Category Archives: Local knowledge

Lake Erie Tides Sank My Outboard

Lake Erie Tides – Wind Driven Seiches

Spring has sprung, and I've spent a lot more time working on the boat. As a result, the number of posts I've made has dropped off. We've had a couple of days of non-stop rain here, so here I sit – hammering away at the keyboard about Lake Erie tides.

Magic Moments has an outboard motor, a 9.9 hp Mercury Bigfoot with an extra long shaft. I pulled it out of the garage a while ago and woke it from its winter hibernation without a problem; it started right up. I intended to take Magic Moments to a nearby ramp to put her on the trailer, then work on polishing the hull last weekend. That was the idea – but the best laid plans…

New impeller, and the one I destroyedAfter lowering the lift enough to submerge the outboard's water intake, I started the motor to let it warm up, then went to check the lights on the trailer. No more than 15 minutes later, I returned to the boat – and the outboard was no longer shooting a stream of cooling water. Believe it or not, the water level at the boat had dropped in just those few minutes, and the motor started sucking air. I killed the motor, lowered the boat, and restarted the motor – but the damage was done. The outboard's impeller was toast, a victim of Lake Erie tides.

Bottom line (lesson one): big lakes can have significant wind driven seiches. In the case of Lake Erie, wind from the south-west can blow the water out of the west end of the lake, lowering it by several feet in just an hour or two. Trying to remember ‘Lake Erie seiches' is a pain (and a bit confusing), so I'll just use the phrase ‘Lake Erie tides'. Unlike tides, however, there's no regularity to the water's rise and fall – the wind simply has its way with the lake. I knew about the wind changing the lake level, but failed to make use of that knowledge – bummer. Note to self – make sure the boat is floating while running the motor, so it can move up and down as the water level changes with Lake Erie tides.

Lake Erie tides stranded this boat on the Detroit RiverThere is a second part to this lesson. If your boat is out of the water on a lift, you may think it's secure at the dock – but that's not necessarily true. Lesson two: make sure to tie off the boat while it's on the lift, even if it's been raised well above lake level. Otherwise you may find your boat adrift when the water level rises a few feet.

The rain continues to drum down, so I think I'll spend a little more time experimenting with the pressure cooker. A nice warm loaf of bread sounds good…