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Old 01-03-2017, 19:30   #1
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Draft for the Great Lakes


I am ordering a new sailboat to sail the Great Lakes Erie/Huron/Superior. The builder propose a shoal draft 5'7" instead of the STD draft at 7'1", of course It is better for him.

Any opinion about what is best to sail those lakes?


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Old 01-03-2017, 21:00   #2
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

We sailed the Great Lakes for most of my life, & there's a lot of thin water. With even many of the maintaned channels being quite shallow. Especially if you like to explore anywhere outside of marinas. So I'd suggest going as shallow as you can. My dad's Cal 29' with her 5' draft was close to max draft for a lot of places in the North Channel (lake Huron).


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Old 01-03-2017, 21:14   #3
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

Go with the shoal draft. Too many rocks to hit. I believe some channels are only guaranteed to be min of 6 ft. I have been in 7 to 8 ft deep channels in Georgian bay.
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Old 01-03-2017, 21:29   #4
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

Another vote for shallow draft.

Also, how is shallow draft better for the builder?
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Old 02-03-2017, 03:35   #5
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

The entries to ports of refuge are not dredged regularly so they can also be problematic. Some have tricky entrances.

I've sailed all three lakes. Make sure you get to lake Superior. It's the best by a long shot.
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Old 02-03-2017, 04:33   #6
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

Unless you are racing go with the shallow draft.
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Old 02-03-2017, 08:44   #7
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

Any draft under 6' would do well in Ontario. The Bay of Quinte and the Thousand Islands are wonderful cruising areas. We've cruised these areas for years with boats ranging from 5' to our current 6' 3" C&C 33. Just have good charts as the rocks are really hard.
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Old 02-03-2017, 08:51   #8
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

And if you ever want to go thru the Erie Canal...or the Atlantic ICW...or the Bahamas...or Florida...
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Old 02-03-2017, 09:09   #9
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

I guess I will go against the grain here. I draw 7' and sail the great lakes. I think the key is what is the primary use of the boat. Will you gunkhole and travel by motor a lot? Will you sail a lot and aggressively? The Lakes can get rough and I like to have as much stability as possible which comes more from a deep keel. I assume a boat with a shallow draft of 5'7" is new or fairly new so I assume chartplotter on board. Use it.

I have never hit bottom on the Lakes and have been in some skinny places. Know what you are into before you go there. My only contact to date in 6 years was in the Champlain Canal and it was my own stupidity. There are always work arounds for skinny water if you want the extra stability.

I have discussed my keel with Wally Moran on a number of occasions and he says the same thing. You can do the ditch just be careful and play the tides. Same with Bahamas. So I would say same with the Great Lakes. The most important thing once you make your choice is get out there every chance you get. There is a reason they are called the "Great" Lakes. Also if buying new, I am sure your dealer will push you to shallow keel because spec boats would not be made with deep keels in my experience. My deep keel took two months to wait but it was winter anyway. After 6 years I doubt I will ever go back to a shoal keel. Just my very humble opinion.
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Old 02-03-2017, 09:10   #10
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

Another vote for shoal draft.

If you are inclined to anchor in more secluded places, many of these places are accessible only by shallower draft.

Severe storms are common; the closer into a cove you can get, the better protection you will enjoy.

Finally, in late season (arguably the most beautiful time) the water levels can be much lower than high season. This can be a problem docking and/or being hauled. In our marina the 7' draft boats haul early.
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Old 02-03-2017, 09:26   #11
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

Our boat is in Georgian Bay and I have sailed the other Great Lakes as well. My vote is the shoal draft however, I also agree with "ardbeg" that a deep draft is very doable. The shoal draft gives you more options as Tetepare has pointed out.

Our boat has a 4' 3" draft and which allows us to get into tighter channels and anchorages.
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Old 02-03-2017, 09:32   #12
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

This is a constant debate, and depends on what you want to do with that boat (... all boats are a compromise ...). Since you know where you want to cruise, why not get some charts and figure out what is going to be ruled out by that extra 1.5 foot (46 cm) of keel. From my understanding, the middle of the lakes are pretty deep, so the only time you're in danger is when you're going slow. Lake Eire is the shallower, particularly the west side. Another good resource is Active Captain, where you can check the navigation info with actual depths. AC is crowd sourced, however, so you have to be cautious with that info. You won't have to worry about either draft in shipping lanes / channels. Pick some smaller harbors that you'd like to visit and see if that 1.5 foot will prevent you from going in. For my part, my 6 foot draft hasn't stopped me from going to places that I really wanted to get to, and perhaps it has meant a little longer dinghy ride to get to a deserted beach. At least you won't have to worry about tides!

By the way, here is a great link for US Corp of Engineer's historical and estimates of water levels in relation to Chart Datum heights. The last two years (and this year) look good, but we have had some low years in the recent past. +1 to Tetepare's comments about seasonal fluctuation and how pretty fall is.
Detroit District > Missions > Great Lakes Information > Great Lakes Water Levels > Water Level Forecast > Monthly Bulletin of Great Lakes Water Levels
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Old 02-03-2017, 09:52   #13
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

Ive known Great Lakes boats with 7+ draft, but they are rare. It can certainly be done, but you will be more restricted in some areas. Some areas will be off limits, and you wont be anchoring quite as close to shore, or up in some tight areas, as others. This is an infinitely regressive argument though: 4' is better than 5, 5 is better than 6 Keel depth, like all things on a boat, is always a double-edged sword.

But it also depends on where you sail. Superior would be less of a problem. Huron as well. Georgian Bay, North Channel would present additional challenges. Lake Erie would be scarier. L. Ontario is pretty good, except at the east end of the Lake (Bay of Quinte/1000 Islands). I dont know about Michigan.

I sail with 6 keel. At this draft I am barred from some areas and challenged in others. Last season on Lake Ontario the water levels dropped precipitously near the mid/end of September (I guess this is normal). We barely made it back into our home marina in the Bay of Quinte. If I were staying on the Great Lakes Id want something closer to 5.
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Old 02-03-2017, 09:58   #14
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

Remember walking out into Lake Huron and Lake Michigan as a youth what seemed like forever before water was up to my neck. Little sailing experience but my parents cottage bluff alternately got eaten as the Lake rose in wet years or left a long ways from the water when rainfall was minimal and the Lake level would drop by many feet.

The benefit of the righting effect of a deeper keel is a little over stated. Most shallow draft keels, not keel center boards, have much of their weight at the bottom in the form of a bulb effect like the Scheel or a winged keel. The weight is carried low and has a much greater effect than deeper straight keel. The argument for a deeper keel has as much to do with reducing leeway as aiding stability. There is a discussion somewhere else on this board about the calculated stiffness by some formula related to depth of keel. The numbers for a deep and shallow keel version of a Beneteau or some other stock boat were identical probably because of how deep the weight of the keel was carried.

I'd go with the shallow draft if cruising was my intent. Racers will put up with a god awful amount of inconvenience in the pursuit of ultimate speed. Something the more sensible rest of us won't put up with.
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Old 02-03-2017, 11:01   #15
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Re: Draft for the Great Lakes

Roverhi absolutely the leeway is important with keel depth. I guess my sensitivity is that I had one of the late model winged ( shallow) keel and was not comfortable with it for stability or leeway. For me the boat handling is more important than a couple of coves. I agree with the comment about lake levels in September. I have had problems getting near to some pump out stations when water level gets to less than 1.0 meter from datum. I have come out at both Bath and Portsmouth in later October. Re previous comment, I am not sure I would go to Bay of Quinte at any time with my keel. Re 1000 Islands, I do it all the time, the rocks are dangerous but 3 feet of water is not going to make much of a difference in 1000 islands. You have to know where you are going. 1000 Islands can go from 200 feet deep to 5 feet deep in a couple seconds. I have not done Superior yet, it is on my bucket list.

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