My husband is a blue water kind of guy, but since we moved to this area two years ago, he has been itching to explore the backwater passes complete with their mangrove forests, shallow depths and shifting sands.
So, when I heard the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla 95 was offering a new Local Boater’s Knowledge: Backwater Edition class, I jumped at the opportunity to take it, and found the information from the class to be priceless.
The Boater’s Local Knowledge: Backwater Edition concentrates on six popular backwater routes through the 10,000 Islands, and was developed as an offshoot of Flotilla 95’s very popular Boater’e Local Knowledge: Marco Island. This “original” Boater’s Local Knowledge course focuses on teaching students how to circumnavigate Marco Island, showing them a few other “excursion” trips to locations such as Keewaydin, Cape Romano, the Esplanade and Naples. Waterways in and around Marco Island are the focus of this course.
According to Flotilla 95’s Laurie Harris, after taking the original course, many students requested additional information about excursions to and through the 10,000 islands. However, there are so many additional factors that need to be taken into consideration before venturing into the 10,000 Islands that a separate course was developed to provide students with the background and information they need to have a safe journey intoand out of the 10,000 Islands. Among those considerations are water depths and tides, boat drafts, changing land and seascapes and
At the helm of the backwater class are Flotilla 95’s Howard Laskau and Mike Ludwig. The two men chart a course for boaters filled with additional information boaters need to be aware of the geography of the 10,000 Islands, differences in tides between locations and the effect of wind, boat characteristics and boat handling on a course to ensure boaters have a safe and enjoyable trip.
The class emphasizes the need for boaters to use multiple navigational tools — both charts and GPS — to make their way through the 10,000 Islands. “Many of the charts used by boaters have not been updated in a number of years,” explains Harris. “Strong currents, tides and storms can change the depth of the water dramatically. Some of the passes that show on some of the charts as being open are, in actuality, now closed and filled with sand. The routes that are discussed in the ‘Backwater’ course are the same routes that are used by the Coast Guard Auxiliary during their routine patrols, and are updated and revised as necessary, as bottom conditions change.”
It also reminds boaters to be mindful of the type of boat they will be taking on their journey. Harrispoints out that skiffs, flats boats and bay boats are ideal for navigating the ever-changing waters of the 10,000 Islands. Additionally, she notes all-purpose deck boats and pontoon boats also are capable of providing a lot of enjoyment navigating through this region.
“General consensus is the ideal backwater boat ranges in size from 17 feet to 24 feet. One thing these boats usually all have in common is a center console design, and they are usually equipped with a jack plate and a properly sized engine to deliver the best performance,” says Harris.
The smaller boat models — between 17 feet and 20 feet — are safe bets for winding the way through the 10,000 Islands because they can float in less then six inches of water and run in skinny waterways as well. They also will not have much equipment or large engines. As boat lengths and sizes begin to exceed 24 feet, though, the vessels will start to require more water to run safely, thus limiting a boater’s ability to explore the backwaters.
All of this information will be exceptionally helpful to my husband and I, as we embark on our first backwater excursions in our 23-foot boat. We are eager to try out this information and explore the new routes. Who knows, we may end up loving the backwater as much as the blue.