How to deal with waves in a boat

Today, we’re blogging about how to approach a wave in a boat, because let’s face it; it’s not always smooth sailing. (Sorry, we couldn’t help ourselves.) This ‘how-to’ guide is divided into 4 sections, because there are a number of different kinds of waves you’re likely to encounter on the water. Each has its own ideal approach and level of difficulty.

Let’s start with the easiest.

  1. The boat wake

As the name suggests, this type of wave is literally the wake of a passing vessel. The larger the vessel, the larger the wake – but ultimately, you’re almost certain to stay upright when dealing with this kind of wave.

These waves tend to last for only short periods of time, with mere seconds between each peak. Of course, if you’re on a small vessel, such as a tinny or a kayak, and you’re in a restricted waterway, the impact can be more daunting.

To minimise capsizing, we recommend taking the wake on the bow, as waves are more likely to tip a vessel when they hit the side directly. If waves hit the rear of your vessel, you can end up taking on water, which is never a good thing either.

  1. The river bar

For those who don’t know, a river bar or mouth is where the river and ocean meet. It’s also where waves smash against each other constantly, as the river essentially empties into the ocean. This also causes shifting sandbars, which in turn results in more wave activity.

The good news is that you’re likely to survive river bar waves, as they’re usually not that big. To improve your chances of success, we recommend heeding the advice of Arthur Shelton, the author of famous tide book, ‘Go only when Mother Nature wants you to’.

Shelton recommends only navigating areas with shifting sand bars with the help of someone who has experience in doing so. So if you’re a first timer across the river bar, enlist a more experienced friend and make life easier for yourself.

  1. The tidal jet

This kind of wave is common in places where the mouth of an inlet or bay is constricted by bottom topography. As a result, water accelerates through the ‘funnel’ and creates large waves, especially when the tide has ebbed and opposing surf is big too.

Your chances of survival on this one are pretty good, especially if you delve back into the wisdom of Arthur Shelton – don’t tackle waves like this without an experienced crewmember.

It also pays to take note of sandbar locations, as when the water is calm over these areas, they can be prime spots for ‘sneaker waves’ or ‘mini-rogue waves’ (more on these next). Reading the ocean is a good way to predict where breakers could possibly crop up.

  1. The rogue wave

You guessed it, no one likes a rogue waves. These happen when two or more waves coming from the same direction meet. They’re typically different in size, and unfortunately, your chances of staying upright are slim.

Professor Emeritus of Scripps Institution of Oceanography, William Van Dorn, told Boating Magazine that if a rogue wave hits your boat, there’s not a whole lot you can do.

“The power of the boat or its direction has nothing to do with it, nor do the boat-handling skills of the captain,” he said.

Ultimately, your boat becomes a ‘cork screw on the water’ that’s going to eventually tumble. Let’s hope none of you encounter this kind of wave.

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