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Navigating Shallow Water

Don’t be afraid of shallow water. These nine tips will help you get skinny.
Boating Safety

Shallow Water Tactics

Tactic 2
Rocking and Rolling

When you’re really grounded, get out of the boat and use manpower to rock it unstuck.

The boater who slammed into the sandbar at 30 mph tried to correct the situation by gunning his engine in reverse, throwing sand and water into the air, redlining his engine and generally making the situation worse (and stuffing his water pump with sand, which probably led to an overheated engine and maybe a cracked block). The first thing to do should you run aground is turn off the engine and check it and the hull for any structural damage. Remember it’s better to be aground than sunk. If everything’s OK, and no water is coming in, you may be able to work the throttle to back off. But if you’re stuck fast, you’ll need an assist.

Offload and rock the boat from side to side. This cants the deeper V section and reduces the draft. As the keel gets free of the bottom, you may be able to push the boat. As the keel drops, it might stick again. Keep rocking and pushing until you get into deep enough water.

If there is wind blowing or current running in a favorable direction (toward deep water), you can often accomplish this without  getting out of the boat. Have your crew move as a group from side to side, which will lift the keel. As it lifts, the boat will move downwind or downcurrent. Again, make sure the hull, fittings and drive mounts weren’t breached. When you get home take a closer look.

Side to Side
1. From inside the boat, have the crew shift the craft from side to side to lift the keel.
2. Gently work the throttle in reverse to help the boat become unstuck.
3. If you have to, unload the crew and some heavy gear.
4. Have the crew rock the boat from side to side.
5. If the keel rocks free, you may be able to push the boat to deeper water without a power boost.

Tactic 3

So you 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 centerline, 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 centerline.

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