Boating Tips

Taking your boat through rough seas is an art

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Navigating rough sea conditions takes practice and a clear head. Being constantly on alert and making subtle changes in direction and power to compensate for these changing conditions is the key to a safe journey home. Let’s look at some of the best possible tactics to employ when the stuff starts to get rough.


Heading into a rough head sea will offer a variety of constantly changing conditions. Being at the helm, you will need to be flexible and have strength, keeping one hand on the wheel and the other on the throttle to deal with the changing conditions. Try not to tense up but rather bend your knees and keep your focus on what could lie ahead.



The hull of your boat is designed to take on the rougher conditions. The hull is working for you, penetrating the water and in a head sea, it will offer you a good amount of directional stability. Even though the boat might pitch up and down quite heavily, it’s doing its job correctly. All you need to do is point it in the right direction.


There is no need to race at full speed into a head sea as a slower speed will give the bow a chance to rise after meeting the wave. Going too fast will increase hull slap and the likelihood of taking on water is also increased.


If you notice white water, try and avoid it because it contains air bubbles and propulsion will be reduced in these conditions. Helm response is also reduced in aerated white water. Stick to green or blue waters wherever you can.


Don’t take on breaking waves as they leave very little room to maneuver and the troughs behind them are steeper than that of non-breaking swells. If you do find yourself having to negotiate a breaking swell, use the engines to power up the face to get the bow over the top. Next, reduce throttle so that the boat settles in the trough. There will be a drop of some kind but it won’t be nearly as bad as throttling right over the crest and launching the boat into the air.


Rough head seas are unpredictable but this should not stop you anticipating the frequency of sets of swells, particularly if they are coming in some sort of discernable formation. Remember, it is imperative to always choose the easiest path. If you need to vary your angle of approach, do so. If you need to vary your speed for the smoothest ride, do so. Use a slight angle when coming off a wave or swell to avoid any crunching hull slaps and jarring. If your angle of attack is too direct, you’ll feel it.

Negotiating a head sea can be very trying on a captain and requires a lot of concentration, particularly when conditions are very bad. It can also be physically demanding. Next time you head out in your boat and you find yourself in a head sea … you’ll have to keep your head about you.


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