As I write this article, Lake Lanier is over 4.5 feet below full pool. If you have been around Lanier for as long as I have, you know there are times when it has been much lower than it is right now. It may be hard to believe, but this is the lowest it has been since the spring of 2018. It’s times like these that we may want to consider being extra careful about protecting our bottom and not running aground. This is especially important if you own a sailboat with a deep draft.
Here are some things that can help you keep your boat’s bottom a safe distance from the bottom of the lake. (These ideas can be used on any body of water.):
Know Your Vessel – The first thing you need to know is how much water your vessel needs to float freely. A small boat may need only a couple of feet while a large sailboat may need six feet or more. If you do not know the draft of your boat, it may be difficult to determine when you are approaching the danger zone.
Stick to Familiar Waters – The more familiar you are with the area that you are boating in, the less likely you will have issues with depth. In fact, the fewer issues you are likely to have, period.
Use Your Depth Finder – It’s always a good idea to have a depth finder on your boat. An accurate depth gauge allows you to know how much water is under your keel, regardless of conditions. If you don’t have a depth gauge, get one. If you do have one, be sure to use it.
Check Your Charts – It is always a good idea to have a set of charts for the waters where you are boating. In addition to aiding in navigation from one point to another, charts can provide you with information about the depth of the water.
Be Observant – Typically, when the water gets shallow, the color changes in comparison to the deeper areas. You may also notice that the wave action changes a bit in shallow areas as waves interact with the bottom or with obstacles resting on the bottom. A vigilant eye can go a long way in avoiding all types of water hazards.
Here is a good example: When I was young my dad and I were out in the Rappahannock River on our boat. He was at the helm, and we were running on plane at about 25 knots down the middle of the river. Suddenly, he pulled back on the throttle. The boat fell off plane and eventually came to a stop. I looked at him and asked why we were stopping. He pointed to a seagull on the water about 50 yards in front of us. I didn’t understand. The seagull would surely fly away when we got nearby.
“Look closely,” my dad said.
I looked again and realized that the seagull was standing, not floating. Had my dad been less observant, he would have run our boat up on a shallow reef.
Watch Your Wake – If you feel that you might be in shallow water but have no way to verify, keep an eye on your wake. If you are in a danger zone, you will probably be kicking up mud or sand. If this happens, proceed with caution or just back out the same way you came in.
Let’s face it, running aground is not fun. There is an old adage that says you are not a real boater unless you have run aground. Another says that you either have run aground or will run aground. I’m not sure if either of these is true but if they are, hopefully these tips will help prolong the inevitable.