The Effects of Water Levels on Safe Boating

Mar 25, 2011

Kuttawa, Ky – Those bathtub rings on the shorelines of our lakes testify to changing lake levels. Alan Wade is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and next he explains how varying water levels affect boating.

Kentucky Lake's and Lake Barkley's water levels change, as all of us who boat on either lake know. These changes in water levels can be tricky, especially if you are boating out of the main channels. Charts will help, but you need to know what the water level is on that day to really understand your chart.

Reservoir levels start going back up in mid-March. Most reservoirs fill to their highest level by June 1. Reservoirs are drawn to their lowest level by January 1 to provide water-storage capacity in order to reduce flood damage from rain run-off which is most likely to happen in winter and early spring. When it rains in the summer or fall, the water is more likely to soak into the ground, with some run-off. But, when it rains in the colder months, most of the water will run-off into the lake which can change the lake level. We all remember when Nashville received a historical level of rain, which raised our lake level dramatically with dire consequences for many homes, especially in Livingston County.

These high levels of water affect boaters. Debris floats out into the lakes. Sometimes there are logs and trees which may be partially submerged and pose hidden dangers for boaters.

Low water levels also affect boaters. If you are a regular boater in Lake Barkley, you surely are aware of many protruding trees or rocks. What was passable last week may be dangerous this week, if the water level is lower.

How do you know what the water level is? Go to for up to date information. Select the reservoir for which you need information, either Lake Barkley or Kentucky Lake or any other. You will find the Reservoir Elevation, which is the water behind the dam, and the Tailwater Elevation, which is the water below the dam.

Be informed. This information may better help you to understand lake conditions and travel on-water more safely.

As always, avoid excessive speed, avoid alcohol, and always wear a life jacket!

If you want to know more about this topic or the Coast Guard Auxiliary, search online for US Coast Guard Auxiliary 4 Rivers, for a flotilla near you.

Alan Wade is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, a volunteer branch working to contribute to the safety and security of our citizens, ports, waterways and coastal regions.