Thousand Islands, St Lawrence River

A compact and wonderfully sheltered cruising area lying at the head of the St Lawrence River which is scenically just as, if not more, beautiful than Maine, but without the dreaded lobster pots, fogs, and exorbitant prices.

In summer the area is very popular with domestic cruising yachts, with many craft travelling from Montreal and Toronto to spend their entire summer cruising in the Thousand Islands area, but you are very unlikely to find another foreign flagged yacht cruising there. The fact that it requires over 2,000 miles of sailing to get there from the US east coast, much of which is upwind, seems to act as sufficient disincentive!

Although many of the islands are privately owned, ownership only extends to the waterfront and there are no restrictions on anchoring anywhere outside of a main navigational channel. The non privately owned islands are mainly managed by Parks Canada and often have a visitors wharf for which a fee is payable on an honesty basis. However, these wharves commonly have no more than 5ft alongside so if you are in a deep draft yacht you will either end up anchoring or going alongside in one of a small number of commercial marinas.

The opportunities for anchoring are almost limitless, even for deep draft yachts. However, when choosing an anchorage from the thousands of apparently promising spots, it pays to examine the nature of the bottom as shown on the chart. Any bay with mud, sand or clay invariably offers good holding, but where it the bottom is shown as rock then this is often of the very solid polished smooth variety and does not hold an anchor at all. Likewise, where the bottom is shown as weed then this Is usually heavily matted sea grass in which holding is poor.

Although extremely sheltered and with only weak river currents, extreme care is needed when navigating in the area. The Thousand Islands contain not only some of the deepest water to be found on the St Lawrence River, but also some of the shallowest together with the hardest, most jagged rocks. These 2 extremes often coexist within meters of one another and the depth can often go from 40m to 40cm within seconds. The main commercial shipping channel is extremely well surveyed and buoyed, but the myriad of channels between the islands far less so. Government cutbacks have seen many of the buoys removed from these channels, leaving the Thousand Islands Association, a volunteer body of local pleasure boat owners, to fill the void with white privately maintained buoys. They do a valiant job, but since the majority of the association members come from the shallow draft motor cruising community, rocks with more than 3 or 4ft of water over them are often not considered worth investing scarce resources on by marking them with a buoy. This leaves a significant no of unmarked rocks in the 4 to 7ft depth range which can trap the unwary yacht!

In contrast to the lower St Lawrence, summer water temperatures in the Thousand Islands are consistently in the mid to high 20s Centigrade and swimming from the boat whilst at anchor in crystal clear fresh water is a positive pleasure. Likewise, with the exception of the odd thunder storm or weather system passing through, summer weather conditions are generally settled with winds typically in the 5-15 knot range.

The US/Canada border runs through the middle of the Thousands Islands and anyone cruising in the area is likely to cross the border numerous times in a day. It not expected that pleasure craft report to the relevant customs authorities every time the border is crossed whilst in transit, but as soon as you drop anchor or come alongside you are required to report if not already cleared in. For this reason most will choose to cruise the region by travelling upriver on one side of the border and downriver on the other side.

CAUTION: The information above is selective and reflects conditions at the time of visiting. It is not definitive and may be changed or revised without notice. To the extent permitted by law, the RCC Pilotage Foundation and contributors do not accept any liability for any loss and/or damage howsoever caused that may arise from reliance on information in this Cruising Note and any attached files. The RCC Pilotage Foundation would welcome additional information or corrections to the information in this note. Please click here if you want to provide feedback on this or any other notice.