Without a doubt, one of the more challenging places to operate a vessel is in a narrow waterway lined with channel markers. As a captain, I drove large vessels in narrow passages on a consistent basis. What makes it even more challenging is when the channels are filled with traffic moving in both directions. Here is what you need to know about boating safely in a narrow channel.

Positioning Of The Boat Is Important

Despite channels being narrow, that does not eliminate the possibility of large ships and other vessels transiting these types of waterways. 

One of the most notable channels that is particularly narrow is the New River in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. Despite its minimal width, yachts venture up and down the river on a daily basis as they often head to the shipyard for maintenance. 

Understand how to properly position your boat in narrow waterways with channel markers. 

Keep As Far Right As Possible

One of the most important things to remember when driving a boat in a narrow waterway is to keep as far right as safely possible. 

For the most part, the passage is lined with channel markers. The channel markers prevent you from getting into water that is too shallow and puts you at risk of running aground. 

With that said, stay as close to the starboard side as possible; otherwise, consider the right outer edge of the channel. Staying as far right as possible will decrease the likelihood of a head-on collision. 

Don’t Oversteer

All too often, boat operators fail to realize that they are oversteering. Oversteering is common, especially with inexperienced boaters. 

The problem with oversteering in narrow channels is that it causes the boat to become more central to the channel compared to staying on the right edge. 

With that said, pay attention if you see the boat wandering side to side. If this is the case, decrease the amount of rotation of the steering wheel. 

Speed Considerations When Operating In Channels

Look, you can’t just operate at wide-open speeds while operating in a channel that is narrow. There are a couple of reasons why driving at high speeds is not safe. Here is what to know about the rate of speed in channels. 

Avoid Throwing Large Wakes

In most cases, channels are posted with speed restrictions. One of the primary reasons is to limit the size of boat wakes. Limiting boat wakes is important for two specific reasons. 

First, channels are often positioned in waterways where the land is close by on both sides. It is more than likely that residential docks with boats secured are lined up one after another. In order to protect personal property, speeds are restricted to minimize wakes. 

Secondly, you don’t want to disrupt boas who are operating in the channel. A large wake has the ability to push someone outside of the channel and into unsafe waters. 

Decreased Ability To Remain On The Edge Of The Channel

I never enjoy puttering in forward gear because it takes a long time to get from point A to point B. However, at times, it is necessary because of posted regulations. 

When moving at high speeds, staying tight against the right edge of the channel is challenging. A slight overcorrection can push you outside of the channel, into a channel marker, or toward the center of the channel.  

Remember, the boat is more able to react to the turn of the wheel at fast speeds. For this reason, the boat can move left or right in a minimal amount of time. 

Allow Plenty Of Space When Passing In Opposite Directions

You’re going to need to deal with boat traffic moving in the opposite direction. With that said, allow for as much space as possible when passing port to port. 

I have watched boats hog up the middle, pushing the boat in the opposite direction outside of the channel.

The key is for both boats to be as far to the starboard side as possible when passing port to port. Be respectful and allow as much room between as possible. Again, you want to avoid a head-on collision. 

Operate Safely In A Narrow Channel

I have seen many interesting maneuvers by boats in narrow channels. The proper plan of action in regard to steering is simple. Furthermore, the ultimate goal is to remain safe when driving in tight quarters. Be conscious of your positioning. Don’t become distracted driving a boat at any point in these types of waterways.