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Good Morning:
I am a lake sailor who is venturing out into coastal waters. I am a minimalist by nature and am wondering about the necessity of installing a depth finder on my boat. I only draft 1 1/2 feet and have paper charts for the area where I intend to sail. How much risk am I taking if I rely on my paper charts to guide me into deep enough waters and inform me of the danger of shoals. I have a hand line depth sounder to use if needed. Are there dangers lurking just beneath the waves that the charts don't warn us about? I will be sailing off the Massachusetts, New Hampshire and hopefully Maine coasts.
Many thanks!
 

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Did you get your charts printed on demand so they are as up to date as possible? Or were they printed in 1972 and you haven't brought them up to date with each weeks' LNM since then?

Even with an up to date chart, not every feature below the surface is captured. Things change with storms, other natural movement of the bottom.

If I was off a coast that wasn't as rocky as New England I might chance it. But if you screw up, isn't it mostly unforgiving rock up there? You can buy an inexpensive fish finder to give you the bottom information. With a lead line you'll have to be away from the tiller to read it (if you're alone), with a fish finder you only have to glance over at the display.
 
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1 1/2 ft is a very shoal draft. What make/model is your boat? swing keel?

Managing to keep yourself in 2 ft + of water shouldn't be that difficult. Soft groundings in a small boat are not of great concern. Rocks that could hole you in cold waters would concern me.

Lead lines tell you what's underneath you, not what's ahead. If you're reluctant to add a depth sounder, perhaps a handheld GPS with some charting software would be a good compromise; or an Ipad or tablet with a charting app.
 

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Are these depth sounder threads a joke, or have sailors really become that stupid that they question the need for a depth sounder?

Yes, you need a depth sounder. It is second in importance to a compass.

Yes, you need a compass.

At a minimum, you should have:

1. A compass;
2. A depth sounder;
3. Paper charts; and
4. Some clue what you are doing.

Ignore the idiots who tell you otherwise. They are lacking in #4 above.
 

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I went without a depth sounder for 12 years before installing a combo chart plotter/fish finder last year. No problems. It requires you to be careful, but I have to disagree with James; a depth sounder on your boat (very shoal draft sailboat in well-charted waters) is not nearly as necessary as a compass.

Don't get me wrong: they're a very good thing. And if your boat had 5 feet of draft, I'd have a different opinion. And while I wouldn't go nearly so far as to say it's a "luxury", a depth sounder for you is not on the level of importance as a compass and VHF are.
 

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The other thread ("Why Do People...") was kind of a crank. Running aground with a larger boat is no joke and there are many good reasons to have a sounder. However, this is TOTALLY different case, a trailer boat with a 1.5' draft. Do you have a sounder on your Laser? Then there is clearly a choice at some size.

I cruised coastal waters for years with no sounder (Stiletto 27, 4' draft board down, 1.3' draft board up). Sometimes I had a sounder, sometimes not. And to be honest, it did n't really matter. The only reason I maintained a sounder par of the time is that I was writing a cruising guide to some uncharted inner passages and I wanted to have the data for others.

No, a trailer boat with 1.5' draft does not need to have a sounder. Stay clear of areas marked with rocks, go dead slow when getting in close, and watch for visual signs of shallows (wave action, color, see the bottom). Sure, you could get a sounder. You can also use a boat hook when it gets really thin; did it many times.

Some would criticize this advise or call you a fool for venturing out in such a boat. I'm guessing they aren't comfortable in small boats, haven't cruised one, and are by nature very conservative. I say polish your skills, watch the weather, and be careful. I find any assertion that I'm clueless regarding coastal cruising in smaller boats quite amusing. I also find the modern addiction to electronics lamentable; while they are handy and can enhance safety, they certainly did not exist when I started sailing, depth sounders were rare on smaller boats, GPS had not been invented, and coastal piloting skills were key. Small boat seamanship is different from larger boats, with different rules for piloting, heavy weather, and anchoring. One size does NOT fit all.
 

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To me one of the more important aspects of having a depth sounder is the ability to check out an anchorage before dropping anchor. Not only will you know how much rode to put out, you should also know the depths in your swinging circle. I guess you could do this with a lead line but not nearly as accurate.
 

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I only draft 1 1/2 feet
Vocabulary: "I draw 1-1/2 feet." "That boat draws 1-1/2 feet." "My boat's draft is 1-1/2 feet." "What do you draw?" "The maximum safe draft through that inlet is 4 feet."

See the link above.

Short version: a depth sounder is a primary navigation instrument, the bottom shifts around, you may not be where you think you are.

Starting from scratch a depth sounder would be the very first instrument I would add.

Unless you have a quite large crew, the value of a lead line is finding deeper water after you have run aground.
 

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....I am a minimalist by nature and am wondering about the necessity of installing a depth finder on my boat. I only draft 1 1/2 feet ...
Nah...You won't need a depth finder. With that draft, all you need are three 2' curb feelers:



One vertical abaft the stem at the cut-water and one each on the either quarter canted outward at 15º. They're skinny enough that they won't effect your speed and will flex off to shed weed/kelp/crab-pot lines. When you hear/feel them scraping, tack...
 

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Only West Coast experience here. If you don't have a GPS, knowing your depth can be very helpful in determining where you are when visibility is low.

In our ocean waters "shallow" is deadly.

You can get a good transom mounted fish finder, which will run all day on a small rechargeable 12 volt battery, for about $100. Is your life worth $100? :)

Paul T

Edit:

In our area, except for running inlets, if you are in 20 to 30 ,feet of water, you are WAY too close to shore & are in great danger of being rolled by breakers, like the one below
 

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...Is darn good tool.
Will take the drama out of anchoring close in, easier to anchor in skinny water at crowded anchorage prime real estate all to yourself.
Also nav tool, knowing depth confirming position charts/electronics.
Lots of fog up there, good to know/confirm when you are out of shipping channels away from big boys in shallow water.
If you where day sailing in familiar waters different situation.
...Is darn good tool.
 

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Don't get me wrong: they're a very good thing. And if your boat had 5 feet of draft, I'd have a different opinion.
The difference between boats with 2' draft and 6' draft is how close to shore they run aground. *grin*
 

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Discussion Starter · #16 ·
Well I see there are a range of answers all the way from absolute necessity to no you do not need one. I plan on sailing within sight of shore, piloting as I go. I fully understand that soft bottoms can and do shift, but my major concern and question is something akin to," in a well charted harbor say Boston Harbor, if my current chart says there is 20 feet of depth and shows no rocks, shoals or shallows, am I good to go with a 1 1/2 foot draft? I am not averse to buying a depth finder, but I like to know if I MUST depend on something or am being foolish for not having it. As a wilderness hiker and camper I have had great luck (knock on wood) packing only the barest essentials and relying on attentiveness and caution. The last time I went winter camping my wonderful wife made me carry my cell phone despite my objections. One night I slept on an exposed area on a ridge top. The weather and view were magnificent until a storm front arrived 3 days early threatening to blow me off the mountain. The conditions were brutal, starting with freezing rain, followed by winds gusting to about 40 MPH and finally when the front moved through the temperature dropped to 14 degrees F. I lay in my sleeping bag in my tent reading a book by a single candle lamp light holding the book with one hand while I supported the tent on the windward side with the other. In the morning I had a coyote sniffing at the tent less than a foot from my head. It was one of the most magical nights I have ever experienced. I had no cell phone coverage that night or most of the trip and had prepared as if I would not have the cell phone at all. I have encountered and aided many people who relied on methods and equipment that were much more sophisticated, but also much more susceptible to failure. That being said, I would not go hiking now without a cell phone (my wife wouldn't let me and the coverage is much improved) but I also would not rely on it to save the day either. From my readings about sailing, just as when I began learning about wilderness hiking and camping decades ago, there seems to be no end to the products you can buy. As I said I am a minimalist and I have had success and happiness doing things this way. But that is just me. Most people today would not dream of not having their cell phones on their person at all times. I hardly ever carry mine. Didn't we all do just fine before cell phones existed? I feel that with ever advancement there is a price to pay and I like to be judicious in my choices. Thank you all for taking the time to answer.
Warmest regards
 

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I am a minimalist and I, too, stick to the basics.

A depth sounder is a basic, minimal piece of equipment, like a compass and a paper chart.

The fact that it has now become debatable shows how far many of us have strayed from the basics. The layers of superfluous electronics are no substitute for attaining competency in the basics of sailing/navigation. If you read enough of the distress and rescue threads, you will discover what happens when you stray from the basics.

Even with a depth sounder, you will run aground and when you do, you want to be able to back off, not rely on TowBoat/US to come save you. If your electronic navigation devices go on the blink, you can use a basic depth sounder for coastal navigation to help you pinpoint your location on a chart.

Many new sailors would be much better off if they laid off the GPS/chartplotters/radar/AIS/second generation anchors/40-foot first boats, and all the other crap for the first few years so they could actually learn the basics. Instead they take the shortcuts and never achieve basic competency because it involves critical thinking, hard work, and some uncertainty while you learn to solve problems.

Finally, a depth sounder costs about $100. Why hesitate?
 

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Vocabulary: "I draw 1-1/2 feet." "That boat draws 1-1/2 feet." "My boat's draft is 1-1/2 feet." "What do you draw?" "The maximum safe draft through that inlet is 4 feet."

See the link above.

Short version: a depth sounder is a primary navigation instrument, the bottom shifts around, you may not be where you think you are.

Starting from scratch a depth sounder would be the very first instrument I would add.

Unless you have a quite large crew, the value of a lead line is finding deeper water after you have run aground.
Yes, but how much draft do you draw? I guess it depends on how large your mug is! :laugher:laugher

Depth finders are important, especially if you are going to Maine, they have a lot of very heavy fog, and if you find yourself out in it, knowing the depth of water can help you find where you are on the chart.

What kind of boat is this? If it is a dingy or small scow I would not bother as if you run aground you can step overboard, and push yourself into deeper water. If it is any kind of keel boat, or even a sharpie I would get a fish finder. Fish finders can be pure entertainment for kids as well, they can look for fish and try to guess what kind they are! They will likely think every one is a shark though if they are anything like mine!
 

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Here's the deal. If you run aground and can jump in the water and "unstuck" yourself, no big, you don't need one. Otherwise.... please don't become a statistic.
 
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