Launch boat on the C&O Canal in the early 1900s
Modern launch boat in the canal at Williamsport
For the first time since 1924, small launch boats are once again traveling the C&O Canal in Western Maryland. In May, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal National Historical Park began offering canal launch boat interpretive tours from Cushwa Basin to Lock 44 in Williamsport, Maryland.
Weather permitting, canal launch boat tours in Williamsport will be offered through the summer on Saturday and Sunday, at 10:30 a.m., 12:15 p.m., 1:30 p.m. and 3:00 p.m. The launch boats accommodate 12 passengers per trip. During the initial introductory year, no fee will be charged to park visitors. Seats are available on a first come, first serve basis. Please stop in the visitor center to sign up for a scheduled program.
“The C&O Canal provides many unique opportunities for park visitors. However, it is only when traveling on the canal, on its waters, that one can truly relate to and appreciate the experience of the canawlers who once worked and lived on the canal,” stated C&O Canal Superintendent Kevin Brandt. “The start of the launch boat interpretive program at Williamsport is the first step toward future development of many canal features in this classic canal town.”
During the late 19th and early 20th century, 30-foot battery- and steam-powered launch boats traveled the canal for leisure and business. They contrasted with the 90-foot mule-drawn canal cargo boats that were the dominant vessels on the C&O Canal.
"These small battery-powered vessels will provide visitors with new opportunities to explore the park's rich historic and natural resources," said Brandt. "They will provide even more of our visitors with an on-the-water experience."
Due to their smaller size the replica launch boats may easily be moved to a variety of watered canal sections to serve communities and visitors near Widewater, Pennyfield, Williamsport, Big Pool, Hancock, and Cumberland. In addition to expanding visitor services, park staff hopes the replica canal launches will establish and nourish partnerships with communities along the canal, providing new opportunities from volunteering to boosting local tourism.
Park officials plan to offer a second launch boat interpretive program in Georgetown. Park officials expect delivery of a launch boat for Georgetown July 24, but operations can't start until the existing mule-drawn canal boat is is removed. "At this point it is likely we will not operate a launch in Georgetown until the spring of 2013," said John Noel, Partnership Coordinator, C&O Canal National Historical Park.
Association member Dward Moore offers a video on YouTube , which records the operation of an electric launch when it was delivered for evaluation in 2011.
See Public Canal Boat Rides on the NPS website.