How Large of a Boat Do I Need for Lake Michigan?

If you have ever traveled by boat on a lake and an ocean, you know that the rides offer totally different perks and difficulties. Captaining a boat on a Great Lake offers an even more unique challenge in transitioning from one type of water to another. If this is your first time attempting to cruise on Lake Michigan, you may be asking yourself how to prepare.

How Large of a Boat Do I Need for Lake Michigan?

How large of a boat do I need for Lake Michigan? While freshwater boats do not typically need to be large, boating on the Great Lakes is a bit more challenging. You can safely go out on Lake Michigan in boats that are 15-ft long, but it is recommended to use a boat that is closer to the 20-ft range in the off-season and even larger during the season to avoid being tossed around in the chop.

Many people will tell you about their adventures and what has worked for them. Keep in mind, that when it comes to boating in the Great Lakes, it is more than the size of your boat that will matter.

The Great Lakes can be considered rough, especially when many boats are out on the water. There are plenty of ways to prepare yourself for boating in Lake Michigan, and if done correctly, you and your guests are sure to have an amazing time on the water.

When is the Best Time to Boat on Lake Michigan?

Lake Michigan is known to be one of the tougher Great Lakes to boat on due to its choppy waters and various currents. However, many people create their greatest memories out on the Lake, and it is no shock as to why. Lake Michigan is as beautiful as it is large- full of gorgeous views, refreshing air, and plenty of space for water sports. 

Many people choose the summer to boat on Lake Michigan, optimizing their days in the sun for a chance to swim and participate in other water sports like skiing, tubing, etc.

Due to the increased quantity of boats out on the lake in the summer, the choppy waters will also increase as the ripple effect is caused by the high-speed boats out on the water. This can make even a calm day on the water even a bit more difficult to navigate your boat through.

Choosing to boat on Lake Michigan during the off-season, though, will decrease the number of boats that will be accompanying you out on the water. This will simultaneously decrease the effect of the waves that are stemming from the rush of a boat passing by. If you choose a calm day during the off-season, you are sure to have calmer water. 

Whether you pick to go boating in-season or off-season on Lake Michigan is a matter of priorities. If you prefer a warmer day and can handle the rougher chops that come with having abundant boats out on the water, then the summer is likely the best time for you to go.

Alternatively, if you do not mind a cooler day and would prefer to get accustomed to waters that are more still and serene, then the off-season will be your best choice. Ultimately, it is up to you to decide what type of experience you would prefer on Lake Michigan.

How Large of a Boat Do I Need for Lake Michigan?

Is it Dangerous to Boat on Lake Michigan?

Boating on Lake Michigan can come with its challenges that can even turn dangerous if you do not know how to appropriately handle the waters.

However, if you are experienced and know how to handle your boat in this type of water, then you can rest assured knowing that an enjoyable day can be had. Being aware of your surroundings as well as being able to read the water will be essential to answering if Lake Michigan is dangerous for you and your boat.

There are many currents that flow through Lake Michigan which is why it can become extremely tricky to navigate. In fact, there were over 400 incidents of rescues and drowning related to the flow of the currents on Lake Michigan from 2002-2018. So, clearly, you need to be prepared to handle your boat well if you plan on entering the waters of the Great Lakes. 

These currents come from the ripshore, outlets and channels, as well as the longshore and structural currents that perpetuate throughout the waters. The location, weather, and traffic on the water propels its motion and can create a dangerous area for traveling by boat if not done well. 

If the captain of his or her boat knows how to handle rougher waters, though, then he or she and his or her guests onboard will be entirely safe. Boats that are crafted to handle rougher waters will also aid in the navigation and enjoyment of the water.

Rather than feeling the jolt of repeated waves crashing into your boat back-to-back, you will be able to pay attention to the beauty and serenity around you.

How Do I Know my Boat will be Safe on Lake Michigan?

Knowing that your boat will be safe on Lake Michigan will have much to do with your preparedness for the experience. You can do this by researching the weather ahead of time, knowing that your boat meets safety suggestions and requirements, and ensuring proper maintenance, equipment, and care for your boat prior to going out on the water.

Researching the weather ahead of time is an absolute must when it comes to safety on the water. This can be said for traveling by boat in any location and is especially true on Lake Michigan where rough waters are more common. Being aware of an oncoming storm is something that you can most likely prepare for. 

If you know that it is going to rain but that it is not as likely to storm or rain too heavily, then you can choose to go out on the water with this understanding.

However, if you are aware that the storm will be significant and that you and your boat are not prepared to (or do not prefer to) handle it, then choose to avoid the Lake at this time.

Ensuring that your boat meets proper safety suggestions and requirements is another way to know that you can enjoy Lake Michigan rather than worrying about plans going awry. This includes taking a boat of appropriate size into the water, demonstrating confidence in navigating your boat regardless of conditions and including safety equipment on your boat. 

Included in this is the requirement for a safety radio known as a VHF marine radio. This will allow you to communicate with people outside of your boat in case of need or emergency. A VHF marine radio is required by law to be carried on any boat, and thus it should be maintained onboard your boat on Lake Michigan.

Finally, make sure that you have proper safety equipment on your boat just in case you are unable to safely navigate your boat. This includes flotation devices, communication equipment, food and water, among other items. Make sure that your boat is up to par with standard inspections, too, so that the boat itself is mechanically prepared to take on the ride.

How Large of a Boat Do I Need for Lake Michigan?

How Can I Prepare to Boat on Lake Michigan?

There are many different avenues of preparation for boating on Lake Michigan. The first preparation to be made is knowing how to navigate these specific waters.

Not only will experience here help you, but you can actually take a course offered by the Coast Guard. This will prepare you for boating experiences and provide confidence that you will know what to do in a variety of boating situations.

Secondly, you should be aware that the waves on Lake Michigan are closer together than those of the ocean. On a day with chop extending to 3- to 4-feet, this can provide some pretty rough terrain.

If you do not have a boat that can handle the waves well, this means that you and your guests will be thrown about. Consider investing in a more durable boat that is suited for this type of water or waiting until a day that is a bit more calm on the water.

Third, consider the power source of and design of your boat before taking it onto the water. A boat with a twin-engine will increase your speed and longevity for travel providing you with an increased fuel range and ability to power through waves that are coming toward you with more force.

Additionally, a twin-hull can aid in your navigability and buoyancy and help the boat to glide more seamlessly over the crashing water. These among other suggestions will help you to maintain a comfortable, pleasant, and enjoyable ride on Lake Michigan.

Finally, think about if your boat is equipped to push water that has come overboard back to the sea. Boats are equipped with bilge pumps among other equipment that can help with this.

Since a boat could tip into the choppy water more easily in Lake Michigan, it is important that your boat is prepared to push off the excess water and avoid being flooded and sinking as a result. 

An open bow can take on a lot of water, for example, so consider this if you are inexperienced at navigating the boat, and be prepared to navigate well and have the equipment to help your boat in any slip-ups.