Belhaven, North Carolina

On September 21, 2013 the town of Belhaven, North Carolina will hold the 1st annual Birthplace of the Inland Waterway Celebration. You might ask yourself, what is the Inland Waterway and why are they celebrating? The Inland Waterway is the original name for what is today called the Atlantic Intracoastal Waterway. The reason Belhaven plans a celebration is because in August of 1928, 20,000 people, politicians, dignitaries, Coast Guard contingents, Corps of Engineers, Naval airplanes and powerboat racers converged on Belhaven to celebrate the completion of a 22-mile canal linking the Alligator and Pungo Rivers. This canal was the final component to complete the Inland Waterway and allow commerce to flow from the northern ports as far as Boston to Beaufort without having to go out into the Atlantic around Cape Hatteras. Belhaven officially became a seaport and also became known for its lumber industry, with 13 sawmills, 2-world renown, a growing seafood industry and a reputation for hospitality, second to none. 

The Belhaven of today is still a welcome port to recreational boaters traveling north and south along the Intracoastal Waterway. Not only does the city welcome boaters, they have made improvements not found in any other stops along the ICW. While many other towns are enacting restrictions, crowding out anchorages with moorings and pulling up the welcome mat, Belhaven is spending time and money to encourage boaters to stop by, visit and stay awhile to experience true southern hospitality. Would you believe they have completed a large town dock and that the town dock provides power and water on the docks for free? And there is a pump-out (for a fee, sorry), at the town dock. Would you believe, there is another free town dock under construction, with free power and water? Well believe it. I asked the Town Manager, Guinn Leverett, why the town of Belhaven would go to such lengths for boaters at no charge and the answer was simple. To encourage boaters to come to Belhaven and enjoy what it has to offer. See update at the end of the post.

The town received matching funds through the Boating Infrastructure Grant program for the docks and from the Public Health Services for the pump-out. The pump-out fees must remain at $5.00 for 4 years. To use the pump-out, the boater needs to purchase a token at the hardware store across the street and insert it in a slot at the pump near the head of the dock. The current dock is accessed by turning into the canal, known as Wynn’s Gut, next to the hospital. A row of pilings will be on your port and the remains of an old dock on your starboard. There is a railing around the end of the dock with an open gateway about halfway along. This is where the pump-out hose is located. A little farther along, the dock opens up and has tall pilings along the deck with sturdy cleats on which to tie. There are six power outlets with 30-amp service and hose bibs for water. There is even a water hose on the dock for boaters to use. It just doesn’t get any better than this. The canal is narrow and best suited for small to medium size boats. We would consider about 40 feet to be near the limit. Larger boats will not be able to turn around in the canal, but if backing up is not a problem, other than very large vessels, size may not be that important. We found 7 feet at the dock, but less on the opposite side of the canal. At this writing, there is bridge construction going on farther up the canal, but it was not disturbing and will be completed soon.

Belhaven is a small town with all of the same issues of any small town in today’s economy. There are some empty storefronts in the downtown area, but the town is working to make improvements. Three of the storefronts are under contract and should have tenants in short order. A new restaurant, Tavern at Jack’s Neck, is scheduled to open on Pamlico Street, a very short walk from the dock. Across the street from the dock on Pamlico is Farm Boys and the Front Porch, selling sandwiches and other fast foods and offering music and entertainment on weekends. For finer dining, the menu and cuisine at Spoon River is not to be missed. If a quick lunch menu or early meal is your choice, there is Fish Hooks Café or Gingerbread Bakery and O’Neal’s Café over on Main Street.

Rudlick and Whitley Hardware is across the street from Jack’s on Pamlico. This is a full-service hardware with “more stainless steel fasteners than most shipyards.” They also carry some basic boating supplies and have a very nice gift center. A coin-operated laundry is about 4 blocks from the waterfront on Pamlico next to the car wash. O’Neal’s Drug Store has moved a mile up the road to Main and 264, and the Food Lion Supermarket is out on Highway 264, about 1 ½ miles from the town dock. A ride or a bicycle will be needed to get to the supermarket unless you’re really into walking. Don’t miss a visit to the old City Hall, listed on the National Register of Historic Buildings. The Belhaven Museum, on the second floor, is open from 1:00 to 5:00 PM, but closed on Wednesday and Sunday. Guinn Leverett, the town manager, describes some of the exhibits as “many, many grandmother’s attics.” Many of the items on exhibit were from donations and estates from local citizens reflecting the people and their history. The Post Office and town library are within walking distance of the waterfront.

The stay at the town dock is limited, and like us, most boaters may want to spend some additional time relaxing, enjoying leisure activities or just doing some fishing. If you happen to be visiting during one of the annual festivals put on each year, like the Pirates on the Pungo Festival or the 4th of July festivities, the free town dock will probably be full. In the past, Riverforest Marina was the crown jewel of Belhaven. The stately manor with its excellent food and well-known buffet was the place to dine for boaters and land cruisers alike. You could fuel up, dock your boat, enjoy fine food and the pool and sauna in a true southern setting. But alas, the jewels have fallen from the crown. The restaurant has been closed for some time, however, the marina is sort of accepting boats for dockage. The property owner lives in a house on the grounds. If you pull in to the docks and tie up, don’t expect any dockhands or Dockmaster, and if the owner happens to see you there, he will probably come down the dock and charge you something to tie up. The docks are getting tired and the property is showing its age. Belhaven Waterway Marina provides dockage and is located in the downtown area. Many boaters  stay at Dowry Creek Marina on, yes, Dowry Creek. It is a distance from town but provides a courtesy car for transportation and has a club house, pool, ships store, wifi and tennis courts.

 Belhaven also has a very large anchorage for boaters that prefer the solitude. Just behind the town dock is a new floating dinghy dock, well-protected inside the canal. Be sure and have a current chart of the area and beware of the shallow area just off the waterfront that must be negotiated around to get to the deeper anchorage. The holding is good in the harbor and Belhaven has just rebuilt the seawall separating the harbor from the Pungo River. Strong southerly winds can make the anchorage uncomfortable. 

A second Town dock is under construction and at this time needs only the power, water, cleats and safety equipment installed and it will be available to the boating public. The second dock is farther north toward the bridge in the harbor between the grain silos and the old brick chimney from the original cooperage mill. This second dock is about ¾ mile from the center of downtown, but is much closer to Highway 264, where one finds the grocery store, Dollar General and O’Neals Pharmacy. This is a well-constructed, sturdy dock with concrete decks, slips with finger piers and outer pilings for four boats, and an alongside tie opposite the slips. There is an end tee that a smaller boat could use. It’s in a quiet and beautiful setting, but there is some noise occasionally from the grainery. The second dock is just a further commitment by the city to make Belhaven inviting to the transient boater.  

Update, September 26, 2013 From the city of Belhaven...The town manager and I have reviewed the recent concerns from the skippers with the early check out times (9am-11am) and the short length of stay allowed for free at the Wynne’s Gut town docks. In an effort to allow a longer stay and a later check out time we have moved our free dock location to the newly constructed Cooperage Town docks and have changed our policies to the following:
Our Belhaven Town docks at the Wynne’s Gut location on Pantego Creek are now rented at a daily rate of $1.00 per foot, per night with a maximum stay of three nights. Electrical is $5.00 for a single 30 amp hook up and water is available. Registration is required upon arrival and the check out time is 11:00am. Dockage is along side with tall pilings and the controlling depth is 6 feet. The docks are located just 100 yards past the green number 9 day marker and on the North shore in Wynne’s Gut.
Our Belhaven Town free docks are now located at the Cooperage landing on Pantego Creek just past the red number 12 day marker and 100 yards to the north shore. This site has newly constructed fixed docks with slips having finger piers and pilings, no water and no electrical. Controlling depth is 7 feet. The docks are available on a first come first serve basis with a maximum stay of 72 hours.

If you haven’t been to Belhaven before, we highly recommend you stop and visit. If you haven’t been to Belhaven for a while, like us, we highly recommend you stop by and see what’s new. We believe you won’t be disappointed.


  1. Pam and I stopped there on Drift Away about a year and a half ago. The new town docks were under construction so we stayed at a local marina. We loved Belhaven, and like you, highly recommend it as a stopover.

    1. We have bypassed Belhaven for several years because the town seem to have fallen on hard times. But the improvements and progress make this a must stop for us again. We were very impressed with how well the town understands the value of being a boating destination and providing services to the cruisers. Chuck and Susan

  2. sorry but the inter coastel waterway ends at the manasquan innlet at point pleasant new jersey then you half togo out in the atlantic to the hudson river

    1. If you reread the first paragraph it refers to going out around Cape Hatteras and not just going out into the Atlantic. Chuck


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