Equations are derived for analyzing the performance of channel estimate based equalizers. The performance is characterized in terms of the mean squared soft decision error (sigma2(s)) of each equalizer. This error is decomposed into two components. These are the minimum achievable error (sigma2(0)) and the excess error (sigma2(e)). The former is the soft decision error that would be realized by the equalizer if the filter coefficient calculation were based upon perfect knowledge of the channel impulse response and statistics of the interfering noise field. The latter is the additional soft decision error that is realized due to errors in the estimates of these channel parameters. These expressions accurately predict the equalizer errors observed in the processing of experimental data by a channel estimate based decision feedback equalizer (DFE) and a passive time-reversal equalizer. Further expressions are presented that allow equalizer performance to be predicted given the scattering function of the acoustic channel. The analysis using these expressions yields insights into the features of surface scattering that most significantly impact equalizer performance in shallow water environments and motivates the implementation of a DFE that is robust with respect to channel estimation errors.