what should you do when operating a boat in large waves

What Should You Do When Operating a Boat in Large Waves?

There’s nothing that can make you feel quite as small and scared as boating amidst a raging sea. Strong winds, high waves, and crashing waters can rattle even the most experienced boaters, causing a sense of panic to grip the senses and cloud judgement. But don’t let the situation get the best of you.

While it might seem like you’re at the mercy of Mother Nature’s wrath, there’s actually a lot you can do to navigate those tough waters and make your way to safety in one piece. So what should you do when operating a boat in large waves? Here’s the low down.

What to Do in Large Waves

According to the Boat Ed Exam study guide, the first thing you have to do is to instruct everyone on board to wear their life jacket. The quizlet also states that in some cases, you might be able to ride out the large waves and make your way to the nearest dock or shore. But if you’re already caught in a storm and the conditions prove difficult to navigate, you may want to consider riding out the harsh weather before you move along.

Under no circumstances are you encouraged to take on breaking waves. These waves can capsize even the largest, most powerful boats. So try to braze yourself and keep your passengers secure while you wait the conditions to get better.

How to Operate a Boat in Rough Seas

There are some serious dangers to navigating choppy waves in stormy conditions, including falling overboard and capsizing. If you decide that you might be able to inch your way to shore without costing your safety, see to it that you observe the following guidelines:

Go Slow

Dial down your speed to less than 10 mph so you can carefully navigate the waves. The slower you go, the less your engine has to fight against the conditions. This also means that your boat won’t resist the waves and thus cause too much dipping at the stern.

Avoid Meeting the Waves Head-on

Keep your bow at a 45° angle against the oncoming waves. If you’re navigating a smaller PWC however, you might be able to get away with meeting the waves dead center.

Keep your Passengers Low and Centered

If there are other people on your boat, tell them to stay closer to the center of the deck. It might also help to ask them to sit down on the deck floor to centralize the boat’s center of gravity.

Empty the Bilge

Turn on your bilge pump and get rid of any excess water. This should allow your vessel to sit higher on the water so that you aren’t as easily overcome by strong waves.

Toss an Anchor

If a full-on storm is assailing your boat and your engine gives up on you, then it might be time to throw out your anchor. See to it that you deploy the anchor from the bow of the boat. This should keep you from drifting, and may help reduce the chances of swamping.

Tips for Boating in Rough Water Conditions

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No one ever wants to be caught in rough waters. But even with all the preparations, you might still find yourself muscling it out with strong waves if and when Mother Nature decides to throw a curve ball. If that’s the case, then you might want to keep these tips in mind:

  • If a storm has already started, you should see to it that you turn off all of your electrical equipment. Although it's not likely for lightning to strike a boat, there's no reason to play with the chances.
  • Keep all loose objects and personal effects safely stowed away. See to it that storage boxes and other loose items on the boat are tethered or secured somehow so they don’t end up sliding across the deck.
  • Close all hatches and portholes. Seal off any entry points that might be cause your boat to take on water. Large crashing waves can force water into your cabin and deck, weighing down your boat and making it sit lower in the water.
  • Don’t rush it. Go at a slow pace and work your way to the nearest shore or dock. Visibility can be severely affected during a storm, and rushing into the waves could cause you to crash into objects in the water that you might not see if you’re going too fast.
  • Monitor the weather while you’re out on the water. If you have a radio or any sort of device that you can use to get weather updates, keep it close at hand so you can anticipate potential danger and get out of the water before a storm strikes.
  • Know the waters you’re in. Before you even leave, you have to do your fair share of research to make sure you know the conditions that are typical to the water you’re boating in. The local marina should be able to tell you the typical height of the waves that occur on the water so you know what to expect if things get a little choppy.
  • Pay close attention to changes in wind and temperature. Although they might be subtle, these things can tell you whether or not things are about to turn sour. According to experts, you should notice weather changes approaching from the west, where storms typically come from.
  • Don’t wait. At the first signs of bad weather, head back to shore. Make sure all of your passengers are wearing their PFDs, and make a prompt journey back to shore even if you’re not 100% certain there’s going to be a storm.

Better Safe Than Sorry

Poor weather conditions are some of the most common causes for accidents and fatalities in the world of boating. Fortunately, you don’t have to become a part of the statistics. Just remember what should you do when operating a boat in large waves, keep calm, and wear your PFD’s to minimize the dangers and get back to shore in one piece.

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