Dealing With Low Water On Your Pontoon

How the drought is affecting our boating.

Low Water Pontoon Boat

Dan Armitage

It’s not news to most Midwesterners that drought conditions across the region have caused water levels to drop dramatically in many areas. Especially prone are the man-made flood control and water supply reservoirs so popular with pontoon boaters – like me.

While pontoon boats are better ‘skinny water’ craft than traditional deeper-draft, vee-hulled boats, you still need to take extra precautions while boating when water conditions are low. Underwater obstacles that weren’t – obstacles to boating, that is – yesterday may loom their ugly stumps within range or your propeller or lower unit today.

If you do happened to “tap” something below while underway, no matter how minor or what you think you might have hit, the encounter merits attention. Even if it’s just grazing a gravel bed or skimming a sand bottom, whenever you have reason to believe that a pontoon, prop or lower unit of your boat has come into contact with anything but water, you should shut the engine down and inspect it as soon as possible.

The first thing you should look for is obvious damage to the propeller, the skeg and the engine’s lower unit. Depending on its severity, a small “nick” in a prop blade or on the skeg probably isn’t going to end your boating day, but the prop should be repaired and the engine’s lower unit inspected by a professional before the boat is used again. On the other hand, a blade bent far enough out of position to cause a vibration that you can feel at the helm should be replaced with a spare on the spot. If a spare is not available, the boat should be motored back to the dock at the slowest speed needed to maintain headway, loaded on the trailer and taken to a professional marine mechanic or “prop shop” for repairs.

ABOVE: Pontoon boaters who stake out their craft may want to keep an extra-close watch on water levels and tether accordingly to keep their ‘toons from being left high and dry as water levels drop.

If you discover that the lower unit is cracked, regardless of whether any lubricating fluid can be seen leaking from it, the engine should not be re-started and arrangements should be made for the ‘toon to be towed to the ramp, as cracks may not leak fluid until the engine is operating. If fluid can be seen leaking, do you best to contain it by wrapping the raised lower unit in a plastic bag or towel, leave it in the raised position, and get a tow to the ramp.

If your prop is damaged, it may be time to replace it. Even if the propeller can be made serviceable, it may be time to put it aside as a spare and invest in a new propeller designed specifically for pontoon boats – and that’s the subject of the next blog. Meanwhile, if you are in one of the many drought-stricken states, do your best to stay in the channels and pray for rain.