Reopened Assawoman Canal provides newfound opportunities for boaters

“Lifetimes have passed” and “not in my lifetime” have been familiar thoughts for many in the area when it comes to the dredging of one local waterway, but for a local business owner, the timing is just right.

Coastal Point •  R. Chris Clark: Tom Fowler of Ocean View Marina and Back Bay Tours navigates the Assawoman Canal.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark
Tom Fowler of Ocean View Marina and Back Bay Tours navigates the Assawoman Canal.

Tom Fowler, owner of Ocean View Marina and Back Bay Tours, is quite curious to see what the first full season of boating will bring to the recently reopened Assawoman Canal. Located at the north end of the Canal, the marina is uniquely situated on what is the only inland waterway between the Little Assawoman and Indian River bays.

The task of dredging the canal has finally been completed, maintaining as much of the environmental and ecological buffers as possible. The tree canopy is also intact, and there is enough water to motor end to end.

The access does not guarantee an easy journey, though. One must be aware of the hazards that still exist, both natural and manmade.

As part of the shoreline stabilization and habitat protection, DNREC left untouched buffers of approximately 10 feet on either side of the canal. There are still submerged logs and vegetation in and under the water. These features allow the plentiful wildlife to flourish and the natural beauty to remain. Keep in mind that these obstacles also require that you keep your speed in check.

The canal is an environmentally sensitive area and a no-wake zone. Any waves will lead to the deterioration of the shorelines and contribute to greater navigation difficulties with wave refraction.

“It will be interesting to see what happens,” said Fowler of watercraft speeds and quantities of traffic with the new usage.

The current can hit 4 to 5 knots (about 5 to 6 mph for you landlubbers out there). Heading into this current may require a little more power than normal and presents a challenge — to balance forward motion with minimal wake. You can adjust your boat’s trim or rebalance weight distribution to lessen your aquatic footprint.

Captains and those responsible for their boat’s speed and direction must remember that the craft running with the current has the right of way.

Fowler got excited when discussing the possibilities for day trips that have opened up for those who have previously been relegated to their respected bodies of water on either side of the canal.

The boaters in the Little Assawoman Bay may now choose to travel and explore the Indian River Bay, Rehoboth Bay and Indian River Inlet, and as far as Lewes and the Delaware Bay, for the bold and adventurous.
Coastal Point •  R. Chris Clark: Signs seen upon entering the Assawoman Canal remind boaters it is a no-wake zone.Coastal Point • R. Chris Clark
Signs seen upon entering the Assawoman Canal remind boaters it is a no-wake zone.

Just remember that the old rule of “red, right, returning” appears to run backwards in the Massey’s Ditch area, due to the lateral buoy system. (Another story, another time.) Go slow, be aware and know the rules of the water.

Just as those to the south can now head north more easily, the boaters in the north are now able to check out the Little and Big Assawoman bays and farther south — including Assateague Island and its plentiful wild horses.

Newfound possibilities also exist for dining and partying experiences. Dewey Beach and Seacrets may make boaters’ updated list of places to visit, but remember that rules about driving under the influence apply to the water, as well.

The culmination of all of these new possibilities may be overwhelming, so Fowler tries to make it easy for others. The marina not only has gas, snacks, light tackle and beverages; they also offer cruises, fishing, tours and water sports. Consider leaving the “work” to a licensed captain, so you can enjoy your time on the water.

While the canal was reopened for you, everyone has the right to use it — that includes boats, personal watercraft and self-propelled watercraft, such as kayaks.

Move slowly, enjoy cooler temperatures under the tree canopy and look for wildlife above and below the water. The animals may be a bit shy at the beginning of the season, but once they get acclimated to their new guests, they may be more available for your viewing pleasure.

Stop in and say hi to Tom and his crew.

For more information, contact Tom at Ocean View Marina or Back Bay Tours at (302) 539-0707 or