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The Story of Dead Low

a close up of a bottle

“Dead Low” is the minimum depth a river is navigable. We like to say it’s whatever your boat needs to float. 

For a canoe, the minimum depth of water the boat needs to float, or Dead Low, is eight inches. For a flatboat, it’s six feet or one fathom, historically called mark one. And for a steamboat, the minimum depth of water needed for the paddlewheel to sail safely without crashing on the river bottom is twelve feet or two fathoms or mark 2, historically called out as mark twain.

Steamboat River Pilots would navigate the mighty Ohio in partnership with their Leadsman who marked the depth by casting out the Lead Line, an early and significant nautical innovation used to measure Dead Low. 

The Lead Line consisted of a lead sinker weight tied to a rope marked with ribbons to measure the depth in fathoms. The ribbons were counted as the Lead Line was pulled back onboard after being cast out by the steamboat’s Leadsman. 

The Leadsman would sing aloud the depth of the river as a song so the River Pilot and crew could hear the mark and adjust course. Communities along the river often learned to identify steamboats by the song of their Leadsman.

In addition to measuring the depth of the water, the lead sinker weight had a shallow hole in the bottom which held a sticky substance to collect material from the riverbed, so the crew knew if they were sailing above sand, clay, rock or mud. The Lead Line is incorporated into our logo. 


Navigating Dead Low

Navigating Dead Low is a story of life. It’s the story of charting uncertain and often challenging waters in service of your crew and the communities you meet along the way. 

Safely navigating Dead Low is the story of caring for the livelihood, safety, and security of your crew and their families. By navigating Dead Low, life along the river thrived with commerce, trade and travelers. Those who marked Dead Low remind us of the values our organization was founded on — courage, perseverance, pioneering vision, mindful attention to detail along the journey, and the love of song to communicate what’s important. 

Dead Low Brewing is located in California, Ohio. Yes, the pioneer settlers of this section of the Ohio River named our community California. It was founded by people en route to the California gold rush but who enjoyed the Ohio River so much they stayed. And you know how they got here? Navigating Dead Low.

Navigating Dead Low enabled merchants to deliver quality goods safely to customers. And historically, steamboats were the primary source for transporting coal and barley for brewing to Cincinnati, a river city with a rich history with brewing and steamboats.

We believe Dead Low tells our story well and we look forward to sharing this and other stories with you over a pint and a bite soon.

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