A ship moving through shallow water experiences pronounced effects from the proximity of the nearby bottom. Similarly, a ship in a channel will be affected by the proximity of the sides of the channel. These effects can easily cause errors in piloting which lead to grounding. The effects are known as squat, bank cushion, and bank suction. They are more fully explained in texts on ship handling, but certain navigational aspects are discussed below.
Squat is caused by the interaction of the hull of the ship, the bottom, and the water between. As a ship moves through shallow water, some of the water it displaces rushes under the vessel to rise again at the stern. This causes a venturi effect, decreasing upward pressure on the hull. Squat makes the ship sink deeper in the water than normal and slows the vessel. The faster the ship moves through shallow water, the greater is this effect; groundings on both charted and uncharted shoals and rocks have occurred because of this phenomenon, when at reduced speed the ship could have safely cleared the dangers. When navigating in shallow water, the navigator must reduce speed to avoid squat. If bow and stern waves nearly perpendicular the direction of travel are noticed, and the vessel slows with no change in shaft speed, squat is occurring. Immediately slow the ship to counter it. Squatting occurs in deep water also, but is more pronounced and dangerous in shoal water. The large waves generated by a squatting ship also endanger shore facilities and other craft.
Bank cushion is the effect on a ship approaching a steep underwater bank at an oblique angle. As water is forced into the narrowing gap between the ship's bow and the shore, it tends to rise or pile up on the landward side, causing the ship to sheer away from the bank.
Bank suction occurs at the stern of a ship in a narrow channel. Water rushing past the ship on the landward side exerts less force than water on the opposite or open water side. This effect can actually be seen as a difference in draft readings from one side of the vessel to the other, and is similar to the venturi effect seen in squat. The stern of the ship is forced toward the bank. If the ship gets too close to the bank, it can be forced sideways into it. The same effect occurs between two vessels passing close to each other.
These effects increase as speed increases. Therefore, in shallow water and narrow channels, navigators should decrease speed tominimize these effects. Skilled pilots may use these effects to advantage in particular situations, but the average mariner's best choice is slow speed and careful attention to piloting.