subsidiary of the New York State Thruway Authority, formed through State legislation transferring the Canal System from the New York State Department of Transportation to the Authority on April 1, 1992.

See NYS Assembly Website for Article 1A Leaving NYS Canal's Website :  Canals Transfer to New York State Thruway Authority and Article 2, Title 9, Section 382 Leaving NYS Canal's Website :  NYS Canal Corporation, a subsidiary of the Thruway Authority. See NYS Senate Website:  Laws of New York Leaving NYS Canal's Website . Canal Law Article 1A may be accessed under the Laws of New York through CAL and the Public Authorities Law Article 2, title 9, Section 382 can be accessed through PBA.

The Canal Corporation has transformed the Canal System into a world class recreationway and emerging commercial waterway, with clustered development to foster recreation, tourism and economic development, while preserving the natural and historical environment of the System and its adjacent communities.

In 1996, the Thruway Authority and Canal Corporation launched a five-year, $20.3 million initiative to preserve and develop the Canal System for the 21st century. The Canal Revitalization Program, administered by the Canal Corporation and the Canal Recreationway Commission and based upon the 1995 Canal Recreationway Plan, presented a realistic and achievable approach to Canal System development. Major harbors have been constructed in Whitehall, Waterford, Little Falls, Oswego, Syracuse, Seneca Falls, Rochester and the Tonawandas. Additional improvements were made in dozens of Canal communities as part of this program.

In 2000, the National Parks Service designated the 524-miles of waterway that make up the Canal System, and more than 200 surrounding Canal communities, as the “Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor.” A 27-member commission was named to oversee the corridor by pursuing the integration of Canal-related historical, cultural, recreational, scenic, economic and community development initiatives.

In 2002, Canal improvements and preservation efforts continued as part of  the $50 million Canal Revitalization Program II. A major focus of Canal Revitalization II is the investment of $35 million to complete the Erie Canalway Trail, linking Lake Erie in Buffalo to the Hudson River in Albany. The $50 million program is financed with $25 million from the federal Federal Highway Administration’s Enhancement Program, which is administered by the State Department of Transportation, and $25 million in Canal Corporation capital funds.

During 2008, the Corporation continued to implement the 2006 Erie Canal Greenway Grant Program, which was funded by $10 million in the 2006-2007 New York State Budget.  Since its inception, the Program has been providing matching grants to municipalities and not-for-profit corporations for capital projects consistent with the recommendations in the Report on the Future of New York State Canals and the 1995 Canal Recreationway Plan.  The Corporation solicited grant applications from municipalities and non-profits for capital projects along the Canal System to preserve and rehabilitate canal infrastructure, enhance recreational opportunities for water and land-based users, and promote tourism, historic interpretation and community revitalization.  The Corporation selected 57 projects for $8.9 million in funding.

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Canal Recreationway Commission

The New York State Canal Recreationway Commission is a statutorily created Commission charged with creating and periodically updating a Canal Recreationway Plan, advising and assisting the Canal Corporation in carrying out its duties and obligations, and marketing and promoting the Canal System as a whole. 

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Canal Tolls, passes and Permits

View a complete fee schedule for Canal recreational passes, permits and tolls.

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Commercial Shipping on the Canal

All commercial vessels navigating the Canal System must file an “Application for Canal Commercial Operator” with the New York State Thruway Authority, Department of Finance and Accounts. View the annual fees for commercial operators to navigate the Canal System.

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New York State Canal System Cruising Guide

The Canal Corporation publishes, The Cruising Guide to the New York State Canal System, a comprehensive guide to boating along the Canal System.  The most current version of the guide is the 3rd Edition and it includes information on the services and amenities along the Canal System, bridge clearance information, as well as tourism and Canalway Trail information. The Cruising Guide is highly recommended to those planning a trip on the Canal System. Purchase the Official Cruising Guide

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Canalway Trail

The Canalway Trail was first envisioned as part of the 1995 Canal Recreationway Plan. The goal of this program is to establish an end-to-end multi-use trail along the NYS Canal System – more than 500 miles long – making it one of the most important long distance trails in the United States. More than 270 miles of Canalway Trail are now complete. The Canalway Trail program consists of linking the existing segments of completed trail and reconstructing the trail where needed to provide a consistent high-quality resource. Trailhead parking areas with interpretive kiosks, benches, and landscaping are also included in each project. Biker-Hiker-Boater campsites are also being installed at 30-mile increments to better facilitate long distance touring along the trail.

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Tugboat Urger Educational Program

The tugboat Urger is the flagship vessel in the New York State Canal Corporation’s fleet. Built in 1901 in Ferrysburg, Michigan, this venerable tug is one of the oldest working vessels in the country still afloat. Originally built for use as a commercial fishing vessel, the Urger was originally christened the “Henry J. Dornbos,” after a prominent Michigan merchant. It was described in the Detroit Free Press as the “finest fishing boat in the local fishing fleet.” In the early 1920s, the tug was sold, renamed the Urger, and entered the New York State Canal fleet. The Urger, stationed in Waterford, served more than 60 years hauling machinery, dredges and scows on the Erie and Champlain Canals until it was retired from service in the 1980s. In 2001, the Urger was named to the State and National Registers of Historic Places.

In 1991, the Urger, was called back into service with a new mission, serving as the focal point of a program to educate school children and adults about the importance of New York’s historic Canal System and the role that inland waterways have played historically, and continue to play, in the lives of people who live along them. In the spring and fall, the Urger visits communities along the Canal System and students in fourth-grade classes at local schools take field trips to the tug and participate in shore-side “hands-on” educational sessions. There they learn about the history of the Canals and the role construction of the Erie Canal played in making New York the “Empire State.” The New York State Canal Corporation presents the educational program at no charge to the participating schools.  During the summer months, the Urger travels the Canal System and participates in many canal community festival events.

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Annual Events on the Canal

Each year, the Canal Corporation produces a Calendar of Events which includes a listing of the varied events that take place in the Canal communities throughout the season.  Some of the System-wide Special Events are the Canal Clean Sweep, the Canalway Trails Celebration, the Cycle the Erie Canal Bike Tour, and the Canal Splash!

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Canal System Statistics

The entire New York State Canal System is 524 miles long and is operated and maintained by the New York State Canal Corporation.

Segment Mileage:

  • Erie Canal - 338 miles
  • Champlain Canal - 60 miles
  • Oswego Canal - 24 miles
  • Cayuga-Seneca Canal - 12 miles
  • Cayuga-Seneca Canal to Ithaca - 45 miles
  • Cayuga-Seneca Canal to Watkins Glen/Montour Falls - 45 miles

Lock Dimensions

328 feet long, 45 feet wide
Area available for vessels: 300 feet long, 43.5 feet wide

View Navigating the Canals for more information.

Bridge Clearances & Channel Depths

  • Erie Canal
    • Waterford to Three Rivers - Bridge Clearance = 21 feet / Channel Depth = 14 feet
    • Three Rivers to Cayuga-Seneca Junction - Bridge Clearance = 19 feet / Channel Depth = 12 feet
    • Cayuga-Seneca Junction to Tonawanda - Bridge Clearance = 15.5 feet / Channel Depth = 12 feet
  • Oswego Canal - Bridge Clearance = 21 feet / Channel Depth = 14 feet
  • Champlain Canal - Bridge Clearance = 17 feet / Channel Depth = 12 feet
  • Cayuga-Seneca Canal - Bridge Clearance = 16.5 feet / Channel Depth = 12 feet
    • to Cayuga Lake - Bridge Clearance = 16.5 feet / Channel Depth = 12 feet
    • to Seneca Lake - Bridge Clearance = 16 feet / Channel Depth = 12 feet

*Bridge clearances may be lower at higher pool levels.  Mariners are responsible for verifying current pool levels.  Visit Navigating the Canals for changes to published depth. 

 

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Canal Facts

The Canal opened on October 26, 1825 when Governor Clinton set out from Buffalo in a Canal boat called the "Seneca Chief."

It took the muscle power of men and horses, eight years to build the Erie Canal. Although it is considered the engineering marvel of its time, not one professional engineer was involved.

The entire New York State Canal System is 524 miles long and is operated and maintained by the New York State Canal Corporation. View Hours of Operation.

The Canal System is made up of four Canals and two river junctions in Waterford and Tonawanda:

  • the 338-mile Erie Canal, from Waterford to the Tonawandas,
  • the 60-mile Champlain Canal, from Whitehall to Waterford,
  • the 24-mile Oswego Canal, from Oswego to the Erie Canal at Three Rivers Junction, and
  • the 92-mile Cayuga-Seneca Canal, which encompasses both lakes of the same names and the Canal, connecting them and passing through Seneca Falls.
  • Connections to the Syracuse and Rochester Harbors make up an additional 10 miles of the Canal System as well.

The Canal spans 16 counties throughout New York State.

The Canal System consists of 57 locks and 17 lift bridges (16 on the Erie Canal and 1 on the Hudson River). The highest lift (40.5 feet high) on the System is at Lock 17 in Little Falls. Waterford’s “Flight of Five” is the highest flight within the shortest span in the world, lifting 169 feet in 1.5 miles. View Locks, Lift Bridges and Guard Gates.

It takes the average boat approximately 20 minutes to go through a lock. The lock chambers are approximately 328 feet in length, allowing boats up to 300 feet in length and 43.5 feet in width to lock through.

Clearances for navigating under bridges that cross the Canal System are: 20 feet for the Oswego Canal and the Erie Canal (from Waterford to Three Rivers Junction), 17 feet for the Champlain Canal, and 15.5 feet for the Cayuga-Seneca Canal and the Erie Canal (from Three Rivers Junction to Tonawanda). View Bridge Heights.

The Oswego Canal and the Erie Canal (from Waterford to Three Rivers Junction) are approximately 10 feet deep. The Champlain Canal, Cayuga-Seneca Canal, and the Erie Canal (from Three Rivers Junction to Tonawanda) are approximately nine feet deep. While channel depths are subject to variation, the design depth of the Canal is 14 feet between Waterford and Oswego and 12 feet elsewhere, and efforts are underway to return the Canal to its designed depth. View Current Depth Information.

It takes approximately seven to ten days to cruise by powerboat from Albany to Buffalo. (The Erie Canal begins at the confluence of the Mohawk and Hudson Rivers at Waterford, just north of Albany, and meets the Niagara River at Tonawanda/North Tonawanda, just north of Buffalo.)

Speed limit is 10 mph on the Canal System unless otherwise posted.

Thomas Allen wrote the Erie Canal’s official song, "Low Bridge, Everybody Down," in 1905.

The Canalway Trail features more than 260 miles of scenic hiking and biking trails.

There are nearly 200 villages, towns, and cities along the New York State Canal System.

There are nearly two dozen tour boat companies providing service along the Canal.

There are over 200 marinas and launch sites along the Canal System.

There are more than 20 Canal-related museums and learning centers along the Canal, such as the Erie Canal Museum in Syracuse, Skenesborough Museum in Whitehall, Canastota Canal Town Museum, Chittenango Landing Canal Boat Museum, Camillus Canal Park and Sims Store, and the Erie Canal Discovery Center in Lockport.

The City of Oswego was the first freshwater port in the United States in 1799.

Every major city in New York falls upon the Canal System or its adjacent waterways.

Canal Terms

  • Flying Light- Boat traveling empty.
  • Hoggee- Young boy driving the mules.
  • Hoodledasher- Train of boats formed by tying empty boats to full boats.
  • Mud-Larked- When boats get stuck in mud.
  • Muleskinner- A mule driver.
  • Snubbing Post- Post for tying up Canal boats.
  • Towpath- Path where mules walk when pulling Canal boats.
  • Whiffletree- Bar that linked mules with the boats.

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