Tips for Going Boating in a Swamp
If you’re a wildlife enthusiast with a great sense of adventure looking for close encounters with creatures of the wetlands, boating on a swamp, bayou or marsh might be the best choice for your next aquatic adventure.
Whether you’re navigating on a mangrove-covered swamp via boat or on a paddling vessel such as a kayak, canoe or paddleboard, there are some essential items you should bring. First and foremost, let’s get the obvious out of the way: a life jacket or vest and other personal flotation devices. That applies to any kind of boating or watersports, whether on fresh water or salt water.
Boating in a freshwater swamp is a much different experience than any kind of boating you’ll do on saltwater. We’re talking an entirely different ecosystem. Less marine mammals and more reptiles and amphibians … and bugs. Think snakes, spiders, frogs and alligators versus dolphins, turtles, manatees and seals. You’ll also potentially be in closer contact with more dangerous wildlife than you would in the ocean or even a river or lake. With that in mind, here are some basic tips for boating in swamps.
What are the Best Boats to Use in a Swamp?
Before we get to what to bring on a swamp boating trip, it’s important to mention that not all boat types are suitable for navigating wetlands. Whether you’re doing a swamp boat tour in the Everglades in Florida or cruising a bayou in Louisiana, there are only a few types of boats ideal for navigating swamps. The wetland waters of a swamp, bayou or marsh are murky but rich with vegetation and wildlife. These wetlands could be difficult to navigate, and many types of boats aren’t equipped to handle them.
Outboard motors and standard hull propellers aren’t always suitable for swamps, as the waters tend to be shallow, and there’s a plethora of plants and animals that can clash or tangle with the props. This is why river boats and airboats are better suited for swamp travel.
Airboats (or fan boats) are powered mostly by car engines with caged propellers above water, as opposed to the underwater props of standard inboard or outboard motors. Because these vessels are small, high-powered watercraft with no moving parts underwater, they rarely ever get stranded. These flat-bottomed boats are loud and fast, skimming the surface of the water at high speeds. They can navigate over obstacles that could stop a regular boat. Airboats are ideal for smaller swamp tour groups, and allow for a more up-close and personal experience with wetland wildlife. These watercraft should only be operated by qualified professionals, especially since airboats are prone to capsizing.
"River boats" is a broad category, but in this case we're referring to large pontoon-style boats that can glide through the water and go deep into wetlands to observe wildlife habitats. These boats are usually made of fiberglass or aluminum, with bottoms that have a protective coating. River boats provide plenty of shade via a canvas or Bimini top, and are ideal for large tour groups. While pontoon boats have evolved and are now more commonly used in saltwater environments, they’re still better suited for rivers and swamps than the open ocean.
Boating on a Swamp Tips
Only use flat-bottomed boats equipped to handle shallow water and to overcome obstacles. If you’re not sure about the depth of the water, slow down, and use a depth finder if you have one to prevent running aground.
Always travel in groups, not just for your personal enjoyment, but for your safety as well. Keep in mind that if you fall into a swamp and get chased by an alligator, you’re more likely to get back onboard safely if you have friends (and a life ring) to help pull you out of the water.
Speaking of alligators, keep a safe distance from them and all other wildlife. In other words, don’t poke a gator with a paddle if it’s in your way or disturb a nesting area. Interfering with wildlife habitats is illegal in many states. Look, but don’t touch.
What to Bring on a Swamp Boat
Whether you’re on a guided swamp boat tour or boating independently, what to bring is pretty straightforward. You’ll want to bring snacks, drinking water, sunglasses, a hat, and proper casual attire depending on the weather (light clothing for hotter weather; long sleeves and pants for cooler weather). Have a windbreaker on hand for cooler weather and for airboat rides.
Besides comfortable, loose clothing, keep in mind that you’ll get wet regardless of whether it rains or not, Bring a poncho or rain jacket just in case, plus water shoes, sandals or sneakers.
Make sure to pack sunblock and more importantly, bug repellent. You’ll very likely encounter bugs, lots of them, especially in hot climates. Mosquitoes, gnats and any other type of insect you can imagine are bound to cross your path, so don’t forget the bug spray. And if you’re afraid of spiders, either get some spider repellant, or don’t go boating in a swamp at all.
Don’t Forget the Camera
Bring a camera, and not just the one built into your smartphone. Keep in mind that phone batteries die, and there may not be anywhere to charge a phone in a swamp, so bring a waterproof camera with you as well. You don’t want to miss the chance to get a selfie with a gator, or to capture the beauty of the variety of flora and fauna you’ll encounter on your trip. Get a dry pack too to protect your phone and a dry roll bag to protect your other personal items from getting wet.
As mentioned before, boating in a swamp is an entirely different experience from boating at sea, and on rivers or lakes. If you’re looking to change things up a bit and satisfy your thirst for adventure, grab a boat or hop on a swamp tour and hit the wetlands.