With the advent of cooler weather and fronts moving through our area, I think it is time to remind everyone of the need to take proper precautions when boating in heavy weather and rough seas. You may recall the incident, offshore Mayport, where a 21 foot Hydra Sport capsized in rough seas.
As cold weather fronts begin moving through our area over the next couple of months, we can expect to encounter more severe weather and rougher seas when we head out to our favorite fishing spot. Also, I would like to remind everyone that the Captain of a vessel is responsible for the safety of his/her vessel and the crew.
Boating and fishing is usually done in fair weather. Over the winter months the seas and weather can be very dangerous. However, if you should consider going out in your boat in rough deteriorating weather, my advice is “don’t do it”. There are times, however, that you may be out and get caught in bad weather before you can return to port. An understanding of the principles of heavy weather seamanship is helpful if this should happen to you.
Heavy weather, in itself, does not place a small boat in danger. A solid boat, operated by a knowledgeable skipper is usually equal to the task. In fact, your boat can probably take more adverse weather conditions than you can. If the sea state increases and you must run into the wind, the bow of your boat will plow into the waves instead of lifting up over them. This will not only cause your boat to take a tremendous pounding, but your propeller will rise out of the water causing your engine to race wildly one moment and load the next as it falls back into the water.
If you find yourself in this situation, slow your boat so the bow can lift with the waves. Then, instead of running directly into the waves, take them at about a 45 degree angle. Your boat will go up and down on its long axis and up and down sideways (pitch and role). Pitching and rolling are easier on you and your boat than the pounding caused by going directly into the waves.
In heavy seas, you may have to run a “zig-zag” course taking the seas broad on your bow for awhile then off your quarter in order to reach your destination. If you find it difficult to make headway under these conditions, recommend you lay to. That is, use only enough power to keep your bow headed into the wind. Adjust your speed so that you are making neither headway nor sternway.
If you find yourself in a situation with a following sea in heavy weather, you have to be concerned about broaching or pitchpoling. In deep water a following sea is usually not as much of a problem as in shallow water. In a following sea, the force of the water can cause your boat to yaw wildly from side to side. The greatest danger occurs when your boat rises on an overtaking wave, its propeller comes out of the water and you no longer have control. At this point it may be thrown broadside into the trough and rolled over (broached) by the next wave. To avoid a broach, you must keep your motor or outdrive in the water by adjusting your speed to stay just behind the crest of the wave in front of you and ahead of the wave behind you. Once a broach has started it is almost impossible to stop.
Should you lose power and find yourself in danger of broaching, throw out a sea anchor to keep your bow into the wind. If you do not have a sea anchor, a bucket or other object can be used. As a last resort, if depth permits, drop your regular anchor. Never, I repeat, never anchor by the stern of your boat.
If you don’t stay behind a wave’s crest, you may find yourself racing down the forward face of the wave at a greatly increased speed. Your boat can then plow into the trough burying its bow in water. The next wave may pick up your stern and flip your boat end over end (pitchpoled). Follow these simple suggestions and may you continue to enjoy safe boating throughout the year.