safely drive a boat in big waves and wind

How to Drive a Boat in Rough Waters

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Have you ever driven your boat in rough waters? Wished you were prepared?

Whether you find the weather has turned on you out at sea or you are an adrenaline junkie, you need to stay safe in rough seas.

To drive your boat safely during rough waters requires knowledge of your boat capabilities and driving techniques.

A common misconception is that if you are in a bigger boat, you will be safer during rough sea conditions.

Every hull is designed to act differently to the sea and even then, it will be dependent on how the driver reacts to the rough conditions.

For the professional “skippers”, rough water is the norm and approaching large waves is a thing of skill.

Inexperienced boat drivers may react differently or breakdown during the stress of it all.

stay safe whilst driving boat in rough waters
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Table of Contents

Safety Gear for Boating in Bad Weather

Depending on the boat that you are traveling in or if you are single crewed will change the gear.

Boating in a large boat will require different gear to those traveling within a tender inflatable rib, which is suitable for rough waters.

Below are some essentials for bad weather boating:

  1. Life Jackets.
    If you are traveling in rough waters and do not take a life jacket, you are risking your own life. The life jacket is basic safety equipment that you should carry on the boat for each person you are traveling with. Top-rated life jackets are those that can withstand your weight and are small enough to be stored onboard.
  1. Distress Flare.
    The distress flare is an emergency helpline to the lifeguards that you are in trouble. It also warns others that you are in that area to avoid potential collisions.
  2. Paddles or Oars.
    For those in smaller boats with no backup engines, paddles or oars are essential if your engine decides to cut out. Being able to paddle your way out of trouble may save your life.
  3. Marine Radio.
    Usually, if you go further than 2 miles from shore you will be required to hold a marine VHF radio. This allows for communication between guards and other boats, which can also be a call for help when you are in trouble.
  4. Waterproof Clothing.
    Boating through rough waters will almost certainly mean you will get wet one way or another. The water will be freezing and if you are not wearing waterproof clothing, you will be feeling the cold 10 times worse.
  5. Bilge Pump.
    You are more than likely to accumulate water within the bilge of the boat whilst in bad weather conditions. Be sure to have this turned on when going out on rough seas. A powerful bilge pump can be the difference between your boat sinking or keeping it afloat.

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How to Drive a Boat Safely in Big Waves

This is highly boat dependent and it is how well the driver is trained and feels comfortable with. For those looking at the safest option, drive into the large wave at a 45-degree angle at a speed you are comfortable with.

Try your best to keep the bow down in the water by trimming the outboard all the way down and shifting the weight distribution.

Always avoid hitting high waves at a 90-degree angle because this may increase the chances of capsizing.

Always try and keep the speed relatively high and not dead slow. It is always best to go out with an experienced boater on a rough day to get a feel for it before venturing out on your own.

An excellent video guide for the basics.

Is it Safe to go Boating in Bad Weather?

Checking the color of the sky is an essential part of deciding whether it is safe to go out boating.

All the people driving a boat should have a basic level of skill and common sense in order to drive a boat.

However, driving a boat in bad weather conditions requires a more advanced level of skill.

You should check the weather conditions using an official weather reporting system dedicated to boaters.

The NOAA (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration) provides this service through WX1 (162.550 MHz), WX2 (162.400 MHz) and WX3 (162.475 MHz).

If you are a beginner boat driver and all the weather reports are stating bad weather, think twice before going out.

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How Much Wind is too Much for Boating?

Bad or Hard Wind has the effect of rolling waves in the direction they are blowing.

This can make waves larger and choppier, which results in an uncomfortable ride as well as lots of water spray.

If you are questioning whether 20 MPH of wind speed is too bad, should you really be going out to sea?

Ask locals of their experience with the current wind speed and whether it’s too choppy to out.

They will be able to give you the best answer for a certain area you will be boating in.

What to do if you Become in Difficulties in Rough Seas

If you are the driver, stay calm and do not distress the other passengers. Tell them that there will be a period of harsh driving and that they should hold on for an uncomfortable ride.

Ensure every passenger including yourself has a PFD (Personal Flotation Device) Life Jacket and that they are wearing it.

After your passengers are secured and warned, it is now time to turn the attention to the boat.

Ensure that the boat is operating correctly (particularly the steering and engine), which should have been checked before going out to sea. Be sure to also check/do the following

  • Ensure that the battery and the connections are secure with no movement.
  • Switch to the fuel tank with the most amount of fuel
  • Turn on the bilge pump to remove excess water

If you get into serious trouble, fire a flare into the air or even better call an emergency number for immediate help.

Boating in rough conditions is not ideal but perfectly capable of experienced skippers.

If you are a beginner, ask to be a passenger of those who deal with these conditions on a daily basis before you bite the bullet and go out.

You can then use what you have learned into practice and build confidence within yourself to drive in rough conditions out at sea.

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