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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 9
Reading Wind and Current

Learn how natural forces affect your course and how to adjust at the helm.

Yeah, eyeballing wind and current will reveal those shallow areas, but it’s also important to understand how these forces affect your course. That they will move your boat is a given. On every test we do for this magazine, we run speed numbers both into the wind or current, and with them. On a honking tide or with a stiff breeze, the speed over ground can swing as much as 5 mph. Imagine that force pushing against the beam of your boat. (Or, think about how a stiff wind catches your car on a bridge.)

This comes into play when running a channel between markers. You may think you’re lined up with the next marker, but a crosscurrent or wind can push you out of the channel and into danger. Overcome this by pointing to the marker on the opposite side, or constantly correcting into the wind or current from the helm.

In extreme cases, remember that wind and current can push water in a certain direction. A strong blow can stack water against the windward side of an island or land mass. Sometimes there will be a few extra inches, or even feet, of depth where water is forced against an impassable barrier.

Correct Your Course
1. Know that wind and current can push you off course.
2. Adjust your course into the wind or current and apply constant correction at the wheel. Pick a landmark or marker to windward.
3. Pay attention to how the wind is pushing water. In extreme cases, it can stack water against the windward side of a land mass or structure, creating a few extra inches — or even feet — of depth.

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