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I have a 12-foot aluminum boat with a 2.5 hp motor that I want to use on various lakes in Northeastern Ontario.

The lakes are small, remote lakes that aren't on navigational charts. There are a few lakes that have bathymetry maps (lake depth maps) in the Fish ON-Line web map, in the Ontario GeoHub Historic Bathymetry Map PDFs, and in local fishing books/paper maps. But most lakes don't have bathymetry information available.

The lakes are unfamiliar to me and many of them don't have cottages/residences on them so the locals haven't marked hazards in the water with homemade buoys, etc. Regardless, it's risky to rely on homemade buoys anyway — they often mark some, but not all hazards.

I've been reluctant to go boating on these lakes because I know from canoeing in the general area that the lakes often have rocky shallow spots in the middle of the lakes.

How can I boat safely on lakes when I suspect there are hazards? Is my only option to survey the entire lake by canoe or slowly by boat (when the water is calm, using polarized sunglasses so I can see down into the water) and make a mental map of rocks, logs, and low spots in the water? Is there anything else I can do that would help?

I know it would be ideal if I could ask people who live in the area. But there aren't many people to ask in these parts, at least not without walking down private driveways and banging on doors, which seems dodgy in such a remote area.

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    Going slow in uncharted waters is a sound practice. You might consider flying a drone to get some more info. A good fish finder pointed forward may help as well.
    – Jon Custer
    Aug 15, 2023 at 16:59
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    your locals are probably online ... check facebook lake by lake for "Friends of Lake Whatever" and "Lake Whatever Property Owners Association" and so on. Ask them what you need to worry about -- and PAY ATTENTION if they tell you to go slow through the narrows or other things that are more etiquette than safety. Aug 15, 2023 at 17:44
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    Do you have a budget? There are fancy fish finders that can scope out 360° views or forward facing sonar.
    – Dave X
    Aug 15, 2023 at 21:32
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    The local conservation officer, forest Ranger or park Ranger would be able aid you in this. I have found fishing spots no one would have found except with their help. They often have access to data we not.
    – Ken Graham
    Aug 16, 2023 at 12:59
  • Get a - float capable - 406Mhz PLB emergency beacon as well. You're going to be going slow with that boat anyway - see first comment. But if you do get in trouble, don't count on getting any help thru cell phones. Aug 19, 2023 at 0:11

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How can I boat safely on lakes when I suspect there are hazards? Is my only option to survey the entire lake by canoe or slowly by boat (when the water is calm, using polarized sunglasses so I can see down into the water) and make a mental map of rocks, logs, and low spots in the water?>

Two words for that "Wishful thinking" ;) Do you really think you'll remember each spot and its precise location? you won't trust me... However, I commend your desire to survey the area first because that's the best thing to do!

This being said, here are some suggestions:

Using polarized sunglasses can only do so much. The very first thing you should do, since there's no one living on the lake, is to go to the nearest town and eat breakfast at the local restaurant. You'll often see "old timers" having breakfast or coffee together there. Ask them about the lake you plan to visit. They might be able to give you some very good indication and/or to tell you who could. That's the very first thing to do. Besides that, they might even tell you where to fish on the lake and what lure to use :) The second thing is to do a survey. You could either use your boat and go very slowly or use a canoe first. I remember a long time ago when a friend of mine was swimming in the lake and then stood upright in the middle of it with water to his knees only. A few days later a guy came with his boat (inboard engine) and refused to listen to us when we wanted to tell him about the lake. He was going full speed when he crashed into one of the numerous shoals LOL. The best to survey is a canoe, however, it could take ages depending on the lake! The second best is if you have a small boat with an outboard engine. The new ones have a safety allowing for it to lift if you hit something (shoal, log, rock, etc.), and you should be okay if you go slowly. It would also be a good thing to use a fishing sonar since it indicates the depth and also the slope telling in advance that a shoal could be ahead.

And the last, and most painful, way to do it. Is to go on a canoe and use a line with a weight at the end and note the depth each time. This could take years and don't forget that a shoal or a big rock could be tiny so you'd need to survey the lake at every foot.

Bottom line, you have an outboard engine and a small 2.5hp, right? So just make sure the safety is working perfectly, then survey the lake slowly and note the hazards on a self-made map. Or just go slowly and enjoy fishing if it's what you plan to do.

Have fun!

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