Regardless of your disposition and your love of sailing, speed is exhilarating, and can turn an adventure into a high-speed thrill. You may have the fastest boat on the market, but you’re probably wondering what will make it go even faster.
Do Boats Go Faster In Saltwater Or Freshwater?
All other factors being equal (boat type, water temperature, weather, weight) boats will travel 1-2% faster in freshwater environments. This is because the density of freshwater means less resistance in the water.
Here are the moretechnical details of what’s going on below the surface, literally speaking.
Saltwater And Freshwater Have Different Densities
Buoyancy all comes down to density.
The more dense the boat, the more low to the water level it is going to rest, and vice versa. In freshwater lakes, the density of the water is lessened, and therefore the boat will sit lower in the water.
This means that there will be a little more resistance to speed.
In contrast, saltwater has a higher density, and so your boat is going to rise closer to the surface. Since salt ions are heavier than water molecules, the dissolved salts increase the mass by a large proportion of the volume, and this therefore makes it more dense than fresh or pure water.
It is through this density that we dive deeper into the question of movement and therefore speed.
Basically, the higher on the water level your craft is, the less drag on movement of the boat. It comes up above the waves more and pulls less on the weight of the boat, allowing for a faster, smoother trip.
You may think, then, that saltwater would allow for faster speeds.
The Density of Saltwater:
High levels of salt in bodies of water cause the things floating upon it to shift in buoyancy.
For example, in the Dead Sea, swimmers will often look as though they are floating on air, rising higher above the water level than they ever would in one of Michigan’s Great Lakes. This, however, doesn’t mean that swimming is easier.
In fact, swimming in a higher density body of water, such as the Dead Sea, is much more difficult. You may not sink below the waves easily in the Dead Sea, but slicing through the water like an olympic swimmer will be nearly impossible.
Your boat may sail higher on the water level in saltwater environments, but the density of the water causes much higher resistance to your craft, therefore preventing it from reaching a higher speed.
It is because of this, that the real truth of the matter is, that freshwater environments are actually much better for speed of a water craft.
Even if you have an excellent saltwater boat on the ocean, the results in both freshwater and saltwater will be slightly different due to water density.
It is a myth that salt water increases the speed of a water craft. Regardless of buoyancy higher on the waterline, the sheer density of a saltwater environment causes more drag on the boat, causing it to lose speed.
Regardless of the type of boat or ship you use, even a saltwater one, freshwater environments are always going to drag less on the craft.
Still, this is no reason to get discouraged from sailing in saltwater environments!
Even though there is an increase in speed in a freshwater environment, the increase is very minimal.
The increase comes in around only 1-2% faster in freshwater.
If you take away this small percentage, you will find that water crafts tend to work perfectly well in both environments!
It is important to remember that freshwater environments are going to be smaller, and will have a higher level of close-to-the-surface fish and vegetation than saltwater environments. Please, even though you may get a higher speed, be mindful of the people and environment around you. Just because you can go much faster, doesn’t mean that you necessarily have to.
So if you’re a huge deep sea fisherperson, or perhaps a freshwater camper, just be sure to remember these simple things:
Pick your favorite environment, care for your craft and just have fun!
What Else Affects The Speed Of A Boat?
The effect of different elements on a boat, in both fresh and saltwater environments, comes down to a few different factors – type of craft, weather conditions, weight of craft and water temperature.
1) Water Temperature
Cold water has a higher density than warm water, and therefore will allow a watercraft to float higher on the waterline. Water that is warmer is less dense, and therefore your boat will tend to sink a little lower. This can slow down the boat.
The higher a boat is on the waterline, the faster they are going to travel. Variations in salinity also cause the freezing point of seawater to be somewhat lower than that of freshwater, so if salt water is colder, it can have a higher density than cold fresh water.
Too bad that the warmer the water, the better for those looking for a great boating experience.
2) The Type of Craft
Obviously the kind of boat you are sailing is going to have an impact on speed. A small fishing boat will never catch up to the speed of a racing speed boat, but neither is it supposed to.
Not to mention the type of engine or perhaps even paddle that you have will affect speed. A high horsepower engine on a smooth, swift boat will propel you further and faster than something bulky like a pontoon boat. A sharp, well-designed canoe will slice through a river current better than any inflatable raft.
Each type of watercraft is meant to be used for its intended purpose, and will have its own speed with a few exceptions. Because, as we all know, you can easily get a great tan on any type of craft.
3) Weather Conditions
High winds may be great for a sailboat, but those tall waves can easily slow down any craft. The stormier the weather, the more your boat can be bogged down by dangerous conditions.
Depending on the type of boat, too, the differences in weather conditions may slow down your ship. Freshwater during a storm, too, can be much less intense than a huge ocean swell. Large ocean undulations, usually affected by major storms, are called swells.
These swells cause ripples that can eventually create massive waves. The unpredictable currents of swells and large oceanic waves, will have a much bigger impact on a ship than freshwater crafts.
On the other hand, sunny days with water that looks like smooth glass can get those boats up to very high speeds with less resistance.
The lighter the boat, the faster the speed. Simple as that.
Heavy cargo or many people on a boat will affect weight distribution and will most likely result in a much greater resistance to speed.
While this may seem pretty self-explanatory, there is also a question of the materials that your boat is made out of. If your boat is made from heavier materials, such as iron on a freighter, it won’t matter how little cargo you fill the boat with. In fact, there may not be anything you can do at all depending on the materials of your craft.
If you’re looking to increase the speed of your boat, make sure to travel lightly and perhaps with only a few close friends. Also think about getting a boat made of lighter materials.
Can I sail a Saltwater boat in Freshwater (And Vice Versa)?
In short – yes.
Because technology has come so far, you can sail nearly every kind of boat no matter the type of water you are sailing in.
While some boats are better for different bodies of water (i.e. canoes in rivers and speedboats in large lakes) you can sail nearly everywhere these days.
Many people believe that the type of craft they choose takes a toll on their speed, especially when mixing a freshwater boat with a saltwater environment. That’s not the case.
Yes, a pontoon boat meant for luxury lake sailing isn’t going to have the same speed as an oceanic racing boat.
However, when comparing two completely identical boats being sailed in both environments, the impact has very little to do with the actual outcome.
For example, in the exact same conditions, with the exact same boat, there will still be a winner between salt and freshwater that will come out on top.
Basically, the question of the kind of boat, doesn’t necessarily have an impact on speed.
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Shelby Sullivan is our specialist when it comes to pontoon boats and recreational watercraft. She is often found sailing the freshwater lakes of Michigan. She is also a light-traveler who enjoys camping and traveling the world. Read more about Shelby here.