Jet boat lessons – the hard way


Sometimes in life, you need to learn something the hard way. You can do all the research and get expert coaching, but sometimes, you just need to screw it up and learn that a particular impulse or notion leads to bad outcomes.

Our plan of attack today was to troll around Anderson Island and the Green Can until the flood tide started really ripping. We would then leverage this awesome thing called a jet drive (as opposed to a standard prop motor) to tear up the Nisqually river as the tide moved enough water into the lower river. The thing about the Nisqually during the summer is that, there’s not that much water. At about 400 cfs, and with the way a river tends to really broaden near the egress to the salt, you need to be at least 2-3 hours after low tide to really event attempt the journey.

We hit it just right, and we had enough water to make our way up river. We encountered 2 other boats on the way up, but only a few fish rolling. The Nisqually run was a bit strange this year and we hadn’t nearly the success or the numbers or good reports to this point. Fishing in the tidal area of a river can be a great way to hone in on a run of fish. In the Salt, the fish can be more spread out, but on the river you know exactly where they are.

As we made our way up river, I came off plane and slowed it down quite a bit as we were clearly ahead of the tidal push of water and in very skinny stuff. The channel was to the left and to the right was shallower, not moving water that had a brown tinge to it. Now, staying in the channel is generally what you want to do, piloting a jet boat in skinny stuff. However, the very small channel was filled with logs and trees. While the channel was navigable with the right skill and care, and I could have held steady and evaluated the best coarse of action, I instead chose to punch it towards the brown stuff.

You can probably guess what happened next. The brown stuff didn’t have nearly as much water as I thought it did and I ran aground. Not only did I run aground, but I wasn’t quite ready and lost a few seconds before I could turn the engine off. If you run aground running a jet, turning the motor off is an imperative. My Jet pump is basically the same engine as the Yamaha 150hp, but it’s rated at 105 hp as a Jet pump is far less efficient than a propeller. That’s still a quite powerful pump that can pull rocks of decent size right out of the river bed and right through the protective grate.

The grate is important, because anything larger than the spaces between the grate could jam the impeller, essentially cutting off all power to motor.

Not only had I run aground, but I had sucked a rock through the grate and jammed the impeller. An on river repair in this situation is totally doable, but you do need the right tools, which I didn’t possess (something I’ve remedied going forward). There was a good samaritan fishing nearby who pulled his boat over and helped us get the shoe off to clear the blocked impeller.

Overall, piloting a decent sized jet boat on a river like the lower Nisqually ahead of the tidal water push requires skill, care and good decision making. There are situations on a river when split second decision making is required, and a bias towards punching it vs stopping can be the right call. You don’t want to come off plane in an area of the river, where it’s very difficult to get back on plane. However, that was not my circumstance and I’ve hopefully learned this lesson, that when you have time, it’s ok to assess the situation before going for it. The great folks over at 3 Rivers Marine got me back in business quickly without missing too much of the prime summer king season.