Best Boating Practices: Protect Your Boat & The Environment

Maverick Boat Crossing Shallow Water Flats in Florida Keys. Photo: Ian Wilson-Navarro. Flats boat crossing shallow water shoals in the Florida Keys. Photo: Ian Wilson-Navarro.

Whether you’ve boated for years or have recently purchased your very first boat, it’s important to protect your investment, as well as your passengers, yourself and the environment that we all enjoy. By following a few rules of the water we can do all three. That’s why Boat Trader is working on a series of articles about best boating practices. Here we’ll take a look at shallow water boating tips and advice.

Shallow Water Boating: From Shoals to Seagrass And Flats

First, watch out for shallow water. Shallow waters, whether they are rocky shoals, seagrass flats or sandbars, are everywhere we boat. If we accidentally hit them and run aground, it makes for a bad day on the water as we wait for the tide to come in and float the boat. If we brush these habitats, engines suck up sand and dirt that clogs and breaks important parts in the engine needed to keep it cool. Hitting flats can also cause serious damage to engines boat and hulls.

“Seagrass or sand impacts can cause blockage in the water cooling channels and cause overheating,” says marine mechanic Jason Weaver of The Straight Line Marine. “It can also breakdown the integrity of the impeller/water pump.”

Repairs for such damage can reach upwards of $200. And if these repairs are not addressed immediately, they can break your engine beyond repair. Potential damage from hitting hard-bottom flats or rocky coral can be even more costly.

“Damage to your outboard can vary from prop ($100-$400), to prop hub ($30-50), to skeg ($150-$200), to prop shaft ($300 just to straighten), to entire lower unit ($2000-$3000),” says Weaver. “The worst cast scenario is damage can travel all the way to the engine block, which means you have to buy a new engine.”

Prop Scars: What Are They And Why Do They Matter?

Apart from boat damage, running over these shallow waters hurts our shallow water habitats, which are essential for our valuable recreational fisheries. Those habitats also trap sand and dirt suspended in the water, which keeps our waters clear. When we run over those shallow waters, we kill the seagrasses, creating a scar on the habitat. “These scars take four to seven years to recover, which means a little mistake on the water causes long term damage,” says Dr. Ross Boucek, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust’s Florida Keys Initiative Manager.

When we create enough scars, those seagrass meadows produce less food for fish, and provide less places for them to hide, increasing their risk of being eaten by sharks and other predators. Together, these scars reduce how many fish we have to catch in the surrounding areas.

Tips For Boating In Shallow Water

To decrease your chances of hitting shallow waters keep these tips in mind

  1. If you see shallow water, don’t risk it. You should either idle over it or run around it. If you begin to come in contact with the bottom, back out and run around that area.
  2. Use your eyes to navigate; rely on your GPS unit only as a navigational aid.
  3. Treat yourself to a nice pair of Polarized sunglasses. These glasses allow you to see those shallow waters much easier.
  4. If you’re boating in an area that you’re unfamiliar with, avoid driving in those areas at sunset and sunrise and at night when navigational hazards are harder to see.

Avoiding shallow waters will save you the headache and costs of engine repair, keep our fisheries thriving, and our waters clean.

Written by: rossboucek

Dr. Ross Boucek is a fisheries biologist who facilitates research on permit, bonefish and tarpon in the Florida Keys. He works closely with the angler community and management agencies to pass boating and fishing regulations and conservation measures that help protect and improve fisheries. He lives on his 31-foot, 1977 Searunner sailboat named "Barbara Jean" in the Florida Keys.

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