This past weekend I had the opportunity to travel the length of the Rideau Canal with my dad in our boat. Our boat is a humble 18ft bowrider runabout that I’ve talked about before. Our route would take us from Kingston, Ontario to the nation’s capital in Ottawa, where I currently live. Logistically there was a lot of figure out, but it was simplified by the fact I had my car in Ottawa originally. My dad trailered and dropped the boat off in Kingston first, stopping at every gas station on route, then we met up in Ottawa to leave the trailer behind and drive my car back to Kingston.

Come along for a quick tour.

There are 49 locks in the system, at 31 individual lock stations. Many locks contain multiple chambers, called flight locks, that lift boats over a longer horizontal distance. We start at Kingston Mills, the first (or rather, 49th) lock coming from Lake Ontario. There are 4 chambers and it’s a great place to watch people. Our boat was definitely the smallest boat in most of the locks and the majority of boaters were Quebec residents in their cruisers for the Construction holiday. The lock staff liked to refer to it as the French navy.

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We saw very few high power racing boats but one of them was in the first lock through. I got the feeling it must be like owning an exotic car: people probably ask about cost, efficiency and “want to switch?”.

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With the flight locks, the water is passed down from each chamber and simply flows over the edge. There’s always the sound of water flowing.

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The route is very well marked with red and green buoys and day markers so navigation is a breeze. It was made even easier by using the Navionics Boating app for iPhone, coupled with a suction mount and USB charger. I ran my iPhone 5S all 4 days and realized fairly late in the trip that I was essentially cooking it in the sun. The third day the battery continuously ran down, despite being plugged in so I had to let it cool for a while.

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The landscape changes as your move through, from open wetlands to flat farmland and forests. Most of the narrower sections are speed restricted to reduce wake damage but some of the wetlands have really nice flat water where you can go for it through the markers. It felt like an autocross course.

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The Rideau Canal is operated as a UNESCO world heritage site by Parks Canada and the vast majority of structures for navigation are people powered.

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Our first night was spent at Jones Falls, which is a lock station with 4 chambers that round a corner. It was a fantastically calm area to spend the night.

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The middle section can be considered the recreation and vacation region for Kingston and Ottawa residents, so there were lots of boaters passing through the locks just for the day. Also a really nice place to stop and have lunch.

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One of the greatest things about taking a trip like this is that you’re essentially forced to relax. Sometimes you’d reach a lock and find out that the lock staff are waiting for some boats travelling in the other direction (they often phone ahead so you can just drive right in). This lock station was one of those occasions, and it was really nice to get off the boat and enjoy the calmness.

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Smiths Falls is one of the larger communities along the route and there were lots of boats parked overnight. It also has one of the highest water changes in the system.

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Saturday was a slow crawl along the river with huge houses I had no idea even existed. Sunday was the final leg through the traditional canal into downtown Ottawa. My favourite part of boating is seeing familiar sites from new perspectives and this section is no different. The city looks quite nice from the water.

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The last 8 locks (or first, if you’re coming from the Ottawa River) go one into another and take about 2 hours minimum to pass through. On a busy weekend, if you miss a transit in your direction, the wait is likely more like 3-4 hours. With the high number of Quebec boaters entering the canal, we waited at the top for about 2 hours and the trip down was a little over 1 hour. There was a huge number of boats waiting to get up when we finished.

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It was a really nice trip and even if you’re not able to do it by water, you can take a drive through the heritage route and see many of the locks from land.