The water levels in Lake Okeechobee and the Waterway have been very low this spring, prompting an earlier request by the Corp of Engineers to avoid using the waterway if possible.
Recent rains have restored the water level to some extent, and boats are using the Okeechobee waterway. All of the locks are fully operational, with no reduced operating schedule.
Here is a report based on our crossing of the lake on Sunday, June 18, 2017; we crossed from east to west. READ MORE!
The latest Corp of Engineers report (on 6/17) showed the lake level for Route 1 was 5.93 feet. Route 1 is the deeper, more preferable route across. It runs from Clewiston (in the SW corner of the lake) to the Port Mayaca lock on the eastern shore.
Here is a link to the Corp of Engineers site, which gives the daily report of lake levels:
This aid to navigation shows that the lake level is quite a bit lower than its “highest”, based on the markings on the steel beam. An osprey sits on the marker.
Our boat has a 4’7” draft. With our carefully calibrated depth finders (3 of them), adjusted for their mounting positions in the hull, during our entire crossing the actual depth of the water from the western side of the Port Mayaca lock to Clewiston was never less than 6.6 feet. (Remember, the report for Route 1 indicated 5.93’) The shallowest section was, as expected, in the zig-zag channel which runs between Clewiston, and ends at green marker #7 – (which is at the north-eastern end of the zig-zag channel, out in the deeper portion of the lake.)
Two days earlier, another boat, with a 4’8” draft, and a careful observer aboard, noted that the shallowest water along the same route was 6.25 feet; the Corp of Engineers report for that day was 5.78 for Route 1.
You can used these reports, in combination with the latest Corp of Engineers report of lake depth, to
help you evaluate whether you have sufficient water to cross. Remember, these reported depths are
along the exact route which those boats took; if your position differs even a little, your depths readings may differ.
There has been some discussion on this site about an obstruction in the marked entry/exit channel between the western end of the Port Mayaca lock and the lake. I questioned the lock master at Port Mayaca, and he advised that we should “keep close to the the green markers.” We stayed within 50-75 feet of the greens, and the shallowest water we observed was 7 feet.
It is critical to stay within the marked channel, especially in the Clewiston channel, which is unforgiving.
It is not mud, it is not sand, it is rock. It’s the same for the channel from the lake into the Port Mayaca lock… all rock.
We have used the Okeechobee for many years, and this year the low lake levels revealed what is along side the channel. Those rocks are also on the bottom.
Since we were traveling generally west-bound in the waterway, this was our view of “G7” which is the first marker for west-bound boats at the start of the Clewiston zig-zag channel. This marker is at the NE end of that cut, and normally there would be a green day board facing north-east. That marker is missing from the structure. This can make the west-bound approach deceptive, since there are other structures and aids to navigation in the area. The other green day board is in place (upper right corner of structure) and visible if you are coming towards this structure, generally eastbound from Clewiston.
Finally, with the lake in such a shallow condition, it is more important than ever that you cross the lake when it is calm. Usually that means early in the morning, when you can depart from either Indiantown marina (if you are westbound) or, if you are eastbound, plan to depart from either Clewiston (Roland Martin marina) or from the docks at Moore Haven. It is surprising how rough it gets in Lake Okeechobee, even in relatively light winds. Here’s the problem: if the winds produce 2-3′ waves in the lake, that gives you 2-3’ less water under your keel. In shallow conditions you could easily bottom-out. If winds are coming from north through east, the problem develops in the SW corner of the lake….right in the Clewiston cut. If the winds are from the north through southwest or even the south, the shallow channel from the lake into Port Mayaca lock can become a problem.