Can ATVs Go in Water? Avoid These Beginner Mistakes


Does your next off-road adventure include crossing streams or rivers with your four-wheeler? If you are worried about how deep ATVs can go into water and the risks involved with this activity, you have arrived at the right place to get your answers.

Stock ATVs shouldn’t go into water that is deeper than the footrest. If the ATV gets submerged, the water will go into the exhaust and this will lead to engine damage (sometimes irreparable). The only way to go into deep waters with an ATV is to modify the four-wheeler with a snorkel. An ATV snorkel will reroute the intake for the engine’s air and exhaust so that it prevents any water damage.

My experience with off-road adventures taught me one thing. You never know what you might stumble upon on the trail. It can always rain or a dirt road can get flooded. This is why you should consider reading on to learn what beginner mistakes to avoid.

image showing if ATVs can go in water

Can You Ride ATVs Into Water? How Deep is Okay?

ATVs through mud

You can ride your ATV in water, even if it’s a stock model. In fact, four-wheelers are capable of crossing small rivers and streams without any problem as long as the water level doesn’t go deeper than the footrests. If you are planning to submerge the ATV in water, then you need to consider investing in a snorkel. The snorkel is an attachment for quads that allow you to navigate deeper waters.

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If you follow the golden rule of never going with your ATV into waters deeper than the footrest, you will be good. I need to highlight that riding in deeper waters can be dangerous. I am not talking only about the ATV engine. I am also talking about you because powerful torrents can cause your four-wheeler to drift away.

How to Prepare Your ATV for Water

If the idea of crossing streams, riding through, or even plowing through puddles gets you excited, then you should learn how to prepare your ATV for water. Check out the guidelines below to learn how to make your ATV ready for deep waters.

  • Know Your ATV’s Limits

Even though all ATVs are made for riding on challenging terrains, this doesn’t mean that all ATVs are equals. Each model comes with its unique set of capabilities and limitations. Therefore, you should check the owner’s manual for details on the ATV’s water-wadding capacity. The owner’s manual should include a “maximum water depth” level that you need to follow.

  • Modify Your ATV with a Snorkel

If you want to go into deep waters that go over your footrest, then you should consider investing in an ATV snorkel. The snorkel will raise the air intake point of the four-wheeler, thus lowering the risk of water getting into the engine, exhaust or other components. My advice is to have the snorkel installed by a professional so that you don’t void your ATV’s warranty.

  • Safety First

The #1 advice I share with anyone who is interested in riding quads is that safety always comes first. This is why when it comes to preparing your ATV for going into water, you should first try to gauge the depth of the water before crossing. If the water level looks safe, you should cross it by maintaining a steady throttle so that the water doesn’t have a chance to enter the exhaust system.

The Risks of Riding ATVs in Water

As previously mentioned, even stock ATVs are designed to be able to cross small streams and rivers. However, this doesn’t mean that you should get them into water. There are many things that can go wrong when riding through water (hydrolocking being the worst) and below you can check out the top 5 reasons why you shouldn’t get your ATV into water:

#1 Powerful currents

What takes most people by surprise the first time that they go with their four-wheelers through rivers (even shallow ones) are the currents. The currents can be powerful enough to cause the four-ATV to get swept sideways. You don’t want that to happen.

#2 Short Circuits and Corrosion

Putting electronics into water is never a good idea. If you go with your four-wheeler through deep waters and it gets to the electric components of your ATV, you are in trouble. The components can short circuit and you will have to winch the ATV back to the garage. In addition, corrosion will mess up the wires if you get into water often.

#3 You Will Lose Traction

I was shocked that I lost almost all traction the first time I got into deep water with my ATV. This is because it never occurred to me that when the drive belt gets wet, the four-wheeler will lose traction.

#4 The ATV Can Get Hydrolocked

I already talked about hydrolocked ATVs and how dangerous this can be. This can lead to thousands of dollars in repairs if you are unlucky and the top end is fried.

#5 You Can Get Stuck in Mud

This should come as no surprise, but the terrain is not very good underwater. You will most likely have to ride through mud, and if your tires are not good, you can get stuck in the mud. The problem with this is that since your ATV is submerged, the electrical parts will most likely short circuit.

What to Do if the ATV Gets Hydrolocked

In case you run into deep waters and water gets into the engine or the electrical part of the ATV, you need to be very careful not to blow the spark plug hole. This usually happens when the ATV is cut off while submerged. Even though the first thing that you would want to do is start it, this is exactly what you need to avoid doing.

If the ATV gets cut off while submerged, this means that it has water in its parts and it will get hydrolocked. Trying to start the four-wheeler while this happens will destroy the top end. The first thing you need to do is get the four-wheeler out of water. Now, pull the spark plug and turn the ATV over. Doing this will let the engine blow out the water without blowing the plug. If you are not very savvy around engines, my advice is to ask a professional to help out. It’s better to be safe than sorry and have to pay hundreds in repair costs.

So, Should You Ride Your ATV in Water?

ATVs can go in water if you make sure not to go over the footrest. If the air filter goes underwater, you are in big trouble and might need to remove the spark plug. Just make sure to keep water from going past the footboard, and you have nothing to worry about. The only way to go deeper is to attach an exhaust snorkel to your four-wheeler. Nonetheless, check out this cool video below that showcases what you can do with specially modified ATVs.

Bob Kelly

Hey there, my name is Bob and I've been riding ATVs, dirt bikes, and UTVs for most of my life. Going on outdoor adventures has always been my passion. I love sharing tips and tricks with beginners who are getting ready to join the world of outdoor enthusiasts. You can reach me at bobtheatvguy@gmail.com if you want to get in touch.

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