How Shallow Can a Pontoon Boat Go?

No one operating a watercraft of any size wants to get stuck, whether the vessel is as small as a personal watercraft or as massive as a cruise ship. Getting stuck can not only be harmful to your boat, but depending on the circumstances, can be extremely dangerous as well.

Thus, it’s important never to drive your pontoon boat into water that’s too shallow. Still, there are reasons you might want to get into shallow water, so it’s best to do so safely.

In general, you can probably take your pontoon boat into water as shallow as two feet of real depth, but this, of course, depends on several factors.

What is Real Depth?

Real depth is exactly as it sounds: The actual depth from the surface of the water to the floor of the lake or pond. Because of the way light refracts at the surface of the water, you can’t judge real depth simply by looking down (the perceived depth is called “apparent depth,”), so you must ensure a true measurement of real depth.

If your boat is equipped with a depth gauge, the water depth is likely read from the rear of the boat, so take that into account as you start approaching shallower depths.

Also, you should take special care to make sure the depth is consistent throughout the path you want to travel. If debris, seaweed, sandbars, or anything else get in the way, you lose your depth and risk getting stuck.

If you are unfamiliar with the waters, discuss potential hazards with other boaters who are accustomed to the area. Then proceed with caution.

Manitou Oasis Angler pontoon in shallow water

Reasons to Take Your Pontoon Boat into Shallow Water

For some, maybe shallow water will never be a concern, as most of the activities you enjoy take place in deep water. Still, it’s likely you’ll be docking your boat in shallow water, or using a boat launch to get in and out. So, it’s important to know your depths wherever you go.

For those who enjoy fishing, you may find it advantageous to get into shallow water for your catch of the day. Likewise, if you want to spend some time on the beach during your voyage, it makes sense to anchor close to the beach, where the water is shallower, than to anchor way out and try to swim a ridiculous distance in (and then back out). We will add a line about beaching a pontoon here and link a related post when it is written.

Precautions to Take in Shallow Water

When we mentioned two feet of real depth earlier, we were speaking in generalities, as we noted. Three feet is better, and four is better still, but as you get to know your boat and your habits, you’ll be able to find your confidence level.

Consider How Much Weight You Have on Board.

If two people had an easy time gliding through two feet of water, that doesn’t mean a full boat of 10 or 11 people will have the same carefree ride. Always take into account the weight of the people and objects on your boat before entering shallow water.

Consider Your Hull’s Draft.

With a hull that sits deeper in the water, you will need more leeway with the real depth of the water. Note that the hulls of triple hull pontoons in particular often sit lower; for example, the center tube on our V-Toon models is 5.25” lower than the outer tubes.

When you move into shallow water, make sure to trim up the engine, but don’t go all the way up (if you get stuck with the engine tilted as far as possible, you’re stuck for good). Try trimming up far enough that the propeller gulps for air, and then lower it a minimum of two inches. Check that the outboard is still spitting water out of the valve to ensure the engine does not overheat.

Finally, make sure your path doesn’t have any obstructions. Seeing underwater is difficult even when crystal clear, so be especially careful in darker waters.

Read Your Pontoon Boat Owner’s Manual.

The manufacturers specifically design their boats for your pleasure, and they want you to enjoy them as much as possible. Heed their recommendations, and if you have any questions at all about the capabilities of your pontoon boat or your future boat, feel free to contact your local dealer as well.