Cape Coral’s Water-Ways

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With over 400 miles of canals, the city of Cape Coral, Florida, has the most extensive system in the world. Of course, we are going to talk about it. Why wouldn’t we? Was it engineering genius or marketing genius that gave birth to this waterfront wonderland in Southwest Florida? We’ll just have to wait and see.

The canal system in the city of Cape Coral, Florida, is so extensive that it impacted the area’s ecology and tides. Given the way in which it was designed, the canal system is a combination of around 300 miles of freshwater, while the remaining 100 miles is saltwater. The biodiversity that exists in and around the city is incredible, giving tourists opportunities to see both crocodiles and alligators in relatively close proximity. This is quite unique, seeing as alligators don’t like saltwater, but they like freshwater, while crocodiles like both. So let’s see what else we need to know about the canal system in Cape Coral.

Explaining the Water-Ways of Cape Coral

The first thing you need to understand about Cape Coral’s waterways or canals is that they aren’t seen as or considered oceanfront providers. You don’t have the ocean in your backyard. You have a canal. Some of these canals are wider, while others are more narrow. The term used for housing types regarding the amenities or water access provided is “Gulf” front. That is because those with access to the large expanse of water don’t get access to the ocean but the Gulf of Mexico.

The good thing about this distinction is that while you will have access to water if you purchase a property in Cape Coral, it won’t be ocean access. The reason why we say this is a good thing is that the properties are more affordable. You are very close to the Gulf, without having to pay a fortune for it. In fact, in Cape Coral, Florida, you can find the most affordable waterfront properties in Florida. Also, you will have much easier access to the Gulf here than in other cities like Punta Gorda or Port Charlotte. But, as we mentioned, it isn’t called ocean access but Gulf access.

Freshwater or Saltwater

The debate between having a property with access to freshwater and saltwater is where things get interesting. When someone is showing you a property, saying that it has “Gulf access”, what they’re actually saying is that you will have access to the Gulf via saltwater canals. These are the canals that have access to open water like the Caloosahatchee River, the beaches, and the Gulf of Mexico.

Purchasing a property that has access to freshwater canals does not give you open access to the Gulf. But … and it’s a big but … if the canal flowing in your backyard is known as a freshwater canal, that does not mean that the water isn’t salty. Only salinity testing can clarify that debacle, and the results are generally mixed. This happens because it is actually a brackish mix of water. Residents and real estate agents in Cape Coral FL use these two terms to showcase whether any canal has or doesn’t have access to the Gulf. It is used mostly as slang.

When it comes to aquatic life, abundant life can be found in either of the two. However, while freshwater canals have a network of small lakes and basins for fishing, it is the saltwater canals that boaters are more interested in.

What’s the Difference?

Buying a property that has “direct access”, means that you can take your boat and sail all the way to the Gulf of Mexico. However, don’t think you can use any sized boat. If you plan on sailing off into the Gulf of Mexico and into the sunset, then you should be looking for unrestricted, sailboat access canals. Otherwise, you might wind up with bridges that are too low to sail under as their height varies between 8 and 11.25 feet. It shouldn’t come as a shock that Sailboat access is the most sought-after thing in Cape Coral, Florida. It is, after all, a waterfront wonderland for a reason. Keep in mind that those properties tend to be evaluated and priced higher than the rest. If you don’t need to sail into the sunset, then there’s no need for this “Sailboat access”.

Just think of it like this. You could have a waterfront home with sailboat access for $400,000 where the lot alone costs $275,000 and has a pool and boat lift that costs an additional $50,000. That math leaves only $75,000 for the actual house. The other option would be a Gulf access waterfront home where the lot costs $150,000, the pool and dock an added $50,000, leaving $175,000 for the house. The math is simple. Would you rather pay $400,000 for a $75,000 home or a $175,000 home? If you want a $200,000 home with Sailboat access, the price will total at $525,000.

The last difference related to water access that we’ll discuss is “restricted access” or “partially restricted access”. Many people shy away from partially restricted access because those homes were built behind a manned boat lock. However, what people aren’t aware of is that these boat-locked areas have been the latest to be developed and are some of the prettiest places in Cape Coral.

Water-Ways Concerns

Every two months, the Cape Coral Waterway Advisory Board is hosting meetings where residents have the chance to bring up concerns they have about the canals of Cape Coral. If you decide to purchase a waterfront property in the city, these board meetings will give you the opportunity to be an informed citizen, discuss waterway-related issues and find ways to fix them. Some of the most common concerts brought by residents of Cape Coral have to do with boating practices on the canals.

Unlike in Europe, you don’t need a license to run a boat. This can lead to people speeding and disrupting not only the aquatic wildlife but also the other residents. No one wants to chill during a weekend afternoon on their dock and have someone splash their lounging area whale speeding through the canal behind their house. Other concerts have to do with pollution in the canal system, quality of water, accessibility, and use of reject water for irrigation.


Living in a waterfront environment might be in the top three dream homes for most people worldwide. Whether it’s a lake, a river, a canal, or the ocean/Gulf is relevant, but Cape Coral has all these options available. With 400 miles of canals and 27 miles of shoreline, Cape Coral truly is the waterfront capital of the world. Spreading across 114 square miles, this city takes the holiday lifestyle to a whole new level. When you’re driving through Cape Coral, the occasional canal and bridge are as normal as a traffic sign.

However, just to make sure you know your way around the city and don’t get lost in the first few weeks, do carry a map with you or rely on GPS systems. In time you’ll probably start looking forward to cars that can also go on the water. Like that, at least you’ll be able to get anywhere in Cape Coral without having to be bothered by the waterway or road conundrum.


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