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Still Waters Don't Run Deep - Boating in Shallow Water

Looking for Calm Water is not Always the Right Thing to do!


Still Waters Don't Run Deep - Boating in Shallow Water
Still waters run deep. That's a wonderfully catchy phrase - maybe even a book title - that essentially describes a quiet, deep-thinking person. I'm here top tell you that from a fishing and boating perspective, still waters don't run deep.

Fishing in Florida Bay

We had been catching trout and mangrove snapper in Florida Bay out of Flamingo. My wife's relatives in their boat had been following my father and I around learning the flats and channels and generally how to fish the tides in the area.

Bad Weather Builds

It was mid-summer, and as summer weather is want to do, a huge thunderhead had built over the tip of Florida to our north. We decided to make the run and beat the storm to the dock, and took off through Man-O-War channel headed for Murray Key.

A Lost Prop

I looked back and saw that Chuck, my wife's uncle, had not kicked up to run yet. We swung around and went back to him and found that he had lost his prop. He had stopped to put the engine in reverse to clear weeds from his prop. When he put the engine in forward he discovered his problem – no propeller.

To make a long story short, we ended up towing Chuck across the back side of the Sandy Key basin. Because we were idling along we didn't need to worry about shallow water, and I cut directly across the flat.

The Storm Hits

Somewhere in the middle of that flat, the storm hit us. It was raining sideways with gale force winds as we trudged along. The water was still relatively calm because it was so shallow.

Not-So-Still Water

As I came to the edge of the next channel, we were met with four to five foot waves. Because the stern of the boat was held down by the tow rope, the first three waves came over the bow of our small tri-hull and swamped us. Tackle boxes, gas tanks, and everything else in the boat that floated drifted in and out of the boat. The gunnels of the boat were only two inches above the water, and any movement on our part would most assuredly send the boat down like a dinner plate in a sink full of dishwater. It was the only time in my life that I strapped on a life preserver because I thought I would actually be using it.


I immediately cut the tow rope to stabilize our boat and keep it from completely sinking (we had no built-in floatation in those years). As Chuck drift away trying to set an anchor, we began to carefully bail water out of the boat. It took a good thirty minutes to get enough water out of the boat to feel safe. Eventually we were able to run fast enough to pull a drain plug and let the rest of the water out of the boat.

Simple facts

That shallow water was very calm, even in the high wind. But as soon as the depth of the water was enough for waves to build, it became extremely rough. This whole fiasco burned unto my memory something that I already knew from experience. Still waters do not run deep!

Inexperienced boaters running in rough water often attempt to move over where the water is calmer. They don't realize that the water is calmer for a reason - there isn't much water there!

Pay Attention!

As you fish and run from spot to spot, pay attention to the water conditions. If you're unfamiliar with the area, water that has a larger chop will generally be safer to run in than still water.

Bottom Line

And don't get caught like we did. Running along in calm shallow water that drops to a deeper channel can ruin your day if you aren't prepared to handle the boat properly!
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