Well, it’s happened. The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers has closed the St. Lucie Lock, effectively shutting down the Okeechobee Waterway for boats hoping to take the shortcut from the Gulf Coast to the Atlantic Coast of Florida until March 31. The closure started on Jan. 4.
The Army Corps said the lock is closed or maintenance for the first total closure in ten years. The maintenance is needed to repair the lock’s aging and damaged infrastructure, and the lock will have to be dewatered so crews can replace corroded steel structures, install new gate seals, and repair Manatee Protection System components.
Unfortunately, the closure comes during Florida’s most active boating season, as snowbirds flock to the state to enjoy the warmer weather. With the Okeechobee Waterway closed to cross-coast traffic, cruisers must take a 320-nm detour around the Keys, adding several days to their journey, depending on the boat’s speed.
In 2021, more than 1,000 boats passed through the St. Lucie Lock in January, February and March, the same time it will be closed this year. The closure will affect not only normal recreational traffic, including people on the Great Loop, but it also will mean a delay for boats heading for the Miami show, starting Feb. 16, and the Palm Beach show, starting March 24.
The St. Lucie Lock and Dam is one of five locks on the 154-mile long Okeechobee Waterway, all operated by the Army Corps. It was built in 1941, and it’s about 15 miles upstream from the intersection of the St. Lucie River and the Intracoastal Waterway near Stuart; the western end of the waterway extends to Fort Myers. About 10,000 vessels pass through the St. Lucie Lock every year; 91 percent of them are recreational vessels. Read more: