What Not to Do With Your Bay Boat in Shallow Water: An Expensive Mistake

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I was recently on a guided fishing trip with a guide service on a shallow water fishing trip in a marsh. The guide, we’ll call him “Daniel” for the purpose of this blog, was a traveling guide from Florida with a captain’s license in both Florida and the state we were fishing. He knew his way around the brackish marsh with the aid of his GPS but we soon ran into an issue.

The boat, running on a medium throttle, started struggling in shallower water and the bottom of the outboard started to drag on the floor of the marsh. There was massive amounts of mud being churned up in the midst of all of this. I knew this was wrong. The simple solution? Trim up the motor and slow down! I have owned a boat before and it’s a simple rule. When you run shallow, adjust as necessary to your environment. There is a happy medium in shallow water boating. Make sure you run your motor in the water but not too deep to where it is scraping the bottom.  I leaned over a suggested what we should do to our guide, with quite some passion, I might ad, but Daniel didn’t listen. We kept dragging on the bottom.

What happened next was a textbook case of what not to due to a outboard boat motor in dirty water. The motor stopped cycling water needed to maintain it’s cooling function or “peeing”, as many seasoned boat owners say. Then the inevitable happened. The engine alarm sounded – a high pitched noise you couldn’t ignore. What should we do? What would most boat owners do? Shut down the engine immediately, let it cool off, then restart again. Daniel didn’t do that. Instead he came to a stop, put both Power-Poles down to anchor the boat, shifted to a hard reverse, and attempted to try to “blow out” the clog in the motor. The problem was that he cycled more junk into the engine! I literally stood in disbelief. Amazingly the motor started cycling water again, although much less than before. This process repeated a few times: Alarm, stop, flush motor in dirty water, rinse and repeat. Exactly what NOT to do.

We finished our morning trip and took the boat back to the slip only by now the outboard motor on this very nice 24’ bay boat was dropping oil like a sieve.

That afternoon, with a refilled oil reservoir, the motor completely burned up on the next trip’s group of fishermen and they barely made it back to the slip. I must add here, this was not just a garden variety boat. This was the flagship boat from the guide service fleet and the head guide’s personal pride and joy, completely wrapped in that guide service and lodges name.

That next morning, a marine mechanic diagnosed the motor to be a total loss. The head guide was rather upset and he thoroughly griped at the guide who took us out the day before. This case of a “boating mistake” turned out to be an over $26,000 avoidable loss. After all, this didn’t have to happen…

I thought long and hard before I wrote this piece. I wanted it to be a reminder to every one of us that goes around a boat. It seems obvious that you should know to trim your motor up in the skinny waters of a bay system or marsh when you get into the really shallow stuff. A situation like this was a good reminder of what NOT to do in when encountering a situation like this. So I will end this with just a small public service announcement, if you will: Trim up, make sure your motor cycles water and shut down your motor when the high temperature alarm goes off. No one wants to have something like this happen, whether in the case of a fishing guide service’s boat or a private fishing vessel. My hope in writing this is that I have helped at least someone out there not make this mistake, or should I say series of mistakes, that can ruin a perfectly good day out on the water. Stay safe, be blessed and have an awesome day in the outdoors.

Story by Dustin Vaughn Warncke

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