Though we would all love to imagine that every trip on the water would be free from the possibility of hearing that ominous crunch against the hull, the reality is that boaters often encounter areas of shallow water. Shallow water is dangerous, especially if you are not prepared or not paying close attention to your surroundings. Below you will find a guide to help you prepare for your inevitable encounter with waters that are not deep enough for safe passage.

Know Your Boat and the Boating Area

Some coasts are more dangerous than others, but every riverbed or coastline can be dangerous if you neglect to learn what you are getting into. Before you head down to the dock, there are some key pieces of information that you should know both inside and out. The first and most crucial of these is the draft of your boat. Know exactly how much water your boat draws, and keep in mind that just one number will not do. Your boat may ride higher or lower in the water depending on how much weight you carry. In addition, if you have a sailboat with a centerboard or daggerboard, make sure you know the difference in the draft when it is raised or lowered.

Once you know how many feet of water you can safely traverse, you need to learn as much as you can about the area where you will be boating. Take a look at your charts and study the shallower areas. Observe any obstacles or especially low tide lines, so when you get out on the water you have a better sense of where you are and where you might be going. The work does not end there, however — keep reading for what to do once you have started your day at sea.

Utilize Boating Equipment and Be Aware of the Environment

One important part of safe boating in shallow water is to have some device aboard which allows you to see the depth of the water beneath you. With the variety of available depth finders, you will easily be able to find one to fit your needs. When you are out on the water, in particular in or near shallow areas, keep one eye on the depth finder and watch out for when the numbers start to decrease. Make sure to have your charts on board so you can consult them if necessary.

Of course, as with so many other aspects of boating, you cannot just rely on your equipment to tell you what to do; you have to use your eyes and pay close attention to your environment. Do you see seabirds walking in what looks like deep water? Slow down — they have to be walking on something. These may seem like simple, common-sense things to do, but when you are on the water and everything seems like smooth sailing, it can be easy for beginning boaters to forget how truly different the sea is from the land. 

The more you look at the surface of the sea, the better you will get to know it. Look for areas where the surface is uneven, eddies into itself, or where you see a change in the way the water looks. All of these can indicate a change in depth, so slow down and watch where you are going.