Can a Lake Boat Go in the Ocean? (Yes and Here’s How)


Guy on lake boat fishing on lake

Many people who enjoy boating on lake water wonder if they can make the transition to ocean water without having to change their boat. Unlike creek and river boats, lake boats tend to encounter more chop and more challenging conditions so it is not unreasonable to wonder if the same boats can be used in the ocean.

Most lake boats can be used in the ocean but only under very specific conditions. Some lake boats are better suited to the ocean than others. A Jon boat is a great lake boat but its flat bottom means it will struggle in choppy ocean water and therefore should never be taken too far from the shoreline. A pontoon boat is similar, as both boats have are shallow draft vessels. However, a boat with a shoal draft that, is used in deep water lakes, will most likely be sea-worthy and will excel in the ocean.

Using a lake boat in the ocean

Although lakes tend to have choppier water than other types of inland water bodies, such as creeks and rivers for example, because they are found inland they can have extensive shallow areas. So, although lakes are usually deeper than other types of inland waters, the same type of shallow water boats tend to be used in both.

This means shallow draft boats, usually with flat bottoms, are the first choice for lake use.

So what is a shallow draft boat and why does it matter?

Well the difference between shallow draft and deep draft is very important when it comes to picking a boat for a specific marine environment.

A shallow draft boat can be used to access very shallow waters that a deep draft boat would go to ground on. For example, a Jon boat can be used to access waters that are only a few inches deep because it has a flat bottom and very shallow draft.

Shallow draft boats usually have flat bottoms which not only gives them a shallow draft but it also makes them extremely stable on calm water and very comfortable to ride in.

On the flip side, a deep draft boat will usually have a deep v-hull and a keel that sits very deep in the water. These characteristics give the boat very good stability in turbulent waters, like the ocean, but means it is unable to be used in shallow waters.

What does this have to do with taking a lake boat on the ocean? Let me explain.

V-hull vs flat bottom

Usually for ocean use you will want a deep draft boat. This mean selecting a vessel that has a v-hull and that probably also has a long keel that sits below the hull. The v-hull gives more stability in choppy water and allows the boat to move through waves better while the keel will offer more stability as the boat gets rock by waves.

Because the bottom of the lowest part of the boat, either the bottom of the boat or the keel, sits so deep in the water the boat is said to have a deep draft.

A flat bottom boat, on the other hand, has no keel and the bottom sits only a few inches below the water surface. This gives the boat the capacity to navigate waters that are only a few inches deep without worry about snagging the bottom of the boat.

As the boat bottom sits so high in the water allowing the boat to easily navigate shallow waters the boat is said to have a shallow draft.

As most lakes are fairly calm, and even those that experience choppy water don’t get anything close to ocean swell and chop, a deep draft boat is not needed.

Additionally many lakes may not be deep enough to accommodate a deep draft boat because they will have extensive areas that are too shallow for such a boat to pass through. For these reasons most lake boats are shallow draft vessels.

The problem with a shallow draft boat in ocean water

As ocean water tends to be a lot more turbulent than water found inland, a deep draft boat is required if you want to maintain stability and safe topside, especially in very challenging weather conditions. In very challenging water a shallow draft boat will take on water and sink.

Hopefully you are starting to see why a shallow draft boat will encounter problems if used in the ocean and why it is therefore not always a good idea to take a lake boat into the sea.

However, that does not mean to say that you can’t take your lake boat onto ocean waters. You most definitely can but you need to do it with care and take precautions.

Taking a shallow draft boat into the ocean

It is possible to take a shallow draft boat onto the ocean but you must do so with extreme care and keep a very healthy respect for mother nature and the ocean when you do it.

As long as the weather is optimal and the sea is calm it is perfectly fine to take a shallow draft boat onto the ocean, though some lake boats are better suited to that marine environment than others.

A Mod V Jon boat is much better suited to dealing with ocean chop and waves than its flat bottom brother. In fact, as we outlined in our article flat bottom vs Mod V Jon boat, the differences in hull design were incorporated into the Mod V so the boat was more capable for these very uses.

Similarly, a shoal draft boat will fair much better in the ocean than a shallow draft boat.  A boat with a shoal draft may be less often found in lakes but they are used and if you have one of these boats then rest assured that it will happily deal with anything the ocean has to throw at it.

Even though shoal draft boats do turn up in lakes now and then, shoal draft is not that well known except by ocean-going boaters who tend to play in shallow areas near submerged banks and close to shorelines. So, if you need to know more about shoal draft read this article.

Moving from freshwater to saltwater

Moving from freshwater to saltwater can also be problematic for a lake boat. This is something most people don’t even think about.

Why might it be a problem to move from freshwater to saltwater? Because saltwater is a lot more corrosive, especially to certain types of metals.

If you have an aluminum boat for example then you will need to take special precautions to protect it from galvanic corrosion. Saltwater eats away at aluminum fast.

If you have a Jon boat then it is almost certainly made from aluminum. It is not unusual to see a Jon boat in the ocean and while the boaters are usually observing all the safety protocols needed to take a flat bottom boat into the sea, they almost always forget to protect the aluminum on their boats from corrosion.

Summary

Can a lake boat go in the ocean?

Yes, but only under very specific conditions. As most lake boats have a shallow draft you must only take a lake boat onto the ocean when the weather is fine and the water is calm.

You should always stay within sight of the shoreline.

If you have a lake boat with a shoal draft you can venture further out to sea as you probably have a seaworthy vessel but always check with the manufacturer first.

As the ocean is filled with saltwater you must also protect your boat from corrosion especially if it is made from aluminum.

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