How Shallow Can My Boat Go: (Guide)

Boating is one of those multipurpose water activities. Some people boat for the sake of cruising the water on a nice day, some for fishing, and some for the purpose of waterfowl hunting. 

Regardless of why you boat, you may be wondering just how far you can take your boat into shallow waters. The answers to that question are as follows.

“How Shallow Can My Boat Go?”: It Depends on the Boat

Truth be told, you have to know a lot about the depth of your boat at its deepest section, which is usually the middle of the boat. 

You have to know the dimensions of the boat from the edge of the side of the boat going straight down to where the bottom-most edge sits in the water. 

If you have fourteen inches from the side edge of the boat to the very bottom, about four inches of the boat will extend out of and above the water and the rest is the amount of boat that extends down into the water.

 That which extends into the water is how much boat bottom you have until it may graze the mud or sand bars in shallow water.

If you enjoy this article, you maybe interested in our article called How To Beach A Boat: (Two Must Know Techniques!)

Know Your Boats

Some boats are actually designed specifically for shallow boating. For example, a pirogue, which is a flat-bottomed, lightweight boat, is made especially for shallow water. 

In the event that the water becomes so shallow that the pirogue cannot move any further and gets caught on mud or sand, you simply get out of the boat and pick it up to move it over this area until there is enough water again to float this kind of boat. 

Cajuns regularly use pirogues to maneuver through narrow swamp canals and low water areas.

Other boats may not work quite so well. An example is a speed boat with a large outboard motor. These boats tend to be too big and too heavy with the motor to get through shallow water areas easily. Know your boats!

You don’t want to end up like this guy…..

Paddling Versus Outboard Motor

Most boats that require a paddle (or two) can move through shallow water to an extent

Paddling boats or watercraft are often shallow-bottomed vehicles that can make it through certain levels of shallow water better than boats with outboard motors because the boats or watercraft are not bogged down by the weight of the motor.

 If you are paddling a flat-bottomed U-boat dinghy through three feet of water, you should be fine. 

If you have an eighty-pound outboard motor on that same dinghy, you will have to navigate that boat very carefully because the weight of the motor combined with your own weight in the boat will drop it lower in the water and decrease the clearance between the bottom of the boat and the mud bottom of the waterway.

The Weight in the Boat

Speaking of the weight in a boat, this factor also plays a huge part in whether or not you can make it through a waterway that is shallow. 

A boat with a lighter load rises above the water line and is not as close to the muddy or sandy bottom as a boat loaded down with several hundred to a couple thousand pounds.

 A good trick is to lighten the boat as much as possible by placing heavier objects (not people!) from the boat into a fishing net and towing the net behind.

 As long as the weight of the towed net of objects does not drag on the boat heavily, you can get over the lower water areas.

If you enjoy this article, you maybe interested in our article called How To Beach A Boat: (Two Must Know Techniques!)

Testing the Depths of the Shallow Water

A lot of fishermen and alligator hunters carry a “poke pole” or “depth stick” in their boats.

These poles are used to gauge the depth of the shallow water and judge the ability of the boat to safely pass through without getting stuck. 

When you are asking yourself, “How shallow can my boat go?”, use a pole to test the depths of the water first.

Stick the pole in the water until you feel it hit bottom. Then pull it up to see where the water marks the pole.

 If the pole is wet at two feet or less, you will have to rely on what you know about your boat to judge for yourself if your boat can go any further.

 If it is four feet or less, most boats and watercraft can travel through here, but you will need to continue checking depths as you go along to avoid becoming jammed up on a mud or sand bar.

Trial and Error Is Not the Best Way to Go

Some people learn things the hard way, like how far they can drive on a completely empty gas tank before their vehicles stop.

 That is not something you want to do with boats and shallow water. You could really get stuck and possibly even ruin your boat and/or the motor if you have a motor on it.

Instead, you want to pay attention to everything listed above.

Really know your boat, know the water, test the depths, watch the weight in the boat, and consider pulling the engine out of the water and paddling instead if you suspect that the water is really shallow. 

It will not only make your time on the water more fun or functional, but it will also save you hundreds to possibly thousands of dollars in boat repairs in the long run. 

If you absolutely do not need to go into shallow water, then avoidance of those areas is an even better approach…

Project ” How Shallow Can I Go” Boating

Check out are article on: How To Beach A Boat: (Two Must Know Techniques!)

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Project Boating Editorial Staff

My name is Brad Visser the chief editor and owner of We have an amazing team of writers that contribute to our website. This team is passionate about boating and have years of experience not only in boats, but in writing helpful, informative articles to answer questions you may have.

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