Tips For Boating in Shallow Lake Water

Boating in shallow lake water can be dangerous if you don’t know what you’re doing… follow these cruising tips for shallow water boats to make sure you don’t end up beached.

Reading the water

Watch for wind ripples, breaking waves or current edges to indicate a transition to shallow water. First, scan the water for color changes. In clear water, the deeper channel should be apparent compared with the flats, sometimes a darker color due to rocks or grass beds or mud flats; sometimes lighter due to pure sand. But in murky water it can all look the same. Watch for wind ripples, breaking waves and current edges that indicate a transition to shallow water.

Check the Soundings

There are lots of reasonably priced devices out there to help in shallow-water situations including depth finders. If your conditions are extreme, it also makes sense to consult a chart…either electronic or paper. They contain valuable information called “soundings” that show the depths of any particular area you may be traveling. What you’re really looking for are the areas where the water suddenly gets shallower. Steer clear of those areas.

Know your boat’s draft

It’s amazing how many boat owners don’t actually know what their static and running drafts are. If the manufacturer doesn’t publish both, it’s a good idea to arm yourself with a tape measure and go into a shallow area where you know you can safely step off the boat and check, so you’ll never again wonder just how much depth you need.

Remember that on smaller boats, draft can be increased by a heavy load

Weight can change the draft of any size boat, but on boats under 20 feet or so, a couple extra passengers can change draft by an inch or more. Similarly, a full load of fuel and gear can increase draft.


If you accidentally veered off course and need to get back to the channel listing the boat to one side can help. If you can’t trim the drive up any farther, try making sweeping turns back and forth in an S pattern. This will kick the angle of the drive to the side, bringing it up an inch or two farther from the bottom.

Listing also moves the centreline, typically the deepest part of the boat, to one side so that it doesn’t run as deep. Use the tabs to create an extreme list and run on a hard chine, a rough-water trick that also works in shallow water for boats with deeper V’s, since the chine will run shallower than the centreline.

Watch your speed

If you know the water’s deep enough to stay on plane and you have a clear path back to the channel, keeping your speed could be the key to escape as when your boat is on plane, it is riding on the V toward the transom, and the prop and drive are elevated. When a boat falls off plane, the forefoot now comes into play and the boat’s full displacement takes effect, meaning it will sit deeper in the water. The problem is, if you’re running at planing speed and suddenly come up on a shallow area your reaction will likely be to pull the throttle back completely and that can run you aground so watch out.

Your lake levels can change many times throughout the year with changes in rainfall patterns and drainage. Make sure you follow these tips so you can stay safe and have fun at your lakefront home!

Posted by Scott Freerksen “The Lake Guy”

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