The idea for ICW Free Docks began in 2015 when a couple good sailing friends, who were both teachers, decided to spend their summer vacation traveling from their home marina in Beaufort, SC to the Chesapeake Bay and back. I provided daily routing support for them, which involved looking ahead for places of interest, navigational information, weather, and marinas. Like most cruisers they wanted to minimize their stays in commercial marinas so information about anchorages and Free Docks was of special interest.
James H Newsome on s/v CaiLeigh Anna, a Catalina 34, sailing in St. Simon's Sound, GA
Even though there are several good cruising guides and online services available I found that concise information about Free Docks along the AICW was difficult to locate. I obtained a partial list of Free Docks from a cruiser friend who has traveling the ICW dozens of times, and then I contacted the communities to confirm the information. As I continued the daily route planning, I discovered other Free Docks and added these to the list. I was already familiar with many of the Free Docks along the Georgia, South Carolina, and Florida coast from my travels, so by the end of the summer I had compiled a list of most of the Free Docks on the AICW.
By traveling vicariously with my friends, I discovered many things about our wonderful coastal waterways, and I learned about dozens of extremely hospitable communities that not only provide Free Docks, but genuinely extend a welcome invitation to cruisers. I have since talked to officials from many towns and reminded them that cruisers are also tourists who love to visit their communities and spend money. The only difference is that we arrive by water instead of car. If a community is going to provide free parking for cars, then why not provide Free Docks for boats?
I have never believed in reinventing the wheel, and while some of the information on Free Docks is available from other sources, I’ve found that no cruising guide focuses just on Free Docks. All other cruising guides are commercial operations and must generate revenue to exist, and one of their primary sources for revenue is commercial marinas, so promoting Free Docks is detrimental to other cruising guides financial viability. While most cruising guides may not exclude information about Free Docks they certainly are not well promoted. I have found that Free Docks are often buried among thousands of other items of very useful information.
Don’t get me wrong, I get it! I fully understand that commercially available cruising guides must charge someone in order to provide cruisers needed information. However, as I found with my friends who cruised through three states along the ICW, it took an inordinate amount of effort to extrapolate concise information for Free Docks.
Once I had compiled the basic information on Free Docks, I continued to verify the information directly with the community or owner of the docks. I found this process of vetting very helpful in providing the most accurate information possible. I also found that much of the crowd sourced information on Free Docks was outdated or not correct. I spent several months reviewing and formatting the list before deciding to share the information with the cruising community.
A couple things I’ve learned about cruisers is that almost all are very generous people who are more than happy to share their time, resources, and information with fellow cruisers. Cruisers also love FREE, don’t we? ICW Free Docks was first launched on the social platform Facebook because it is a Free and easy way to reach a lot of people quickly. I also cross referenced ICW Free Docks with other popular cruising groups on Facebook, and as of February 2019 we have grown to approximately 3,800 followers. I'm also very thankful for the many ICW Free Docks Contributors who forward information and pictures, which help to keep ICW Free Docks up to date.
In July 2017 I obtained a copyright for ICW Free Docks, and secured domains for a web site to serve as an informational companion to the Facebook group. Many additions were made to the guide over the next year, and in October 2018 I completed updating, reformatting the guide, adding a map option and also launched the web site.
I am now extending the list of Free Docks to include the Okeechobee Waterway (OWW) and have started compiling information on Free Docks on the Gulf ICW. My goal is to solicit exclusive offerings from towns and communities as ICW Free Docks continues to grow and to connect cruisers with communities along our wonderful coastal highways in a way that will bring value to both the communities and cruisers.