One of the best parts about owning an ATV is being able to go off-road and drive through difficult terrain. When you encounter water off-road, you need to be a little more cautious. So, how deep of water can an ATV go through?

An ATV can go through water up to 14 inches deep. To prevent water from coming in through the air intake valves, the water level should never be higher than the ATV’s footrests. An ATV snorkel increases the depth of water that is safe to drive through.

Here is an overview of what you need to know while driving your ATV through water.

Safely Driving an ATV through Water

The exact depth of water that can be driven through safely will be unique for each ATV. Water becomes too deep when it is touching or covering important parts of the engine and mechanics of an ATV. Different makes and models will have different placements of things like air intake valves and the air box lid.

A good rule of thumb to make sure the water is not too deep is to watch your footrests. ATVs are designed with high clearance, so there isn’t anything delicate under the level of ATV footrests. On most ATVs, the footrest is about 14 inches off the ground.

If you are driving through water often, figure out exactly how high your ATV’s footrests are. You should also look under the ATV and determine where a few important components are. If you know where they are, it will be easier to protect them from the water.

You should also determine where the air intake valves are because the ATV will stall if it doesn’t receive a regular fresh air supply. You should also find the air box to figure out how high the lid is and if there are any ventilation holes. You will want to keep water out of the air box. That means you shouldn’t drive in water deep enough to cover the lid and any ventilation holes. Some ATV models have holes in the bottom of the box, which would limit the depth of the water you can safely drive your ATV in.

The air intake valves and air box openings are the absolute hard limit of how deep you can go, but it is typically best to judge the maximum water depth your ATV can be driven in based on the height of your ATV’s undercarriage clearance at foot level to allow for a margin of error. If the water is below your feet, the water won’t get close to your ATV’s air intake system.

If you determine that the water is shallow enough for you to drive in, there are a few other things to check before risking your ATV. Make sure you have plenty of space to maneuver. You do not want to be close to any other ATVs because your maneuverability is reduced in water. You should also pay attention to the speed of the water. If the water is moving quickly, you should not drive in it.

Rushing water can splash up higher when it hits the side of your ATV. The force of the water hitting you could easily create a lot of splashing underneath the vehicle. Even if the water level is under your feet, the splashing caused by you driving your ATV through water could cause the undercarriage of your ATV to get wet and damage to the engine. Additionally, the force of the water could cause you to lose traction and tip or get stuck.

When you are going through water, make sure to drive slowly. Keeping your speed under 4 miles per hour is safer for you and your ATV. Similar to rushing water, driving quickly creates splashing and water agitation that will get in the undercarriage. Driving slowly will help you have more control. You will also have more time and space to react to obstacles. You will also be less likely to hydroplane or roll when you drive at a slow and steady pace of 2 or 3 mph.

Even though you should drive slowly, you should not stop your ATV while driving through water. The exhaust pipe on your ATV will likely be pretty close to the ground. This means that it can be partially or fully submerged in water, even if you are driving in a shallow creek. When you have your foot on the gas, there is air actively coming out of the pipe. If you stop, water has the opportunity to come in through the pipe and damage the engine. Keep a constant throttle to prevent water from coming up the exhaust pipe.

After coming out of the water, pump your brakes a few times. The water on the brake pads changes the amount of friction you have. Pumping the brakes will burn off any residual liquid, which means you will be able to brake normally again.

Using an ATV Snorkel

Most people don’t need to drive their ATVs through water that is deeper than 14 inches, as most ATV riders only drive through puddles or streams. However, some people may want to drive through deeper water for various reasons. Luckily, an ATV snorkel can allow you to drive your ATV through relatively deep water.

With an ATV snorkel, you will be able to go through water up to 3 feet deep. An ATV snorkel is a special set of modifications that protect the inner workings of the ATV from water damage. The air intake valves and the belt drive are specifically protected. With an ATV snorkel, water should not be able to access these very important but delicate parts. If the belt drive or air intake valves are submerged, the ATV will likely stall and the repairs will be expensive.

The other part of the snorkel is comprised of a few different pipes. The end of these pipes are to be kept above water and each one connects to a different part of the engine that needs a constant supply of air.

These pipes work similarly to how you would use a snorkel when you go swimming. Most commonly, you will have an air pipe connected to the air box. You might also have pipes connected to electrical connections, vents, or housings depending on how your ATV snorkel is designed.

An ATV snorkel will allow you to drive through deeper water, but there are still some limitations. Exceeding the 3 feet limit will reduce the effectiveness of the snorkel. You will still need to be cautious of fast-moving water and should still drive at a slow and steady pace.

Best ATVs for Driving through Water

Adding a snorkel to your ATV will greatly improve its ability to navigate water, but not all ATVs are created equal. If you plan to go through md and water often, you will want to look into models that are best suited for getting wet and dirty.

The first distinction you have to make is between sport ATVs and utility ATVs. Sport ATVs are mostly designed for racing and have a lightweight design. These are not ideal for driving through water or mud. The light weight makes it easier for the vehicle to lose traction in the water and tip while exposed to heavy currents.

You will want to use utility-style ATVs while in muddy and wet areas. They have bigger engines and will fare better in sticky situations. The extra power will help get you out of deep mud and the larger frame will make you more sturdy and give you more clearance as well.

Whichever model you choose, you can and should make a few modifications to make your experience better. While an ATV snorkel can be incredibly helpful in deep water, you should also get a set of tires for mudding. These tires will have a bigger and deeper tread that will give your ATV better traction underwater. You should also get a winch in case you ever get stuck and need to pull your ATV out of water or mud.

Many new ATVs have been specifically created for mud lovers. Most utility ATVs can be driven through the occasional pond and creek, but if mudding is your passion, you should look into something even better.

One example would be the new 2023 Can-Am Outlander X MR 850 or 1000R. These two models are perfect for mudding. They are already fitted with a winch snorkel and great mid tires.

Another great option would be the Polaris Sportsman 850 High Lifter Edition. This model has many of the same perks that the Can-Am Outlander has.

If you don’t want a new ATV but want to make your current utility ATV a little more water-friendly, you can get winches, snorkels, and mud tires for essentially any model you have. You might also want to look into moving your ATV’s radiator. Moving the radiator so it is higher up will help it stay cleaner. Water isn’t a huge issue, but all of the dirt and debris that come with mudding can make it difficult to keep the radiator clean.

What Happens to Your ATV in Deep Water?

If your ATV is driven through deep water, there can be some pretty serious consequence.

One of the biggest issues that can be caused by exposure to water involves the air intake valves. If the valves are in water, they will intake water instead of air. The engine needs a fresh supply of air to function properly. The engine will shut off when the air intake stops working to keep water out of it. If this happens fast enough, it will hopefully prevent water from actually getting inside the engine. However, you will need to replace the valves and possibly the pistons if this occurs.

However, there is a risk that the water will travel past the pistons and into the engine. This would necessitate replacing most or all of the engine, which will be extremely expensive.

Water can also cause issues with the drive belt. Most ATVs have a drive belt, although Hondas do not. This drive belt needs to stay dry to maintain friction for the drive clutch. When the belt gets wet, it loses traction and can no longer transfer power from the engine to the drive clutch. This means the wheels will no longer turn and you will be stuck.

Electrical components in ATVs are typically waterproofed, but this waterproofing can be faulty or wear off over time. If this is the case, water will completely ruin all electrical components in the ATV.

Beyond mechanical issues, it is dangerous to drive an ATV in deep water because you will not be able to control it as well as on land. ATVs have some buoyancy, causing them to float and lose traction. The ATV may tip and will be nearly impossible to steer. Additionally, it might get swept away in a current and roll over.

Be cautious when driving through water on your ATV and follow depth guidelines for your vehicle.

What to Do if Your ATV Gets Stuck in Water

If your ATV’s engine stalls or the drive belt stops working, you will be stuck. If this happens, your engine is pretty much useless and you should turn it off and leave it off. You will need to get the ATV out of the water before you can asses the damage and move forward.

You can try to push the ATV or use a winch to get your ATV out of the water. Without a winch, you will have to push your ATV out of the water. However, this can be really difficult, especially in muddy conditions. If you know that you will be driving through water and mud, I suggest getting a winch.

When you choose an anchor point for your winch, make sure it is far enough away from the water to allow the vehicle to get onto dry land completely. If it is taking a long time to pull out, remember to let the winch take a break every few minutes so that it doesn’t overheat.

Once the ATV is stable on dry ground, drain out as much water as possible. Drain the water out of the air filter box and belt housing case. Get help to lift the vehicle and drain out any caught water. Remove the air filter to dry it out and remove the spark plugs. You should also check the brake fluid, fuel tank, and carburetor for water. It is best to tow your ATV back home or take it to a shop, as you shouldn’t drive a recently flooded ATV.

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