Ship Manoeuvring


Squat, shallow water and similar effects


Shallow water

When a ship is moving in shallow water the gap between the ship’s hull and the bottom is restricted, the streamline flow of water past the hull is altered and the result is seen as a greatly increased transverse wave formation at the bows and again at the stern.  In fact, the increased size of the stern wave is a sure indication of the presence of shallow water.  The energy expended in the waves formed by the ship is a loss from the power available to drive her, and therefore in shallow water her speed is reduced. 

Furthermore, the restricted flow of water past the stern reduces propeller efficiency, which also tends to reduce her speed.  Usually, the higher the speed the more pronounced is the reduction of speed. 

These effects may become excessive if the depth of water is less than one-and-a-half times the draught, particularly if the ship enters such water at high speed.  She may become directionally unstable and fail to answer her rudder at all, and the draught aft may increase so greatly as to cause the propellers to touch bottom.

The effects are likely to be particularly pronounced in ships where the propeller slipstream does not play directly on to the rudder.  The effects of shallow water on steering in restricted waters such as canals or rivers are usually worse than in the open sea, and are more likely to have dangerous results.  The only way to regain control is to reduce speed drastically at once.

When manoeuvring at slow speed or turning at rest in a confined space in shallow water, the expected effects from the rudder and the propellers may not appear.  Water cannot flow easily from one side of the ship to the other, so that the sideways force from the propellers may in fact be opposite to what usually occurs.  Eddies may build up that counteract the propeller forces and the expected action of the rudder.  Stopping the engines to allow the eddies to subside, and then starting again with reduced revolutions, is more likely to be successful.

Smelling the ground

The effect of water pressure against the bows from the presence of shelving water on one side, causing the bows to swing away into deeper water, is the phenomenon known as smelling the ground.  In a narrow passage or canal it can produce a dangerous sheer towards the opposite shore or bank, but it can be beneficial if the water opposite the shoal is deep add safe.  The effect is most marked if the bottom shelves steeply.

If in shallow waters and with great speed, the effect of squat is amplified. There is very less water below the keel and also there is reduced water flow by way of the rudder, thus the following may be experienced, the requirement is to slow down:

Increased vibrations

Rudder sluggish

Vessel tending to take a sheer

Mud being churned up aft

Acutely a sharp drop in speed.


Squat is defined as the reduction of under‑keel clearance resulting from bodily sinkage and change of trim, which occurs when a ship moves through the water.

The effect of squat is noticed only in shallow waters and then it is a potential hazard.

Entering and navigating a canal/ river or a narrow channel without having taken the squat into account can lead to grounding in the extreme case or may damage the propeller blades.

Cavitations may take place at the propellers due to lack of water flowing past the propeller and rudder.

The effect of squat is to sink the ship bodily as well as to trim her gently by the stern.

It is accentuated by increase in speed – and the only way to avoid be grounded on some occasions is to reduce the speed, when the under water clearance allows the ship to pass over the shallow patch.

Shallow water effects are magnified by squat.

The amount by which a ship would squat depends upon the:

Speed of the ship

The underwater cross section of the ship and

The cross section area of the sea area through which the ship is transiting

The ratio of the ships underwater cross section to the cross section of the sea area is called the blockage factor and as this ration increases the squat increases.