What is a Traveling Sprinkler?

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  • Written By: Adam Hill
  • Edited By: Bronwyn Harris
  • Last Modified Date: 23 November 2019
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When it comes to watering the landscaping in one’s yard, an automatic sprinkler system will do the job better than anything else. But not every house has one installed, and getting a new system put in requires extensive and costly work. Apart from that, manual watering is time-consuming and inefficient. The traveling sprinkler solves both of these problems, by moving, unattended, through a yard along a predetermined track. It delivers a deep, even watering to a large area, and is second only to a sprinkler system for effectiveness.

A traveling sprinkler has a design that somewhat resembles a tractor, with two large rear wheels and one front wheel that steers it. Mounted inside the unit near the rear is a two speed gearbox which drives the sprinkler forward. The machine’s power comes from water pressure alone.

The water comes out of two connected spray arms, which are bent at opposite angles. The pressure of the water coming out at these angles rotates the arms, which in turn rotate an internal system of gears. The slow turning of the gears pushes the sprinkler ahead at about 30 feet (11.2 m) per hour. Some traveling sprinklers have a more complex propulsion system with high and low gears, as well as a neutral gear for stationary watering.


Steering is a simple matter on a traveling sprinkler. The front wheel is grooved to be guided by a regular garden hose laid out in the grass. It is essentially the same principle as a monorail train running along its track. Up to 200 feet (60 m) of hose can be used, which will give the traveling sprinkler a watering coverage area of up to 13,500 square feet (4115 square m). When the end of the “track” is reached, the sprinkler bumps up against a small ramp which pushes a valve on the unit, which then automatically shuts off.

Although traveling sprinklers are self-propelled, it is still a good idea to check on their progress once in a while. They can sometimes “derail” if there are too many curves in the hose or if they hit large sticks, pine cones, or other barriers. In addition, the hose must be turned off once the sprinkler has finished its course, since it will otherwise remain pressurized. Once a homeowner has become accustomed to its use, a traveling sprinkler can be a great alternative to installing an underground sprinkler system.


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