Sailing On A Lake Vs Ocean: 6 Differences

Sailing On A Lake Vs Ocean | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

November 19, 2020

It's essential to consider whether you'll be sailing on a lake or an ocean. With this, you'll know what to expect, how to prepare for your sailing adventures, and how to choose a vessel that suits the environment and your sailing purposes.

If you've sailed in various water bodies, you probably will appreciate that sailing can be quite different depending on the location. Of course, factors such as the weather, climate and temperature can make huge differences. For example, warmer weather can create long periods in which you can enjoy sailing. Again, some several pros and cons are exclusive to the type or size of the water body that you choose for your sailing escapades. As such, it's important to try sailing on a lake and an ocean and see which one works best for you. Whatever water body you choose, keep in mind that there are several things to factor in when choosing a sailing location.

What are the differences between sailing on a lake and ocean? While the sailing spotlight tends to shine brighter on oceans, that doesn't mean that lakes aren't great for sailing. Well, sailing on a lake can produce similar feelings of tranquility and wonder as any ocean in the world.

Despite being almost the same, there are some differences between sailing on an ocean and sailing on a lake. If you're an adrenaline junkie and enjoy the challenges that come with huge storm patterns, large wind waves, and chasing tuna and sea turtles, the ocean might be the best place for your sailing adventures. But if you want to sail in a calm and tranquil environment, sailing on a lake could be the better option.

In this article, we'll take a look at the differences between sailing on a lake and an ocean.


Table of contents for this article

1) Freshwater vs. Saltwater Sailing

Before going into details, we have to note that sailing is sailing. Although there are differences, the mechanics are almost the same on freshwater and saltwater. The best thing to do is to learn how to adapt to a particular environment. Freshwater and saltwater sailing both offer unique boating adventures. Oceans are generally saltwater while lakes are mostly freshwater bodies. They both present benefits and disadvantages that you should be aware of, particularly when choosing the right location for your sailing adventures.

When sailing on a freshwater lake, you'll not have to worry about corrosion. We all know that salt can cause corrosive damages to your boat and this may lead to several problems that may require regular maintenance on the sailboat. While any type of water is corrosive to some degree, saltwater is generally more corrosive than freshwater. In other words, freshwater lakes may not cause many problems to your boat as compared to the ocean.

Sailing in an ocean means that your sailboat will always be affected by various corrosive elements. Well, saltwater can permeate almost every component of your sailboat. From the canvas cover that is essential in protecting your vital boating equipment to the paint peel, saltwater can cause serious damages to your boat. In short, every metal component of your sailboat like the hose clamp down to the smallest screw is susceptible to corrosive damage.

With that in mind, sailing in an ocean will mean that you're in constant fight against corrosion, especially if you want to keep your sailboat operational and looking good. You'll, therefore, have to carry out regular maintenance on the boat when sailing on an ocean than when sailing on a lake.

2) Differences in Boats

As we've just noted, saltwater is probably the greatest enemy to your boat when sailing on an ocean. Well, salt is so damaging and a boat that's built for a lake may not survive the ocean. If you've sailed on a lake all your life and want to transition to sailing on an ocean, you may have to pay a hefty price if you don't do your due diligence. You'll be in for a horror show if you do not change your maintenance habits and, of course, your anodes.

And because many lifelong lake sailors may want to experience what it feels like to sail on an ocean, it's of great importance to consider how and where you'll be sailing when choosing the right vessel. Generally, boats made for sailing on the ocean are quite different from boats meant for sailing on the lake. It's essential to have a good idea of what type of boat that's required for ocean sailing and lake sailing, as well as how you should maintain the boat. You may be able to get away with a few trips when using a freshwater boat in the ocean but you may have to do more maintenance and system upgrades to ensure that the boat is almost on par with a boat that's designed for the ocean.

While sailing on a lake may pose a few problems to most boats, sailing on an ocean is much worse and requires careful and regular maintenance. In addition to corroding your boat 10 times faster than sailing on a lake, ocean sailing is rougher and requires a sailboat that's designed with a hull that can perfectly withstand the more intense conditions of the ocean.

Here are some differences when choosing a perfect sailboat for the lake and the ocean.

Hull Design

Your sailing location largely depends on the hull design of your boat. A perfect sailboat for a lake should have a hull designed to work well in relatively small waves and close to the shores. That being said, the best hull design for sailing on a lake is a flat-bottomed hull. This type of hull is perfect for tournament waterski boats and high-performance boats that can easily and perfectly skim across the smooth water bodies such as lakes and rivers while achieving maximum speed.

On the other hand, deep-V hulls are wedge-shaped from bow to stern and are ideal for providing the smoothest ride even in the roughest waters. This is because the deep-V design helps it cut through the waves instead of pounding the waters. This design is not only popular for offshore sailing but also offers better boating qualities. This design requires more power and may not be perfect for shallow waters.

Engine Cooling

Sailboats that are specifically designed for sailing in the ocean must have cooling systems. This is to help in protecting the boat's engine (in case it has one) from the corrosive damages that may be caused by saltwater. Such boats should also have properly-working automatic flushing systems that can eradicate the need to manually flush the boat's engine after use.

Differently, vessels that are designed for sailing on the lake may not have cooling systems or flushing capabilities, and so you may have to personally flush the system after using the boat. With this in mind, you should tread carefully if you want to take your freshwater vessel to the ocean for the first time. The best thing to do is to make a slow start and see whether or not the boat is capable of handling large swells and waves before venturing out even further.

Corrosion Resistance

For obvious reasons, ocean sailing boats are generally designed to better handle corrosion than lake sailing boats. While freshwater boats are designed using magnesium anodes, saltwater boats are designed either with zinc or aluminum anodes. Again, you will always have to flush your sailboat's outboard motor with fresh water as soon as you get back to the dock if you're sailing on the ocean and don't have an automatic flushing system.

Hull Fouling

Saltwater boats are generally more likely to suffer the growth of marine life on the hull. For example, barnacles and algae may build up on the hull and this can damage the hull, thereby slowing down the boat. You may also have to spend more on maintaining the hull and in removing such marine life from the boat's hull.

Cathode System

One of the best ways of protecting your boat's engine from galvanic corrosion is by installing cathode protection to run electrical currents through the engine. While this is of great importance in saltwater boats, you can give it a pass if you'll be entirely sailing on a lake.

3) Weather Conditions

One of the greatest concerns for any sailor is being caught in a situation where his/her sailboat may be rolled or knocked down by the waves. That's why it's always advisable to check the weather conditions and wind speeds when planning for a sailing trip. After all, the handling characteristics of a sailboat may be affected by the winds and currents.

In terms of weather conditions, sailing on a lake offers more quiet and peaceful adventures than sailing on the ocean. You won't have to worry about the weather the same you would if you are going sailing on the ocean. Well, the ocean is known to bring large wind patterns and strong tidal currents that can make ocean sailing unique and quite challenging. Imagine having to deal with huge storm patterns, large wind waves, and being offshore and far away from the support station. This is not only an intimidating prospect but you'll be frightened by the thought that you might be caught in the middle of a devastating hurricane or tsunami.

In short, the types of waves that you'll have to deal with in a lake may not be as big as the enormous waves that you might face in the ocean. While you may encounter some storms while sailing in a lake, they may not be as frightening and powerful as the ones you'll face in the ocean.

4) Maneuvering the Boat

Many sailors might argue that sailing in an ocean is quite similar to sailing in a lake. However, a few things may make the difference and one of them is how you maneuver your boat. Staying on your course and maneuvering in close quarters may be a lot easier and straightforward when sailing on a lake. This is because the waves are generally small and calm.

On the contrary, things may be quite different when sailing on an ocean since dealing with stiff crosscurrents and crosswind is a lot harder. This will require you to head into the waves at a slight angle and reduced speed, especially when the ocean waves are large and there are high winds. Needless to say, navigating the ocean winds and waves require more experience and skill than navigating the mild winds and calm waves of a lake. All in all, you have to maintain control of the sailboat, trim the sails accordingly, and avoid falling off a wave.

Again, you have to keep in mind that the large ocean waves that are generally caused by distant storms are more challenging than the swells that you may encounter when sailing on a lake. The surfaces of these swells are typically calm and cannot be compared to the huge currents that are the norm in the ocean. So whether you choose to sail on a lake or an ocean, tides have a major impact on your sailing experience.

Keep in mind that sailing is always better on the ocean than on a lake since there's enough wind to propel the boat. Again, saltwater doesn't freeze easily as compared to freshwater and this allows you to sail throughout even during winter.

5) Safety Concerns

Safety is, without a doubt, one of your main priorities when sailing. But even with that, sailing in an ocean presents a lot of safety concerns than when sailing on a lake. It's a lot easier to be found and rescued should anything happen when sailing on a lake but things can be more complicated if there's a mishap when sailing on an ocean.

In addition to the huge waves and the unpredictable storms that you're likely to encounter when sailing on the ocean, the open ocean is vast so finding you will not be that easy should you get lost. You may lose your course and the huge ocean waves and winds can take your sailboat miles away from where it was expected. So even if your friends and relatives know your sailing route beforehand, things can still get awful in a matter of minutes.

On the other hand, some lakes are small enough that you can swim to the shore should anything happen. This may, however, not be the case in some Great Lakes in North America as they're very large and it may be impossible to swim to the shore, especially if you're deep into the lake. Nevertheless, the probability of getting help is a lot higher in a lake than in an ocean.

That's not all; the ocean is home to some of the biggest and most dangerous animals in the world. Imagine coming across a shark, a whale, or those gigantic octopuses. Well, these are just a few water creatures that can pose a threat to your life. Some of them such as the sharks and whales can easily overturn your sailboat or even leave you in a very scary situation.

Fortunately, such threats are not available in lakes. This doesn't mean that you may not encounter animals such as hippos in a lake but they're quite rare and this makes sailing on a lake a lot safer than sailing on an ocean. Remember, an ocean is one of those few places in the universe where you can go for hundreds of miles without catching the sight of another sailor. For this reason, you'll always be on your own when you go sailing on the ocean. Worst still, weather reports, cell signals, and rescue teams may be a long shot if you sail too far.

As we noted earlier, ocean tides are also a unique feature of sailing on the ocean. It can make mooring complicated if you aren't properly conversant with the tidal exchange and they can catch you unawares with issues such as running aground, which can leave you in a very precarious situation. Again, it's impossible to drink saltwater. So if you run out of drinking water while sailing on the ocean, you may easily become dehydrated. On the other hand, you can drink lake water should you run out of water. It may not be the cleanest water to drink but unlike the saltwater, it will not affect your health.

6) Size

Even though the size of the boat may not be a great factor when looking at the differences between sailing on a lake and an ocean, it can still be a vital thing to consider. A small sailboat can perfectly handle a lake but it can be a huge problem when sailing on an ocean. On the contrary, a huge sailboat may not be perfect for sailing on a shallow lake as you can risk running aground and even damaging your sailboat. In essence, the size of your sailboat can restrict you to certain water bodies.

In terms of navigation and technology, boats that are meant for sailing on a lake have a less complicated system, equipment, and operational requirements. On the other hand, sailboats that are meant for sailing on the ocean may require advanced navigational systems and technology.

Bottom Line

Sailing is a great and enjoyable activity on both the ocean and lake. No matter your sailing style, these water bodies are excellent if you want to spend a day, a weekend, or even months sailing. Like anything else, sailing in these water bodies have their advantages and disadvantages, so it's advisable to try sailing in both and find which works best for you. Remember, sailing on the ocean isn't far from sailing on a lake. If anything, it may come down to personal preferences.

Sailing On A Lake Vs Ocean: 6 Differences

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Sailing On A Lake Vs Ocean: 6 Differences

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