A Primer on the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway

Posted by PortVision


The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway (GIW) is part of the US Intracoastal Waterway (ICW) that stretches from Boston to Key West to the Gulf of Mexico. Specifically, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is made up of 3,000 miles of manmade canals and natural waterways that stretch along the Gulf of Mexico’s coastline from Brownsville, Texas to St. Marks, Florida. The GIW was designed to link Texas ports to locations throughout the rest of the country.

When a waterway connecting the ports of Texas to the rest of the nation was first proposed in the early 19th century, most water-based cargo transport required ship operators to navigate in and out of local rivers, channels, and the Gulf of Mexico. Original proposals for the waterway planned to create a navigable, inland route that would connect the ports of the South to Boston, MA.

Construction of the waterway was accomplished in sections over the following 100 years, and was finally completed in 1949 after the discovery of oil near Beaumont, Texas. Today, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is over 3,000 miles long, and consists of many natural bays, rivers, and channels that are connected by over 1,300 miles of manmade canals; the canals connect dozens of navigable bodies of water such as the Mississippi River, Mobile Bay, and Pearl River.

While depth can vary, the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway guarantees a minimum controlling depth of 12 feet, ideal for barge transportation. Because of this, the GIW is of vital importance to the nation’s economy. While its exact effect on the economy is hard to measure, it has often been cited in government reports as having great strategic value to the nation’s economy and defense. It is key for the transportation of not only basic commodities such as petroleum, grain, and consumer products, but it can also quickly be adapted for the transport of military equipment if the need arises. For this reason, the waterway is given repair priority by FEMA after any natural and manmade disasters.

The state of Texas has reported that it is able to handle more than 50 percent of the ICW's annual traffic. In fact, almost 423 miles of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway is located in Texas. This stretch of the waterway alone reportedly handles up to 90 million tons of freight annually. Portions of the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway that are east of the Mississippi River are estimated to transport approximately 100 million tons of freight.

The Gulf Intracoastal Waterway was a major engineering feat -- its presence allows ports all along the Gulf Coast to be key hubs for shipping throughout North America. Without this inland method of moving cargo, many ships would be forced to use much more time consuming routes, and businesses would be forced to adapt to higher shipping costs for their products.

PortVision maintains significant AIS receiver infrastructure at key points along the ICW.  PortVision supports reliable AIS vessel tracking along the Intracoastal, the Southern Mississippi and across the Gulf of Mexico to support the wide variety of commercial maritime activities that take place in the region.

Learn more about AIS vessel tracking with PortVision 360 by downloading our FREE info sheet below.

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Posted on Oct 27, 2015, 7:06:00 AM

Topics: Blog, AIS