Danger In The New ShallowsBy Beth Leonard
Published: August/September 2013
With some inland lakes hitting unprecedented low water levels, boaters need to take extra precautions to keep their boats' bottoms clear of the bottom.
Avoiding The High And Dry
Knowing the water level on your lake is lower than normal, and really understanding what that means are two different things. A BoatUS insured and experienced boater who keeps her boat on Lake Champlain said that her marina was hauling boats because they were aground in their slips. A few sentences later, she said that a nearby buoy must have moved because she touched bottom even though she had passed it on the same side and at the same distance as normal. So what can you do when low water levels render both local knowledge and charts irrelevant?
1. Know where your lake stands versus chart datum.
It helps to know whether your charts — or chartplotter — are accurate or if you need to subtract a couple of feet from the charted depths just to be sure. You can get information on lake levels for most inland lakes online.
2. Don't cut corners.
If you know your lake level is low, make sure to give hazards — whether buoys, docks, points, shoals, or navigational marks — a generous amount of extra room.
3. If you don't know the lake, ask.
Whether you're trailering a boat to a lake you don't know well, renting a boat on an unfamiliar lake, or borrowing a boat while visiting a friend, make sure to ask where lake levels are compared to normal and what dangers you need to be aware of.
4. Slow down.
If you do hit something, your boat and crew will be far better off if you're going slowly. When lake levels are low, it pays to keep the throttle well back unless you're absolutely sure you're in deep water with no dangers.
5. Take special care when towing.
Whether you're towing skiers, wakeboarders, or tubers, stay in the deepest parts of the lake, well away from buoys, shoals, and the shoreline. A skier on a tow line can get a long way off your course, so be sure to give them plenty of room on either side of the boat.
6. Don't dive off the boat.
If you anchor out, don't dive off the boat until you've gotten in the water to see how deep it really is. In shoaling water near shore, the depth at one end of the boat may be quite different than at the other, so your depth sounder cannot be relied upon.
7. Add some eyes down below.
If your lake has a lot of stumps or rocks, consider adding a fishfinder or depth sounder. Comparing the depth readings to a chart will help you determine exactly how low the lake is. A fishfinder can give you a look ahead, helping you spot dangers before you reach them. Some models can be installed in fiberglass boats without putting a hole through
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