At some point or another, a boat owner will encounter rough seas. Wind-driven waves present dangers to boaters because of the instability it creates. Unfortunately, vessels are at risk of capsizing or becoming inundated with water as a result of breaking waves. If you operate in open waters, it is important to know how to handle the boat in rough conditions. 

Check The Marine Forecast

The marine forecast provides detailed information on sea conditions. For this reason, it is important to read the most recent marine forecast before heading out on the water. 

The weather report includes wind speed, wind direction, wave height, and wave period. Importantly, you will be able to assess whether or not it is even worth heading out on the water. 

Lastly, when rough seas are expected, it is not uncommon for the National Weather Service to issue a small craft advisory. A small craft advisory indicates that the seas will build to the point that it is no longer safe for navigation. 

Slow Your Speed

Although it would seem to make sense to get off the water as soon as possible, racing across big waves is never a good idea. 

In the event you’re encountering large seas, it is critical to slow your speed. An operator driving a vessel in high seas rapidly is at risk of losing control. Unfortunately, when you lose control, the boat is at risk of capsizing. 

Conversely, you don’t want to drive too slow either. At slow speeds, waves are likely to break over the stern. You’ll need to find a middle ground based on the conditions you’re facing. 

Prepare The Vessel For Rough Waters

One of the most overlooked things to do when encountering rough waters is preparing the vessel. 

Remember, like the boat being tossed about, so are the contents contained within the vessel. With that said, it is important to take a look around the boat before facing high winds and big seas. 

Some items that require securing include fenders, seat cushions, fishing tackle, personal belongings, including bags, and more. 

Without question, items onboard will go airborne. Avoid losing valuable items over the side of the boat as a result of big waves and stiff winds. 

Ride On The Backside Of The Waves

The position of the vessel on a wave is important to prevent waves from crashing over the stern or burying the bow. 

With that said, it is essential to keep the boat on the back side of the wave. Do not sit on top or in the trough between waves. 

Riding the back side of the wave keeps the bow up in the air, whereas if you drive down a wave, it is likely to stuff the front of the boat underwater. 

Conversely, when riding in the trough, you’re putting yourself in a bad position because a wave can break and swamp the vessel from the stern. 

Put On A Life Jacket

Undoubtedly, a boat can sink at any time for a multitude of reasons. However, the odds of encountering an issue in big waves are more likely. 

Not often do you have to consider the necessity of life-saving equipment such as a life jacket. However, in rough waters, I suggest the operator and passengers wear a PFD. 

The last thing you want to do is scramble to pull life jackets from a hatch if the boat has already capsized. Stay ahead of a potential emergency. 

Tune Into Channel 22A On Your VHF Radio

Despite checking the forecast before heading out on the water, it is important to remain vigilant while you’re on the water. 

With that said, tune your VHF radio into channel 22A. Channel 22A broadcasts storm warnings and forecasts. Remember, predicted weather can change be deteriorating more quickly or more severely. 

Tuning into 22A will keep you up to speed on the most current marine forecast. 

Don’t Panic

As an avid boater and former captain, I have become nervous in some situations, but I will tell you that it doesn’t help the situation. 

Fortunately, my training and experience helped me through stressful points of navigation. However, this is not always the case with recreational boaters. 

Often, recreational boaters become overwhelmed by a situation such as in big waves. Remember not to let your emotions get the best of you. Remain calm by breathing deeply and focusing on remaining in control.

Without question, panicking results in making irrational decisions that can lead to deadly consequences. 

Use Your Navigation Electronics

Navigation electronics are extremely helpful when navigating in rough seas. High seas can cause boaters to become disoriented and venture off course. 

A chart plotter should be used by inputting waypoints and following a course line. Following a course line will keep you on track to arrive back at the marina or boat ramp without straying. 

Unfortunately, operators run boats aground in rough conditions because they veer off into shallow waters. Using the chart plotter will eliminate one added form of stress. 

Know How To Handle Rough Seas

Using these 8 tips will better help you handle rough wave conditions while you’re out boating. Remember, safety is of the utmost importance. In a situation where bad weather is forecasted, remain at the dock; no sense in putting yourself and others at risk.