Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System Overview
The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System is a shared U.S.-Canadian waterway. The natural flow of lakes, rivers and channels are connected by manmade locks—with the combined waterway spanning over 2,000 miles inland from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Duluth, Minnesota on Lake Superior.
This growing hub for luxury cruises includes the clear water of the St. Lawrence River and all five Great Lakes. Unique ports dot the shoreline, all rich with historic, maritime and Midwestern charm. With the water an important part of everyday life, prime attractions are close to berthing space.
Warm and welcoming, local port communities on the Great Lakes go out of their way to celebrate the ships and their passengers as they sail in throughout the spring, summer, and fall.
Beginning west of Montreal, the locks raise and lower ships for a smooth sail. There are three sets of locks: along the St. Lawrence River, linking Lake Erie to Lake Ontario—the Welland Canal—and linking Lake Huron to Lake Superior—the Soo Locks.
The locks are a fascinating part of sailing the Great Lakes Seaway System. Passengers line the rails and see first-hand how ships “lock through.” Whether for a cruise ship or a massive freighter, the process is the same.
When near the locks—and while sailing the rivers, channels, and Lakes—passengers witness the movements of domestic and international cargo vessels moving iron ore, grain, and oversized components like wind turbines. The close proximity provides a new appreciation for the size and power of these vessels.
What drives the size of cruise ships that can sail the Great Lakes is the lock infrastructure on the St. Lawrence Seaway System. All ships transiting our locks go through a review process, where the Canadian St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation (SLSMC) conducts a full review of the ships’ blueprints prior to the vessel securing its Great Lakes itinerary. The vessel must be compliant with lock specifications and be within the following dimensions: Length 740ft or 225.50m, beam 78ft or 23.77m & depth 30ft or 8.08m. The ship must not have any protruding issues, such as lifeboats hanging from the side of the vessel (which is very common on large cruise ships), and the structure of the bridge house must not extend past the side of the hull. This ensures no structure can hit the side of the lock when the vessel is lowered or lifted. For additional information on ship specifications to transit our locks contact the following Seaway representatives:
Captain Peter G. Burgess
Senior Marine Officer, Marine Services / Enforcement Officer
St. Lawrence Seaway Management Corporation
202 Pitt Street
Cornwall, Ontario, Canada
Ph: 613-932-5170 ext. 3205
U.S. Customs and Border Protection
U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) is the gatekeeper for all ports of entry into the United States. Their job is to safeguard America’s borders while enhancing global economic competitiveness by legitimate trade and travel. In the Great Lakes there are four Offices of Field Operations (OFO) that oversee 22 U.S. Great Lakes ports. The working relationship between CBP, and representatives from the port authorities, vessel agencies and cruise lines are vital. Without a cohesive partnership between these entities, cruise operators lack the ability to reach full potential for a successful itinerary when clearing passengers and crew into the United States.
The Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation (GLS) works daily with CBP to ensure a successful cruising season on the Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway System. The GLS provides direct support to its stakeholders, to ensure itineraries are compliant with CBP’s requirements, facilitate discussions with CBP about new clearance technology, like the Travel Verification System, and to build strong operational relationships in the 22 Great Lakes ports of entry or four OFO’s.
For additional information about the GLS’s partnership with CBP please contact:
Director, Trade and Economic Development Office
Great Lakes St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation
U.S. Department of Transportation
1200 New Jersey Ave, S.E. Suite W62
Washington D.C. 20590