Check Out Day by Day Itinerary For Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour…
My self-guided Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour in Eastern Ontario occurred a searing hot August week of topsy-turvy weather. The Weather Channel predicted intermittent high winds, and severe thunder and lightening storms. It even talked about hail and reported tornado warnings. Pressure systems and competing fronts were locked in a dramatic aerial battle for supremacy of the sweltering summer skies. In communities from Perth to Ottawa, trees blew down. Roofs tore off. Heavy waves caused frequent small craft advisories. And somewhere in the middle of this steamy mayhem, Barry Holden and I were blithely attempting our 500-kilometre Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour from Rockport in the famous 1000 Islands to Ottawa and back. What a jet ski adventure and I learned some good tips about jet ski touring. But unlike many other Sea Doo tours I’ve done on Sea Doo, Jet Ski or Waverunner personal watercraft in Ontario and throughout Canada, weather didn’t cooperate…
Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour: Day One, Rockport to Kingston, Ontario…
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After towing our Triton trailer from Gateway Powersports & Marine, our ride began on a bright, sunny afternoon at Ed Huck Marine in Rockport. It’s located 45 kilometres east of the southern entrance to the Rideau at Kingston. After a scenic ride on the winding inner channel of the St. Lawrence River, where the sun beat down between massive clouds whipping across the sky, we arrived at Kingston harbour.
Sea Doo & Jet Ski into Kingston Harbour…
We were greeted by a cannon salvo from Old Fort Henry, fired for the delight of tourists. I half-expected the whoosh of balls as geysers bracketed our bobbing watercraft! Instead, we spotted the stubby, silo-like Martello Towers that guard Confederation Basin, and coasted into our dock, which had the nasty habit of submerging suddenly if one stepped the wrong way. A wall of heat simmered over Kingston’s beautiful waterfront as we used marina carts to wheel our gear to the nearby the Radisson Plaza Hotel where we would spend the night.
Many Locks to Ottawa…
Despite my preparatory tour research, I still had a few unanswered questions. I’d found info about how to lock through properly, and we had decided not to pass through the eight locks of the system at Ottawa (access to the Ottawa River). That left 39 others remaining on the Rideau Canal proper between Kingston and Ottawa, with ten sets of multiple locks that could take anywhere from an hour to an afternoon to negotiate, depending on the fortune of one’s arrival time. In addition, we had little sense yet of how traffic volume, speed zones, or weather delays would impact our timing. But I did know there was virtually nowhere to overnight between Merrickville and Ottawa — and that in seven days, we had to be back in Rockport and headed for home.
Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour: Day Two – Kingston to Westport, Ontario…
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The storm had added more humidity to the already oppressively hot air as the day dawned under a relentless sun. Fourteen locks lay between Kingston and the Bit of Ginger Bread Bed and Breakfast, our lodging for that night in Westport on Big Rideau Lake. Our plan was to check out early, for arrival at the four Kingston Mills flight locks well before their 8:30 AM opening to make sure we made the first lock through. We’d estimated the 70-kilometre ride to Westport could take anywhere from seven to ten hours. We had to reach the last lock station at Newboro, no later than 6:45 PM to pass through before it closed at 7:30 PM, or we would be trying to sleep with that proverbial farmer’s daughter somewhere en route!
Even with numerous speed zones, our initial progress up the Cataraqui River system was steady. We had to slip into the water once to pull weeds from our intakes, a simple procedure which required almost full immersion under the Sea-Doo’s. Many parts of the Rideau Canal are weedy, especially from Smiths Falls to Ottawa, so we made it a habit to check our intakes a couple of times each day. Our worst area was Dows Lake and the adjacent canal in Ottawa where we had to de-weed several times.
After Kingston Mills, our arrival at most lock stations that day was bang on, with little waiting at the blue lines for the gates to open. Unfortunately, we missed the mark at Jones Falls, a flight of four consecutive locks where boats transfer through completely one way (15-30 min. per lock) before those waiting at the other end get their turn. Our wait was twice as long as this because we arrived at the south end when an upriver (northbound) lock-through was already in process, so there was both the upriver transfer and then the downriver one before we could enter to go up. That’s why our Sea Doo tour planning has to be flexible and include numerous ‘Plan B’s’.
Nothing to do but wait. We took the opportunity to gas up and check out the Hotel Kenney, located at the south end of the locks, where we intended to stay on our last night. We also lunched on good burgers and great shakes in their snack bar, before touring an 1839 blacksmith shop and an historic stone arch dam. Storm clouds continued to battle with the sun overhead, and several times, we spotted lightening flashes on the horizon. But two and a half hours later, we emerged upriver from the last of the Jones locks at four o’clock. We had three more locks and more than 27 kilometres to go. If we had hit that Kingston Mills four-flighter at the wrong time too, Westport wouldn’t have been doable that night.
Fortunately, the last 10 kilometres after Newboro were on Big Rideau Lake, so we hit our throttles and sailed into picturesque Westport Harbour at 6 PM. Off the water, the steamy heat hung in the air like a palpable mist, so heavy as to be almost visible in the sparkling sunlight. The horizon was obliterated by a dense blackness that promised another wild night of celestial fireworks. It was no surprise then, that while dining at Steve’s Rideau Restaurant just up the block from the Country Cove Inn, a torrential rain raged across the lake, quickly flooding the streets amid explosive thunder crashes and spectacular aerial displays of sheet lightening.
I should note at this point, that the Newboro lock station is the watershed for the Rideau system. Until now, we had been travelling upriver on the Cataraqui River system as it drains in to Lake Ontario, but after Newboro, our journey would flow the opposite way towards the Ottawa River. It is also crucial to remember that the marker buoys switch after Newboro: from Kingston to Newboro red is on the right. From Newboro (at N650), green is on the right. Obviously, the same occurred in reverse on return trip.
Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour: Day Three – Westport to Merrickville, Ontario…
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The next morning at 7:30, we began the 70-kilometre, 10-lock cruise to Merrickville under the only pocket of clear blue sky in sight. Mighty black and white clouds, piled miles high continued to surge across the firmament. We spied heavy streaks etched against the horizon where rain was pounding in the distance. Our luck held as our lone clear patch seemed to follow our winding course across the Rideau Lakes to Smiths Falls. It even detoured south with us to visit the town of Portland and remained overhead while we explored these magnificent cottage country waterways.
But near the Edmonds Lock, the clouds suddenly closed in without warning, releasing a torrential deluge that would have been painful were it not for the protection of our Sea-Doo Riding Jackets, headgear, No Fog masks and neoprene gloves. The storm’s velocity tumbled it eastward in less than fifteen minutes. While ominous clouds threatened throughout the remainder of that 42˚ C day, it rained no more.
We suspected that Merrickville, home of the Canadian Recreational Canoe Association, was close when we spotted several massive war canoes on the river. By 2:15 PM, we had docked in downtown Merrickville, beside the original blockhouse, now museum, that guards the canal. Just across the way, we could see the historical facade of The Baldachin Inn, our first class destination for that night. But we were still three hours away from that cushy abode. Our marina for the night was on the far side of the four Merrickville locks, and only with those under our belts today could we buy the time to play tourist in Ottawa on the morrow. So we locked through, and finally settled into our gorgeous lodgings around 5:30, just in time for a scrumptious dinner.
Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour: Day Four – Merrickville to Ottawa, Ontario…
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The Clowes lock station was only about one klick downriver, so there was little point hitting the water much before its 8:30 AM opening for this 70-kilometre, 13-lock leg of our cruise. Shortly thereafter, we were counting on a 40-kilomtere stretch of lockless river to make decent time. After gawking shamelessly at the riverside mansions of Manotick, we arrived at Dows Lake, Ottawa about 1:30 PM, and decided to cruise down the speed-controlled canal past Carleton University into the heart of downtown.
This round trip, including a half-hour sightseeing walkabout, took about three hours in the sweltering heat. We rarely touched the throttles while discovering our nation’s capital from the water — a truly unique perspective. The last mile or so is well worth the ride, its skyline dominated by prominent edifices such as the Fairmont Chateau Laurier, and the Parliament Buildings, which we docked beside and walked up to visit.
Afterwards, we berthed at Dows Lake Marina and grabbed a cab to the Embassy West Hotel, where Mother Nature once again opened her violent floodgates, bowing the city under a fiery, furious, tempest for most of the night. Damage was extensive throughout the region with more savage weather promised over the next several days. We weren’t to see the sun again for the rest of our tour, but could our luck on the water hold?
Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour: Day Five – Ottawa to Smiths Falls, Ontario (see Day 3 map)
Our Sea Doo tours return trip began next morning. We were more confident in predicting our daily distances now. We had decided to try for Smiths Falls. It would be an 85-kilometre, 20-lock day, but it would give us a shot at making it all the way to Kingston the following night (instead of staying at the Hotel Kinney at Jones Falls). Needless to say, we wouldn’t be doing much sightseeing along the way; but we would continue to obey posted speed limits wherever necessary. After a nine-hour day on the water with incredibly lucky lock connections, we arrived in Smiths Falls just after 5 PM.
We found convenient dockage at Victoria Park, midway between the Smiths Falls Detached and the Poonamalie locks. The Best Western Colonel By Inn was a couple of blocks away and so was a gas station. Not wanting to take the time to find a marina for fuel next morning, we borrowed two red jerry cans and gassed up by taxicab!
Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour: Day Six – Smiths Falls to Kingston, Ontario (see Day 2 map)
We were first through the Poonamalie lock next morning for our 106-kilometre, 16-lock run to Kingston. Familiar now with the route, we booted it through the Rideau Lakes in a race against an overcast sky that threatened to unleash havoc at any minute. The temperature began a steady decline that would continue for two days. Even with another delay at Jones Falls, we made it back to Kingston Mills in time for their last lock through. It started to spit lightly as we breezed under the final bridge into the crashing waves of Kingston harbour. We rode like buckaroos towards the haven of Confederation Basin, passing behind the breakwater to calm water a little after 7 PM. Boaters everywhere were battening down the hatches against a pending gale, but we were happy to have made it. Even our submerging dock felt welcome!
Amazingly, that storm by-passed town, thundering instead down the waved-churned St. Lawrence on the American side. So that night we joined thousand of others at Kingston’s waterfront for their annual Buskers Festival. I even lined up for half an hour at White Mountain Ice Cream, suffering my only true disappointment of the entire tour when the Triple Chocolate Ecstasy ran out just before my turn to order!
Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour: Day Seven – Kingston to Rockport, Ontario (see Day 1 map)
Our final morning dawned with turbulent skies, choppy water, and an 18˚ Celsius temperature — with wind chill, a drop of over 30 degrees from the outset of our tour! With only 45 kilometres left back to Rockport, we decided to push on, thankful again for our protective gear. About an hour and a half later, we spotted the spiral tower that marks the Thousand Islands International Bridge, and pulled into Ed Huck Marine at Rockport at 10 AM, our Sea Doo tours mission accomplished.
Overall, I’d recommend this Rideau Canal adventure to any Sea-Doo owner in search of a great tour with diverse scenery, a range of riding opportunities, and a good variety of experiences. Depending on your schedule, it would be worth planning your trip around the myriad of summer activities offered along the route, especially in Kingston and Ottawa. Remember that waterfront accommodations aren’t as plentiful as in some other areas, so it might be wise to avoid the busiest weeks of summer and travel during the week. Be sure to book ahead. If exploring is your game, I’d suggest a June tour when the water levels tend to be at their summer peak and weed growth isn’t as advanced. Finally, I wouldn’t count on completing this tour in any less time than we did due to all of the uncontrollable variables, although you could cut back the time somewhat by departing from Kingston instead of Rockport. And if you were unlucky enough to miss every lock connection en route you could still be on the Rideau come winter!
Rideau Canal Sea Doo Tour Fast Facts – #ontariowaterways
- Round Trip Distance – about 500 km, give or take depending on how much exploring
- Highway Access: 401 exit 661
- Water body(s): St. Lawrence River, Cataraqui River, Rideau Lakes, Rideau Canal
- Launch(s): Ed Huck Marine, Rockport
- Lunch: At breakfast each morning, we ordered a lunch to go and ate during lock throughs.
- Fuel: various marinas en route
- Locks: list of locks
- Waterfront Lodgings: Radisson Plaza Hotel, Kingston; Hotel Kenney, Elgin; Country Cove Inn, Westport; The Baldachin Inn, Merrickville; Best Western Colonel By Inn, Smiths Falls; Embassy West Hotel, Ottawa
- Side Trip(s): Rideau Lakes, 1000 Islands
- Sea-Doo Dealer(s): Ed Huck Marine, Rockport; Perth Powersports & Marine; George’s Marine, Ottawa
- More Info: Southeastern Ontario; Ottawa Region
Riders should reconfirm the Sea Doo tours routes and services mentioned in this article as they may have changed since publication. Any map is for reference only and any marked lines or locations are not intended as an exact or accurate depiction of positions.