Understanding water depth is essential to good boating

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Many boating accidents occur in shallow waters due to driver negligence and a lack of understanding of the visual indicators available. There are usually clear clues that present themselves when shallow water is at play. Leisure Boating dives below the surface to find out how best to handle shallow water conditions.


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It pays to be alert at all times when piloting a boat. Boat drivers should develop a sense of hyper vigilance when negotiating the waters, ready for any eventuality that might occur. Once you spend enough time on the water, yes it’s a learning curve, you will develop the skill of reading the waters around the boat. It might be a small wave breaking over a sandbar, changes in water colour suggesting a differentiation in water depth or current flows that alert you to a particular danger. Boaters must all develop a sense of water depth or they’ll soon become stranded.


Boating shallow conditions
Boating shallow conditions

If there is the occasion that you do beach your boat on a sandbar, there are a couple of possible ways to free the boat. One way is to rock the boat from side to side. This has the effect of shifting the sand below the hull of the boat and will often result in the boat drifting free. The crew can also move in unison from side to side to try and displace the sand that is holding the hull in its stuck position. If the boat is well and truly immovable, you might need to wait for the tide to come in to lift the boat, or get a tow from a fellow boater.


If you are cruising along and don’t notice the water depth reducing and your props begin to hit sand, put the boat into a tight turn and this will elevate the propeller from the water and minimise it hitting the sand. This will allow you to retreat to deeper waters. Another alternative is to trim the motors up as far as possible to stop the propellers hitting the sand or rocks. Trimming the motors up will generate a lot more spray and you will notice a dramatic reduction in speed but you will be able to steer yourself clear of the shallows. There will be occasions where it is necessary to trim the motors up entirely and simple drift away from the offending sandbar.


Trimming the motor
Trimming the motor

It is possible, if you find yourself heading into shallow water, to try and stay on the plane, because reducing speed will drop the boat in the water and onto the sand. By keeping the boat on the plane you will stay high in the water and be able to negotiate your way out of the shallows. Slowing down makes the stern ride deeper and the bow ride higher in the water.


Trim tabs can be used in the down position in shallow water which makes the boat sit more level in the water allowing the propeller and skeg to ride above the sand.


When you are in shallow water, it is possible to use short bursts of the throttle when the boat is lifted to its highest point by the swell. Running the boat across the moving crest towards deeper water is the best way to get your boat out of the shallows.

All boaters will experience shallow conditions at some stage during their boating careers; that’s a given. Finding the best option to remove yourself from these shallow conditions might take a bit of trial and error, but we’re confident that now you have all the technical knowledge you require to be able set yourself free.

Retreat to deeper waters
Retreat to deeper waters



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