For many boaters, exploring different cruising grounds means towing a boat to a new lake or river. Many times, both sides of the shore are visible, and navigation consists of locating a familiar landmark.
Sounds easy, right? Think again, as inland cruising has many different rules for operating your boat, and many hazards that you might not be aware of without the "local" knowledge of the water. So how do you get that information?
Before you go out on any body of water, you should try and get a chart. This will give you a good idea of areas to stay away from. More accurate information should be obtained by looking at local boating or fishing guides, the USCG "Notice to Mariners", and most importantly, you should talk with local boaters. Talking with people at the bait shop, the launch ramp, or the marina will help you find out the information that you won't get on a chart - how the current is running after the rains, how low the water is because of the drought, etc.
In the following text we will discuss common waters that people boat on, and common hazards that are found on those waterways.
Rivers and Lakes
With thousands and thousands of miles of navigable rivers, the United States offers a tremendous variety of cruising options. Rivers offer many different challenges to boaters, and you need to know what to expect before you start off on your next river adventure.
Hazards that occur on rivers vary greatly depending on where you are cruising. For instance, rivers off the Chesapeake Bay may include such things as shallow waters and soft, muddy bottoms that make running aground very likely, especially if you don’t pay attention to the tide. Rivers in Maine may offer great tidal changes and submerged rocks that will do extensive damage to your boat if you happen to strike one.
Other things to watch out for are low-head dams, bridges with restricted clearances, over-head power lines, and even buoys that are submerged or moved by a fast moving current. Natural hazards include bars and shoals, submerged rocks, floating debris (which may accumulate into partial dams called "strainers") and strong tides and currents.
Navigation on rivers may also be somewhat different from river to river. Rivers such as the Mississippi that have a great deal of river bends and also have a large commercial traffic presence probably offer the greatest challenge to recreational boating.