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Old 11-11-2015, 03:58 PM   #1
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Florida ICW Deep Draft (5'-6') Cruising, Anchorages/Moorings and Marinas

I've done some searching, and have not been able to nail some of these down. If one has a FD boat that draws up to 6', what are your options when it comes to places to anchor, moor up or even dock in Florida?

I live in Merritt Island FL, and am looking at a lot of boats, some of which draw up to 6'. This begs the questions, how limited am I on where I can go?

Often times our cruising will be limited to weekend hops... out of the berth at noon on Friday and dropping the hook around dark. During the winter, that might mean as little as a 30 mile range @ 7.5 kts. Perhaps farther, as I love cruising at night, but it makes anchoring more risky.

Our eventual plans include the Bahamas, Keys and the weekend putts mentioned above. I've read the 2000 edition of The Cruising Guide to Eastern Florida, and it looks like we're going to be severely limited.

I suppose my point is, how limited will our Florida cruising be on a deep(er) draft boat? I'm sure some of you have FD boats that can share where one can/cannot venture? I would love to hear them.

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Old 11-11-2015, 04:08 PM   #2
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Florida ICW Deep Draft (5'-6') Cruising, Anchorages/Moorings and Marinas

That's a great question. I have also looked at some deeper draft boats and often wonder how a 5-6' draft boat would limit me.

I bumped the bottom a couple of times with my 3'8" draft on our Florida WC ICW trip so I understand the trepidation.

There are some on TF who have deeper drafts and live in FL so hopefully they will chime in.

I also hear the GA ICW can be tricky with a deep draft.

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Old 11-11-2015, 04:20 PM   #3
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I have a 6 1/2' draft and stayed around Isle of Hope, Ga. for a year or so without problems. I did pay a lot of attention to tides and local notices. You will be somewhat restricted in West Fla. Waters as far as the Bahama's are concerned we just anchored a little further out and paid close attention to charts and the depth finder. Belize, Dominican Republic, Cuba offered no problems at all.
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Old 11-11-2015, 04:41 PM   #4
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5'6" is not the end of the world. But 5' or under is much better for the Bahamas and much of the ICW. In the Bahamas less draft gets you in to some more places and allows you to snug up close to the islands at anchor. In the ICW it gives you a nice safety margin.
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Old 11-11-2015, 05:09 PM   #5
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I wouldn't let a 5-6' draft be a deal killer on a boat you really wanted. You would need to pay attention more but commercial guys are running around with more than that.
Much more peace of mind if she is single screw with a full keel/shoe.
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Old 11-11-2015, 06:10 PM   #6
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Mr. KMA. 4'8" (full displacement) here and have been from the Chesapeake to Marathon, FL several times. Only ran aground due to inattentiveness to appropriate channels which DID have sufficient water at the time keeping in mind, as mentioned, tidal changes.
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Old 11-11-2015, 06:31 PM   #7
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We run with 5'3" draft twin engines regularly and we make it a practice to never have less than 2' below. So make sure we have 7' to 7'3". Outside of marinas we've never been unable to maintain that on the ICW. It does take attention however as just get a little bit off course, cut a corner too tightly, and you'll hit whether your draft is 4' or 6'. We honestly haven't found the case on the ICW where 5' vs. 6' made a real difference as generally if you'd hit at 6', you were going to hit at 5', perhaps a moment later. You're either in a safe channel or you're not. We have found marinas with silting at their docks so that they were only about 6' at low tide. Now, with a boat with 6'6" draft, we stay outside except for short trips inside to destinations. (We personally prefer outside most of the time with any boat).

Not running aground is generally avoiding mistakes, whether tidal or channel wise or reading the latest alerts both by the USCG and sites such as Use every resource to get the latest and, if still you have questions ask for local knowledge. Ask dockmasters. Ask towboat captains. If anyone knows, they do. Ask boats you meet as you cross paths. Listen to your radio.

Now the Bahamas are different in that the sloping of the bottom is more gradual, so every foot of draft you have allows you to get a little closer or go somewhere else. We generally have a draft there of 5'-5'3" and have no limitations that really bother us, but there are always boats that can get closer. We use our ribs to do that. Our experience is that shallow draft dinghies or tenders are more useful there than anywhere we've been. We love checking all the islands more closely. We have a friend from here, a very nice guy other than his reputation for absconding with shoes and he regularly goes to the Bahamas while drawing around 5'11" I believe. However, he has been known to pull a tender behind.

Over time I've seen as many boats with shallow drafts, 4'6" and under, run aground on the ICW as those with 6' drafts. Perhaps it is because those with greater drafts focus more on depth.
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Old 11-11-2015, 09:36 PM   #8
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We once took our 5' draft Hatteras all the way south to Marathon via the ICW. Never ran aground. Did a great job of sanding the last 6" of the keel. From then on, it was Hawk Channel, or in/out at Channel Five and all was well. Other than that no issues on either the AICW or GICW in FL. There are plenty of nice places to anchor (which is one of the main reasons we boat) with that draft all through Florida and the islands, but as Bill said, less draft is always better for those purposes. My opinion is that 6' is much too limiting for those cruising grounds, we went plenty of places with only a foot below us.

"There's the Right Way, the Wrong Way, and what some guy says he's gotten away with"
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Old 11-11-2015, 11:23 PM   #9
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It's true that you can get around in Florida, the Keys, Bahamas, and up the east coast in vessels drawing 5.5' or 6'. I certainly have, and know of many others. But, after decades of sailing those waters in monohulls drawing around five feet (mostly Gulfstars and Morgan Out Islands), I grew comfortable with that measurement and decided to make it my maximum. Many sailors share that judgement. Five feet of draft allows you to go lots of places safely - maybe bumping a little here or there, if you push it (which I have done). You'll feel better nosing into a new anchorage, or closing up a little more onto a windward shore in a blow, if you don't have as much depth of keel to consider.

Drawing four feet or so means being able to ease up onto a shallow bar, jump over with a scraper and Scotchbrite pad, and freshen up that fading bottom job while standing alongside. Just don't linger there on a falling tide!

IMO, less than five feet gives you greater flexibility. More than five is limiting.

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