OK...For first timers down the ICW.
The waterway between Norfolk and Miami is about 1200 miles. Minimum depths are about 6 ft. but most often you will be travelling in 8-15 feet of water. There are a few REALLY shallow spots and we will deal with these separately.
Bridges are 65' or more or are opening bridges. There are always tales of low bridges and indeed on unusually high tides or after lots of storm rain, bridges will get "lower" so you do need to pay attention to local conditions but I've carried 64' through the entire waterway and never scaped an antenna. The one bridge hat does NOT conform to this is the Julia Tuttle bridge in Miami which is 57' and if you have a tall mast you need to jump outside at Ft. Lauderdale for the 30 mile trip into Miami to avoid the bridge.
The waterway is quite well marked with red triangular markers and green sqares and most of the waterway is narrow and not suited to sailing. You may be able to sail about 10% of the time so a GOOD engine and clean fuel tanks is essential. Beause most of the waterway is so narrow, it is also protected and even small boats can do the trip quite safely if they can wait a day or two in bad weather to transit the open sections. There are hundreds of anchorages along the way so the trip doesn't have to cost a lot of money and the marinas can provide a welcome break now and then along with fuel, water and repairs. Most cruisers try to make about 50 miles a day so it is possible to "do" the trip in 3 weeks but you will miss a lot of good stuff if you don't stop and rest and enjoy some of the neat towns and places along the way. Night travel is NOT recommended as many markers are not lit and barge traffic can be hazardous.
There are dozens of "waterway guides" & charts out there. My personal favorites are the Maptech ChartKits for navigation and Skipper Bob's Guide to anchorages on the ICW...which also provides detailed shoaling and bridge opening and clearance info. The Maptech Charts are good for offshore jumps too which a lot of the guides do not cover. If you plan to go offshore for some of the trip...Steve Dodges Guide to SE US inlets is the bible. All of this stuff is available at www.bluewaterweb.com
if you can't find it locally. If you want additonal detailed info about marinas and towns along the way, the mid-Atlantic and Southern waterway guides are good to have.
Since shoaling and bridge closings and schedules can happen AFTER the above stuff is published, before leaving you should mark up your charts with the latest problem spots and advice from online sources. The two best I've found are:
Tom and Mel Neal's East Coast Alerts Here
Skipper Bob's Update Page Here
Chartplotters are GREAT BUT do not follow the magenta line. Navigate from marker to marker staying mid channel and round your turns off. Move to the green or red side of the channel based on your notes. Chartplotters WILL leave you aground in the ICW if you rely on them.
OK...that's it for now. Questions...comments...alternative opinions?