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Are there commercial boats, ferries which can allow passengers to travel from USA to Canada and vice versa?

What will be the distance time for example Washington D.C to Ottawa by ferry, boat taking into account specific halts at strategic locations?

Long distance routes?

Port of Seattle to Port of Digby

Again travelling from Port of Digby to Ottawa

Port of Seattle to Port of Halifax

Again travelling from Port of Halifax to Ottawa

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    Do you have a specific part of the US and Canada in mind? For example, there's the Victoria Clipper from Seattle to Victoria (and you could travel to Vancouver on from there via further land and ferry transport), but that's of no real use to you if you're thousands of miles away on the East Coast, so where you plan to cross makes a real difference. Is Washington DC just a general example or your actual starting point? May 9 at 3:52
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    Can you clarify why you want to do this? Is it just to experience a maritime border crossing, so you would be ok travelling 90% of the journey by road and just using a ferry for the border, or do you want a sea journey that spans two the countries (and could include for example a cruise.) May 9 at 14:07
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    ferries are usually over water. between washington dc and ottawa, it's mostly land
    – njzk2
    May 9 at 17:48
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    @J... Beside the obvious issue that taking a ship between DC and Ottawa would be quite long, there is a way from the Atlantic to the great lakes (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St._Lawrence_Seaway) that can support large ships.
    – njzk2
    May 9 at 17:50
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    what's a "specific halts at strategic locations" in this context?
    – njzk2
    May 9 at 17:51

9 Answers 9

27

There are at least four international ferries I can think of on the west coast:

On the east coast:

There is one I found on Lake Ontario:

There may be other small international ferries that cross the Great Lakes or the St. Lawrence. Wikipedia has a more complete list of US-Canada ferry crossings.

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    There are some small ferries across the St Lawrence.
    – phoog
    May 9 at 7:00
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    on the east coast there is maine to nova scotia ferries.ca/thecat/overview which I believe has been the subject of some questions here before. May 9 at 14:01
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    @phoog Yes, but they take you across the river - from one bank to the other. It sounds like OP wants to ferry 1000km all the way down the river to the Gulf of St Lawrence, then out to the ocean and back south again, past Nova Scotia and then down the coastline from Maine all the way to Virginia, into Chesapeake bay and then up the Potomac river to DC.
    – J...
    May 9 at 16:06
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    @J... Agreed, but the Wolfe Island ferry mentioned in this answer also isn't that.
    – phoog
    May 9 at 16:25
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    @phoog Yes, it is - that ferry runs only 1.5km from Kingston to Wolfe Island, which is an island between the banks of the river, and then on to the other bank on the US side at Cape Vincent. That ferry doesn't run along the river, it runs across it. Unless you mean that "it isn't" what OP wants, in which case... yes, we agree.
    – J...
    May 9 at 16:30
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Are their commercial boats, ferries which can allow passengers to travel from USA to Canada and vice versa?

Yes, e.g. Victoria Clipper between Seattle and Victoria. 2 hours and 45 minutes, traveling direct between Pier 69 in downtown Seattle and the Belleville Terminal in downtown Victoria, BC’s Inner Harbor.

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  • Thanks. What will be the halt stations between Seattle and Victoria Or No Halts (Direct) ? What will be the distance in miles/km and time taken for travel? May 9 at 3:57
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    @PrashantAkerkar 2 hours and 45 minutes, traveling direct between Pier 69 in downtown Seattle and the Belleville Terminal in downtown Victoria, BC’s Inner Harbor. May 9 at 3:59
  • Thanks Franck for the information. May 9 at 4:02
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On the east coast: There is a ferry between Maine and Nova Scotia. https://www.ferries.ca/thecat/overview/

There used to be one between Boston and Nova Scotia but it was discontinued

Since you asked about Washington DC, there are cruises from Baltimore up the east coast with stops in Canada. You can get off for tourism during the day. However:

  1. The intention is that you get back on and in the end you wind up back in Baltimore. It’s not a way to get to Canada and stay.

  2. It takes several days to get to Canada. Not the most efficient way to get from DC to Canada, and you will not be that close to Ottawa. You might get a longer cruise from New York area or Boston to Quebec. Still it’s a cruise.

You can take a train from DC to Baltimore, New Jersey, New York, or Boston to get a cruise.

5

Ottawa, to your example, is not commercially accessible by water.

To the northwest, the Ottawa River disappears into the Canadian hinterland, making the border between Ontario and Quebec, where it exists.

To the east, the Ottawa river passes under several low bridges and ultimately encounters the Carillon hydroelectric dam at the Quebec border, still 30km away from Montreal and the St-Lawrence river, where the river continues past the dam. Recreational watercraft can transit the dam via a small lock, but no scheduled transportation or shipping vessels cross here.

A few times a year there are river cruises between Ottawa-Montreal-Kingston, but these are a week-long affair entirely for recreation and sightseeing. If you're looking for a ferry, this isn't it.

The Rideau Canal can also take small recreational vessels to the St-Lawrence at Kingston, but that 200km journey takes four or more days, traversing 45 locks, 42 of which are hand-operated.

Once at Montreal, 200km east of Ottawa, however, you now gain access to the St-Lawrence Seaway, and effectively endless private and commercial means of acquiring water transport.

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    Ottawa is linked to the St. Lawrence at Kingston by the Rideau canal, and, as the article you link to notes, the Carillon dam is not at all impassable: "The dam also includes a modern lock that facilitates traffic up the Ottawa River, superseding the Carillon Canal."
    – phoog
    May 10 at 9:17
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    @phoog The Carillon lock is small, for recreational watercraft. Commercial vessels do not cross it, afaik. Same with the Rideau canal - it was commercially important 150 years ago, but is commercially obsolete now and is used just for recreational craft. It takes four days to make the 200km between Kingston and Ottawa, if you're lucky and in a hurry, crossing 45 locks, 42 of which are hand-operated, if you really want to go the whole distance.
    – J...
    May 10 at 11:45
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    The Carillon lock is 180 ft by 39, well large enough for a modest commercial passenger vessel with a capacity of a few hundred. Small recreational boats use the locks in groups as large as 16 at once (e.g tugsallyw.blogspot.com/2012/07/15-locks-and-lessons.html). Whatever reasons there may be for the absence of commercial passenger traffic on the Ottawa, the Carillon isn't among them.
    – phoog
    May 10 at 12:44
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    @phoog They go in groups because it takes an hour to lift the lock. Fees are $60 minimum (or $5/ft). The river is already a slow and torturous way to get from Ottawa to Montreal and the lock makes it that much longer. There are speed limits and no-wake areas to control erosion. There are no commercial services for passengers by water between these points. It's much faster and cheaper to go by road or by rail - the river is used by pleasure craft. I'm not sure why you don't believe that time and money are factors in determining whether commercial services are offered.
    – J...
    May 10 at 13:03
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    There is a thriving business in river cruises despite -- or perhaps because -- rivers are a tortuous way of traveling. These cruises include routes where well more than an hour is spent in locks (and, I suspect, well more than $5/ft in fees). The market for these cruises is not people who want the fastest or cheapest means of transport, and I doubt the asker of this question wants those, either. Regardless, the Carillon dam is not "commercially impassible."
    – phoog
    May 10 at 13:21
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You could potentially get from Halifax (Nova Scotia, Canada) to Newark (New Jersey, United States), or from Baltimore (Maryland, United States) to Halifax by freighter travel.

Although bookings are suspended until at least November 2022 (due to the Coronavirus pandemic), there exists a passenger-taking cargo ship that runs Hamburg (Germany) – Antwerp (Belgium) – Liverpool (United Kingdom) – Halifax (Canada) — Newark / Port Elizabeth (USA) – Baltimore (USA) – Portsmouth (USA) – Halifax – Liverpool – Hamburg. Most passengers will travel transatlantic, but you might be able to book a voyage from Halifax to Newark or from Baltimore to Halifax on this ship. It also calls at Portsmouth, New Hampshire, USA, but passengers cannot get on or off at this port.

You may find other options at https://cargoshipvoyages.com (no affiliation, no experience) or https://www.langsamreisen.de/en (no affiliation, no experience; currently does not advertise any journeys that include Canada, but previously did).

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While not a ferry, there are cruises which are certainly commercial travel. For example, this is a page of Princess cruises. Not sure if you can take it one-way - e.g., US to Canada and stay in Canada. It looks like most are from New York or Boston but some start/end farther south.

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    The cruise lines do repositioning cruises, at least on the west coast. This is when the cruise lines move their ships from the Caribbean routes to Alaska (spring) and back (fall). It is possible to book these trips - I've taken the Los Angeles to Vancouver (and vice versa) trip a number of times to visit family, with a return flight in the other direction.
    – Kryten
    May 10 at 14:02
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There are lots of commercial ships between the U.S. and Canada. Aside from the many ferries and such that have already been listed, nearly all cruises to or from Alaska have either a stop or a terminus in Canada (in normal, non-Covid years) due to the federal cabotage laws, which do not allow a vessel not flagged in the U.S. to transport passengers between U.S. cities. For example, Seattle, Washington to Seward, Alaska is (normally) illegal unless your vessel is flagged in the U.S., while Vancouver, British Columbia to Seward, Alaska is perfectly legal even if your vessel is flagged in some Caribbean island (which most cruise ships are for tax and regulatory reasons.)

Washington, D.C. to Ottawa is kind of an odd one, though. That's a long way by water. Unless I'm missing an important canal somewhere (possible, as I'm not terribly familiar with canals in the Northeastern U.S. or Southeastern Canada,) that's about a 2,200 mile / 3,950 km (think minimally several days) journey by water. Compared to 452 miles / 727 km by air (about an hour.) Of course, you can also just drive there (about 10 hours per Google Maps) or take a bus (about 20 hours per Google Maps) in much less time than a ship would take.

D.C. to Ottawa by water
D.C. to Ottawa by water (Source: Google Maps)

D.C. to Ottawa by air
D.C. to Ottawa by air (Source: Great Circle Mapper)

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    The Delaware-Chesapeake, Erie, Oswego, and Rideau canals eliminate most of that circuity. You must deviate east to reach Wilmington and NYC, and west to reach Niagara or Oswego. Other than that, it's not too bad. The ancients knew what they were doing, and the right canals were preserved. (well not from the Delaware to the Hudson unfortunately) May 11 at 22:42
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    @Harper-ReinstateUkraine Good to know. I thought there might be canals around some of that, but I wasn't sure which ones were still in use and what size of ships they could handle. I was, of course, aware of the Erie Canal, but again not sure of its current state and what, if any, commercial passenger vessels take that route.
    – reirab
    May 12 at 0:19
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What will be the distance time for example Washington D.C to Ottawa by ferry, boat taking into account specific halts at strategic locations?

As others have noted, this is a very odd itinerary. However, you asked and I was curious. It does seem to be theoretically possible, at least if you're willing to incorporate a short overland segment from Washington DC to Baltimore MD.

  1. Travel overland from DC to Baltimore. It seems possible that you could do this by water instead, by going down the Potomac River and up the Chesapeake Bay, but I couldn't find a commercial option.
  2. From Baltimore, book a cruise to Quebec City. I found three such cruises, but I hope you're not in a hurry, because none of them depart until 2023. Travel time: 10-12 days.
  3. Book a Saint Lawrence River Cruise from QC to Kingston, ON. Travel time: 7 days.
  4. Book a second Saint Lawrence River Cruise from Kingston to Ottowa. Travel time: 6 days.

So, you're looking at a total travel time of at least 23-25 days, but probably much longer if the cruise dates don't line up. And you need to wait until late 2023. And it'll cost several thousand dollars. But hey, it sounds like an adventure!

0

There is so little demand for it that no one offers this service as a routine commercial venture. As such, you can do it, but as more of an "Around the World in 80 Days" style adventure.

Also this will take several weeks + tourism time, since you will be changing modes in nice places, or your boat will allow (or require) you to stop and do tourism. When riding as a passenger in a pleasure boat with someone you met on social media, you can hardly say "No, let's not enjoy an afternoon in Syracuse, I'm in too much of a hurry".

Most large freight ships have an accommodation section for officers and crew, and a couple of staterooms or at least an owner's cabin - the finest accommodation in the ship, kept ceremonially for a possible visit by the owner, which never happens LOL. So that is the opportunity for a passenger to secure informal passage on a freighter - you rent an empty officer's stateroom or the owner's cabin.

Washington to Wilmington

This can be done by train. I have it on good authority that the route is complete, so hopefully, you'll fare better than Phineas Fogg in India.

As a boat trip, this is problematic because of the circuity. The Potomac discharges into Chesapeake Bay, and you must come all the way down to Chesapeake Bay in order to have a shot at Wilmington. From there you can go south to the ocean and north to meet the Delaware outlet to the sea... or on a sufficiently small ship, turn north to use the Delaware & Chesapeake Canal. But smaller ships have less chance of available accommodation.

No one offers this as commercial service for passengers, since the train does it in an hour. But if you are coal or grain... or particularly resourceful... you may be able to informally find a boat to take you.

Wilmington to Trenton

This is entirely on the Delaware river. So you might find river traffic willing to board a passenger. Again the train can do this in minutes, so no commercial demand for passenger service here.

Trenton to NYC

There is no riverine option here. The Delaware lunges off into the Poconos and ceases to be navigable. This corridor was one of the first US railroads for this very reason, and America has let our canals become non-functional (unlike some countries, but even there, commercial passenger service is not a thing).

Once again, the train will do this trip in minutes, and that will be your option. We have been continuously following the Pennsylvania Rail Road nee Amtrak "Northeast Corridor", a fully grade-separated dedicated passenger corridor in Amtrak ownership, which makes a serious attempt at being high-speed rail.

Your only all-sea route from Washington to NYC is an ocean-going journey from Washington, down the Chesapeake Bay the wrong way to Norfolk, then up the Atlantic ocean to NYC. A commercial freighter might be an option here, though Washington proper does not take a whole lot of commercial freight. You might need to go to the port of Baltimore to find a density of freight traffic sufficient to find a willing ship.

NYC to Buffalo/Niagara/Oswego

The NYC-Albany segment is on the navigable Hudson River, and the last paying passenger service down the river was operated by Captain Sullenberger (though probably not "paying", since the airplane was supposed to go to Charlotte, not the Hudson River, so they had to give the money back). Again it may be possible to book passage on a freighter.

You could cut the corner from NYC or Albany to Montreal by rail, then an easy rail ride from Montreal to Ottawa.

From Albany to Buffalo is a foray down the Erie Canal. The Erie Canal is one of the few which has survived and been modernized, and it carries a rather considerable amount of commercial traffic. However, there's a problem. Large ships don't ply the Erie Canal - it's too small - so you won't find ships willing to book passage in spare cabins. The vast majority of this traffic is tug boats pushing lash-ups of barges. Tug boats are far too small to have accommodations.

Fortunately, the Erie Canal is dominated by pleasure boating. Again no scheduled "thru" passenger service, but informal passage could easily be found with a boater who wished to take you. Once they reach Lake Erie, they could probably drop you off in Canada as well.

Cut the corner - bypass Buffalo

You can cut the corner from the Erie Canal to the middle of Lake Ontario, by using the Oswego Canal. That will line you up very nicely to enter the Rideau Canal. Except this route is NOT frequented by commercial traffic, so you will depend on the rare pleasure boater who wants to travel that route. And Immigration adds a wrinkle here, since if Canada or the US refuses you entry, the person who brought you there has to take you back. As such, I don't have high confidence in this time-saving shortcut.

Buffalo/Niagara to Kingston or Montreal

You are now on the St. Lawrence Seaway route from the Great Lakes to the Atlantic, frequented by many ocean-going freighters of good size (the locks on this route are large). So it will be possible to book passage on such a freighter. It's best to start in Canada as it will remove customs/immigration concerns from the mind of the freighter captain.

Kingston or Montreal to Ottawa

If you can get off the ship at Kingston, you can cut the corner by using the historic Rideau Canal, the oldest still-operational canal in North America and a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Again, this is a matter of finding recreational boaters on social media who are making the cruise and willing to help with your adventure.

If you went the long way to Montreal, you can again find pleasure craft to come up the river to Ottawa. You might also find a commercial ship, but the locks get a lot smaller since you are off the Seaway, so you may not find one.

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  • For the less travel immersed: "the most recent passenger service on the river was operated by Captain Sullenberger" does not mean some famous historical ship, no... this is a reference to the successful water landing of an Airbus 320 on the Hudson river, also known as the Miracle on the Hudson. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/US_Airways_Flight_1549
    – chx
    Jun 3 at 5:48

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