Echo sounding is a type of SONAR used to determine the depth of water by transmitting sound pulses into water. The time interval between emission and return of a pulse is recorded, which is used to determine the depth of water along with the speed of sound in water at the time. This information is then typically used for navigation purposes or in order to obtain depths for charting purposes. Echo sounding can also refer to hydroacoustic "echo sounders" defined as active sound in water (sonar) used to study fish. Hydroacoustic assessments have traditionally employed mobile surveys from boats to evaluate fish biomass and spatial distributions. Conversely, fixed-location techniques use stationary transducers to monitor passing fish.

The word sounding is used for all types of depth measurements, including those that don't use sound, and is unrelated in origin to the word sound in the sense of noise or tones. Echo sounding is a more rapid method of measuring depth than the previous technique of lowering a sounding line until it touched bottom.

Distance is measured by multiplying half the time from the signal's outgoing pulse to its return by the speed of sound in the water, which is approximately 1.5 kilometres per second [T÷2×(4700 feet per second or 1.5 kil per second )] For precise applications of echosounding, such as hydrography, the speed of sound must also be measured typically by deploying a sound velocity probe into the water. Echo sounding is effectively a special purpose application of sonar used to locate the bottom. Since a traditional pre-SI unit of water depth was the fathom, an instrument used for determining water depth is sometimes called a fathometer. The first practical fathometer was invented by Herbert Grove Dorsey and patented in 1928.

Most charted ocean depths use an average or standard sound speed. Where greater accuracy is required average and even seasonal standards may be applied to ocean regions. For high accuracy depths, usually restricted to special purpose or scientific surveys, a sensor may be lowered to measure the temperature, pressure and salinity. These factors are used to calculate the actual sound speed in the local water column. This latter technique is regularly used by US Office of Coast Survey for navigational surveys of US coastal waters. See NOAA Field Procedures Manual, Office of Coast Survey website.