June 3, 2023

What's the Biggest Difference between Freshwater Sailing and Ocean going Sailing?

The quick answer? Ocean sailing has sheer scale and unpredictability added into the mix. With larger bodies of water, stronger winds, tidal influences, ocean sailing is the ultimate challenge, while freshwater sailing tends to offer more controlled and smaller-scale experiences.

In this article you will discover the contrasting worlds of freshwater sailing and ocean-going sailing as I delve in some detail, into the biggest differences between the two. Explore the unique challenges, breath taking vistas, and diverse lifestyles associated with each type of sailing adventure.

Here, I give my valuable insights into the practical aspects of navigating vast oceans or serene lakes, so join me as I embark on a journey that unveils the distinct allure and captivating beauty of both freshwater and ocean sailing.


  • Freshwater sailing offers unique adventures such as exploring calm and serene lakes, while ocean going sailing offers the thrill of navigating through unpredictable waves and currents.
  • Choosing the right type of boat is essential for your intended use. Freshwater boats are typically lighter and have shallower hulls, while saltwater boats are designed with sturdier, deeper hulls to handle the rougher water conditions.
  • When purchasing a boat, it is important to check its rating to ensure it is appropriate for the type of water you will be sailing in and that it has the necessary features for that environment, such as corrosion-resistant cooling systems for saltwater boats.

Freshwater vs. saltwater boating

When it comes to navigating on water, there are significant differences between freshwater and saltwater boating. Here we will explore the disparities between the two in terms of their physical environments, equipment requirements, and navigation challenges.

In freshwater vs. saltwater boating, there are several key differences to consider. Freshwater environments typically have smaller bodies of water and are more confined in terms of space, whereas saltwater locations can cover vast areas of ocean. Since freshwater is typically less corrosive than saltwater, boaters in freshwater may require less maintenance. However, saltwater boats require specialized equipment that can withstand the harsh ocean environment, such as salt-resistant paint, hardware, and electrical systems.

In terms of navigation, freshwater vs. saltwater boating presents distinct challenges. Freshwater boaters must navigate tighter areas with more obstacles, such as rocks, sandbars, and submerged trees. Saltwater boaters, on the other hand, need to contend with larger waves, stronger currents, and complex weather patterns that can change quickly and unpredictably.

To provide a true fact, according to Boats.com, freshwater boat sales in the US have been on the rise for the past few years, with sales increasing by 2.9% in 2021 alone, reaching a total of 178,700 units sold.

Differences between freshwater and saltwater boats

Freshwater and saltwater boats exhibit differences in multiple aspects. One key aspect is their performance in water, which in turn depends on their build and design. A comparison table below highlights some of the key differences.

AspectFreshwater boatsSaltwater boats
CorrosionLess prone to corrosion due to lower salt contentProne to corrosion as saltwater is highly corrosive
HandlingEasier handling due to calmer watersChallenging handling due to rougher waters
FuelingLower fuel consumption due to reduced resistance offered by freshwaterHigher fuel consumption due to increased resistance offered by saltwater

Apart from these differences, freshwater boats may require less maintenance, given that the constant exposure to saltwater can lead to accelerated wear and tear on the hull and other components of saltwater boats.

A personal experience shared by a renowned sailor highlights the importance of recognizing such differences. He recalls his experience of trying to navigate his saltwater boat on a shallow freshwater lake and getting stranded due to the boat's deeper draft. This highlights the need for sailors to understand the unique requirements of their boats based on the water bodies they plan to sail on.

Maintaining your boat between freshwater and saltwater use

Maintaining your boat in different aquatic environments

Boats that operate in freshwater and saltwater require different levels of maintenance due to the various environmental factors. Saltwater has a higher salt concentration, which can corrode and damage boat components, leading to more frequent, and often expensive, repairs. Regular cleaning and flushing of the boat's engine, hull, and other parts are necessary to prevent salt buildup.

In contrast, freshwater does not have the same corrosive qualities, but it can still create issues with algae and other buildup. Therefore, regular cleaning and maintenance are required to prevent the accumulation of this material.

To ensure your boat's longevity, it is essential to understand the unique challenges posed by freshwater and saltwater environments. Regular cleaning and maintenance are paramount, and using the right products for each environment is crucial. Neglecting these aspects can lead to expensive repairs or even the need for a new boat.

Don't let the fear of missing out on time spent on the water drive you to neglect your boat's maintenance. Proper maintenance will increase the longevity of your investment and provide more opportunities to enjoy the water.

Using freshwater boats in saltwater and vice versa

Using boats designed for freshwater in saltwater environments, and vice versa, can pose unique challenges for sailors. The key differences between the two types of sailing are the corrosiveness of the saltwater and the stronger winds and currents that are often present in ocean environments. Boats designed for freshwater may struggle with the salt buildup and corrosion caused by saltwater, and may not be able to handle the stronger winds and currents. On the other hand, ocean-going boats may have difficulty navigating in shallow freshwater environments, and their hulls may not be designed for the smoother, calmer waters found in freshwater lakes and rivers.

To mitigate these challenges, sailors should carefully consider the environment they will be sailing in and choose a boat that is designed to handle those conditions. They should also take care to regularly maintain and care for their boats to prevent corrosion and other damage caused by saltwater exposure. Overall, adapting to new sailing environments requires careful planning and preparation to ensure a safe and enjoyable experience.

Five Facts About the Differences Between Freshwater Sailing and Ocean Going Sailing:

  • ✅ Freshwater sailing is generally less demanding on boats compared to ocean-going sailing.
  • ✅ Saltwater can corrode metal on boats up to 10 times faster than freshwater, making maintenance more important for ocean-going sailing vessels.
  • ✅ The hull design of boats for freshwater sailing is usually not as capable of handling intense ocean conditions like those for ocean-going sailing.
  • ✅ Saltwater boats typically have cooling systems that protect the engine from saltwater damage, while freshwater boats may require manual flushing after use in the ocean.
  • ✅ Choosing the right type of boat for your desired sailing conditions and taking proper maintenance steps can allow for enjoyable freshwater and ocean-going sailing experiences.

FAQs about What'S The Biggest Difference Between Freshwater Sailing And Ocean Going Sailing

What's the biggest difference between freshwater sailing and ocean going sailing?

The conditions your boat faces in freshwater versus saltwater environments are very different. Freshwater poses very few problems to most vessels, while saltwater requires careful vessel maintenance to prevent corrosion damage. Ocean boating is often rougher and requires a hull designed to handle more intense conditions.

What steps should boat owners take before a long ocean trip?

Before embarking on a long ocean trip, boat owners should examine their vessel's construction and capabilities to ensure it's suitable for ocean conditions. For example, saltwater boats have flushing systems to protect the engine from corrosive damage, whereas freshwater boats require manual flushing after each use. Additionally, boat owners should equip their vessel with emergency distress signals and a VHF radio in case they need to call for help.

Can any boat motor go in saltwater?

While most saltwater boats can handle the difficult conditions of an ocean environment, some boat motors are not designed for saltwater use. It's important to check a boat's rating before purchasing to ensure it's suitable for saltwater use. Additionally, freshwater boats used in saltwater require special attention and maintenance due to the damaging effects saltwater can have on components.

What's the difference in hull construction between freshwater and saltwater boats?

Most freshwater vessels have a hull designed to be close to shore and in relatively small waves. However, boats explicitly designed for saltwater use have a hull built to handle more intense ocean conditions. Using a freshwater boat in the ocean can result in a rough ride due to its flatter hull.

What should boat owners be aware of when keeping a boat in freshwater?

One thing to be aware of that's more of a problem in freshwater is the development of blisters on the hull. These can occur as a result of the gel coat absorbing water, usually from being stored full-time in the water. It's recommended to coat your boat to prevent costly repairs from blister damage.

Do boats lose value if they've spent time in saltwater?

Some boat buyers may assume that a vessel used in saltwater loses more value than one used exclusively in freshwater due to the damaging effects saltwater can have on components. However, with proper maintenance, a well-maintained saltwater vessel can retain its value.


  • John Sixthsmith

    I'm a freelance writer and avid sailor who loves to share my passion for the sea with others. I've written articles for various sailing magazines and websites, covering topics such as sailing destinations, boat maintenance, navigational tips, and marine wildlife. I went on a short sailing trip whilst on holiday as a child and was instantly hooked. I've been sailing ever since. Although I've done a fair amount of lake sailing in my time, my real passion is the ocean. I hope you enjoy reading this blog about sailing as much as I've enjoyed writing about it.

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