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Old 03-07-2013, 12:27 PM   #1
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Rough Water Seamanship

When we first started ocean boating I realized that there would be a day when we would be caught in conditions that were far less than plesant. If I didn't develop the skills to safely handle my boat in very bad conditions my family and I would be put at risk.

Like most I started out by reading. The links below are to some of the very best articles on Rough Water Seamanship I've been able to find.

Rough Water Seamanship Part I: Boat Handling

Rough Water Seamanship Part II: Boat Handling

Getting Caught in Thunder Storms - Rough Water Seamanship Part III :Boat Handling

I don't know how the rest of the world builds skills but my method was practice.

I started out in a little rough conditions. With time as I learned, I started going out in Small Craft Advisories (when I had a small craft).

Doing this built skills, plain and simple. Learn by doing. I learned how boats handle, I learned about confused seas, and about beam seas, and about how to make the best out of a bad situation.

Eventually I learned enough that I ventured out in Gale Warnings. By this time I had moved to a 34' twin engine Bayliner, and I wanted to have the skills to survive. Learning those skills was not easy, but it can be done.

Now, years later when we get caught in unplesant conditions I know what to do. I know how to handle a boat in rough seas to make it back to calm waters safely and as comfortable as possible.

Rough Water seamanship is a learned skill. We are not born with it. I would suggest that anybody that takes boats out in the ocean take the time to learn those skills, so that you will have them when you need them the most.
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Old 03-07-2013, 12:49 PM   #2
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Originally Posted by ksanders View Post
When we first started ocean boating I realized that there would be a day when we would be caught in conditions that were far less than plesant. If I didn't develop the skills to safely handle my boat in very bad conditions my family and I would be put at risk.

Like most I started out by reading. The links below are to some of the very best articles on Rough Water Seamanship I've been able to find.

Rough Water Seamanship Part I: Boat Handling

Rough Water Seamanship Part II: Boat Handling

Getting Caught in Thunder Storms - Rough Water Seamanship Part III :Boat Handling

I don't know how the rest of the world builds skills but my method was practice.

I started out in a little rough conditions. With time as I learned, I started going out in Small Craft Advisories (when I had a small craft).

Doing this built skills, plain and simple. Learn by doing. I learned how boats handle, I learned about confused seas, and about beam seas, and about how to make the best out of a bad situation.

Eventually I learned enough that I ventured out in Gale Warnings. By this time I had moved to a 34' twin engine Bayliner, and I wanted to have the skills to survive. Learning those skills was not easy, but it can be done.

Now, years later when we get caught in unplesant conditions I know what to do. I know how to handle a boat in rough seas to make it back to calm waters safely and as comfortable as possible.

Rough Water seamanship is a learned skill. We are not born with it. I would suggest that anybody that takes boats out in the ocean take the time to learn those skills, so that you will have them when you need them the most.
A very good way to learn the skills. Books are necessary to give knowledge, but they don't build skill levels. That is done by practice. Anyone that boats in areas with inlets to the ocean had better have the skills. Inlet running can be one of the most dangerous things most boaters encounter. You can come home riding on large, nicely comfortable ocean swells. When those swells oppose an ebb tide at the inlet, things change for the worse immediately. Having the knowledge and skill to handle these situations can save the day as well as lives. The beauty of our surroundings sometimes mask the dangers ahead.
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Old 03-07-2013, 02:02 PM   #3
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This is a very timely thread because I'm recuperating after getting the sh*t beat out of me yesterday crossing Georgia Strait. Once again AGENDA + BOAT = TROUBLE. I've got some friends coming into Vancouver early next week and a buddy who is going to scrape his bottom up at McNabb Creek on a low tide Saturday. We've got a great moorage at Cowichan Bay - well sheltered, hardly ever get a rough night at the dock, etc, etc. But whenever we want to go anywhere we have to get through a tidal rapid somewhere unless we're going across into the San Juans.

Cow Bay is about a 4 hour run from the nearest exit into the Strait of Georgia (Porlier Pass) and a little longer if I go up to Galiano Pass. So the timing of slack water on the pass is a big factor whenever we plan a trip to the mainland. For this trip I stayed at a little marine park close to Porlier - won't do that again because the water was a lot skinnier than the guides made it sound. When I got up yesterday it was bumpier than I wanted for the Georgia Strait crossing but the forecast was for dying winds in the afternoon so I went anyway. And as a result I got the crap beat out of me. I had short little square sided waves all the wave across and mostly right on the nose which is the absolute worst conditions for us. I didn't even bother turning the Naiads on until I was most of the way across because they don't do anything for pitching.

My point isn't to feel sorry for Bob but rather that we have done this enough times now that it feels OK, albeit more than a little uncomfortable in the moment. There was a time out in the middle of the Strait where it occurred to me that if I got seasick I didn't have a backup captain. In reality though nothing would have changed if SWMBO had been onboard. She would have been incapacitated & I would have been on my own anyway. Autopilot, radar and dry crackers - that's the ticket.
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Old 03-07-2013, 04:50 PM   #4
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We've been caught a few times by "weather". Most of those times in the Strait of Juan de Fuca. A couple of small craft advisories on our sailboat, and a couple now on our trawler. Having done it, learned and fared fine, it's not something we try to do anymore. However, those damn schedules do pop up...

A few weeks ago we had a haulout scheduled at the Port of Port Townsend. Small craft advisory. At least it was 25-35 on the rear, so I was pushed all the way up. However, ALMOST got pushed sideways in the turning basin in front of the lift notch. All the times I've been out in bad conditions, it was the only moment where I said "Sh*t!" thinking I was completely screwed. Tried one last desperate maneuver and it worked, landed without a scratch (even impressed the travelift guy, who canceled the lift until the following day).

Afterwards, I got chided by a Vessel Assist Capt/Salvor friend who said "don't push your luck!" No worries, Lisa and I had already promised we would never again leave port if the winds were going to be 15-20.

So... three and a half weeks later we relaunch. Winds are again 20-25, with gusts to 35 in Port Ludlow. So we hold true to our promise and wait until the following morning, when the winds were forecast to be 10-15. We leave Port Townsend with ZERO wind. An hour into the two hour run, the winds pick up on the nose to 40. No prob. But the sea state was 6-8 foot steep chop just seconds apart. Got the living snot kicked out of us. By the time we were a mile away from the marina, we were getting sustained 50 knots, with gusts to 55. Docked with wind 20-25 in the marina without a problem.

Not more than 15 minutes after tying up, my friend who was on the trip back points up at the anemometer and says "Look at that!" It was absolutely motionless...

So, yeah, the moral of the story is Ksanders is right. Read about it as much as you can. talk about it with htose who have done it. And then try and get some sea time in, well, not TOO bad of conditions until you learn what the boat is capable of. And that's what is most important. Because you can leave the dock with no wind and a forecast of 10-15 and end up less than two hours later in 55 mph winds!
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Old 03-07-2013, 05:24 PM   #5
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I didn't even bother turning the Naiads on until I was most of the way across because they don't do anything for pitching.
Quick FYI: you should always have them on underway even if it is flat calm. Just flopping around is bad for them and better On than Centered. Two different very well respected Naiad techs scolded me on this, and those guys are both usually mellow, and not scolds normally. One gave me the detailed technical explanation, but I'd have to call him to get it again, it was awhile ago.
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Old 03-07-2013, 06:23 PM   #6
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Quick FYI: you should always have them on underway even if it is flat calm. Just flopping around is bad for them and better On than Centered. Two different very well respected Naiad techs scolded me on this, and those guys are both usually mellow, and not scolds normally. One gave me the detailed technical explanation, but I'd have to call him to get it again, it was awhile ago.
That's worth knowing. The farmer in me thought I was saving them by not using them.
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Old 03-07-2013, 06:57 PM   #7
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That's worth knowing. The farmer in me thought I was saving them by not using them.
Usually not a good maxim on a boat. Took me awhile to get that too. "Use it or lose it" is pretty much the rule for most boat systems.
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Old 03-08-2013, 05:55 AM   #8
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"Use it or lose it" is pretty much the rule for most boat systems.


Including the engine !
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Old 03-08-2013, 08:13 AM   #9
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........ Books are necessary to give knowledge, but they don't build skill levels. That is done by practice. .............
We don't always have a chance to practice so what I do is go over situations in my mind over and over again, imagining what the sea is doing, what the boat is doing, and what I should be doing. When I do find myself in any sort of "situation", I add the results of that experience to my thinking. What went well, what didn't, and what I might have done differently.

This is, of course, after studying the books.
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Old 03-08-2013, 08:58 AM   #10
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We don't always have a chance to practice so what I do is go over situations in my mind over and over again, imagining what the sea is doing, what the boat is doing, and what I should be doing. When I do find myself in any sort of "situation", I add the results of that experience to my thinking. What went well, what didn't, and what I might have done differently.

This is, of course, after studying the books.
Ron, imaging is certainly a valid method of learning what to do with knowledge. Practice includes experience. Getting the feel of rough water and running inlets in moderate conditions can give you a good idea of how the boat will behave in worse conditions. However until you can actually feel a large overtaking wave sliding under your boat or the sleigh ride and shearing going off the front of one, it is just hard to imagine that. Quick reaction is the key to the minute corrections in steering and throttle necessary to maintain control. It's best to have experienced gradually increasing rough conditions, but sometimes impractical. I have never forgotten the first time that happened to me.
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Old 03-08-2013, 10:29 AM   #11
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Ron, imaging is certainly a valid method of learning what to do with knowledge. Practice includes experience. Getting the feel of rough water and running inlets in moderate conditions can give you a good idea of how the boat will behave in worse conditions. However until you can actually feel a large overtaking wave sliding under your boat or the sleigh ride and shearing going off the front of one, it is just hard to imagine that. Quick reaction is the key to the minute corrections in steering and throttle necessary to maintain control. It's best to have experienced gradually increasing rough conditions, but sometimes impractical. I have never forgotten the first time that happened to me.

Good post...

To further that thought, gaining experience means actually seeking out rough water opportunities. I know that sounds counter intuitive to many but thats how skills are built.

I envy folks that can cruise the ICW in relative calm. That is not our world in the Gulf of Alaska. It is not uncommon to go out and experience SCA level swells or much larger for a couple hours just to get to a calm water bay, or to cruise over to the protected waters of Prince William Sound.
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Old 03-08-2013, 10:37 AM   #12
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Well, I'm sorry you folks don't think going over possible situations in your mind before they happen is a good idea, but from my perspective, if you've never thought about it before, you will be lost and confused when you find yourself in such a situation. The results could be devastating.
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Old 03-08-2013, 10:42 AM   #13
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One thing I learned in my 15 years as a fishing guide was rough water boat handling. It was really expanded in that situation by the fact that I was responsible for the people who were paying me to be on my boat. Though that was mainly in an 18' skiff, I learned a lot that I still use today.

It was the forced everyday experience that was really the ticket for me.

Sudden thunderstorms were the worst. In the summer here it can go from flat calm to 40 knots, driving rain and zero visibility in a matter of minutes. They don't usually last long, but then it doesn't take too long to get into trouble either. Especially in an 18' open boat. with two other pretty much clueless passengers on board that can do nothing to help.
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Old 03-08-2013, 11:24 AM   #14
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Well, I'm sorry you folks don't think going over possible situations in your mind before they happen is a good idea, but from my perspective, if you've never thought about it before, you will be lost and confused when you find yourself in such a situation. The results could be devastating.
Ron, going over situations in your mind is extremely valuable and important.

That said, actual sea states cannot be simulated in your mind. You will have to learn by doing, because you cannot imagine what you do not know.

Little things like your thousand dollar pair of binoculars being launched off of the counter, or the way your boat wants to swap ends when a wave overtakes you and the bow is burind under the water.

You also do not know how you will react to extreme circumstances. Your calm confidence as a captain will project it self to your passangers and make them much more comfortable.

Here's an example...

Last May as we were on the last day of our journey to Alaska we suddenly experienced unforcasted fierce winds. We were in (and not overestimating as many do with waves) an approx 5' long swell from the stern with 8' close wind blown waves to the beam.

These were waves with no back side, almost "square" waves.

What did I do??? I was 54 miles offshore and a hundred and twenty miles from my destination.

Its simple, I stayed calm, turned my bow into the waves and watched the bow of my 47' boat go completely underwater, time and time again. Actual waves washing up to my windshield wipers.

My son was on board and was clearly shaken. I was calm, because I'd been out in really bad weather before. Not quite this bad, but really bad all the same.

He said, dad, its over 50 miles to shore, what are you going to do? I calmly told him that we were heading for the shore because thats where the wind was coming from, and that as we got closer, the waves would die out.

He said but 50 miles??? Clearly concerned. I replied yes son, its going to be a long morning but we'll be fine, I've done this before.

You cant simulate that. You can and should pre-plan, but you need to actually experience it to gain the confidence, and the competence to get through safely when life gets really bad on the ocean.

BTW three hours later the sea was back to its friendly state, and we finished up our journey in peace and comfort.
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Old 03-08-2013, 11:35 AM   #15
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Great reply to your son's concern, Kevin!

My friend Capt. John Aydelotte (owner of Vessel Assist NW and Marine Services) has been rescuing/helping people in bad conditions for 30 years. He says he'll arrive on the scene where a family is completely out of their abilities, they looked scared to death, and he'll pull up alongside and say:

"Did someone order a pizza?!"

Immediately puts people a little more at ease as he not only laughs, but shows the same calm competence that you showed your son. Works every time.
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Old 03-08-2013, 12:49 PM   #16
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Ron, imaging is certainly a valid method of learning what to do with knowledge.
Ron, you must have missed the first part of my post. Imaging and roll playing are certainly valid ways of preparing as much as possible for a situation. They, however, are no substitute for experience.
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Old 03-08-2013, 01:05 PM   #17
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I'll add my opinion that there is no substitute for on-the-water learning. I just don't think self-teaching is wise to start. Go out with captains that know what they are doing in bad conditions, who can articulate what is going on, how it affects the boat, and what to do.

Inlet running is an art and science, and each one has it's unique characteristics and many can be dangerous in perfectly beautiful weather. There are many more to learn on the eastern seaboard than the western. As someone else noted the ICW involves many open sounds with shifting currents and sudden weather. I am fortunate to have boated almost the entire continental US salt water coast and adjacent waters from BC to Maine, as well as the entire northern California waterway system, the Hudson River, and some of the Great Lakes. Bad water seamanship ability applies to all of those places, none of them can take "our water is worse than your water" bragging rights.
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Old 03-08-2013, 01:45 PM   #18
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Thanks. I printed off the 3 parts for future reference.

I agree experience is important, but for many of us because of out area, and boating we normal do not experience those conditions. I have always said, “The less experience, knowledgeable the person the bigger and more capable the boat should be, and a person should know the capability of their boat.”

One reference that might be helpful is the national buoy date site. http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov/ , the national weather site, http://www.weather.gov/ and the national tides http://tidesandcurrents.noaa.gov/index.shtml Using the different sites you should be able to know and predict the conditions.


One of the must have feaures on the Nobeltec chart software is the animation/prodiction of the tides/currents. With a 6 ft draft, 8 knt boat, I like to pre plan a rout and doulbe check the tides, currents and weather, before we leave the dock, so surprises are kept to a minimum.
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Old 03-08-2013, 03:19 PM   #19
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It's a shame we don't have boat simulators similar to aircraft simulators where you can get actual experience without risking your life.

As far as I know, we don't so you do the best you can. For me, that means book study followed by going through the situation in my mind so my actions are automatic.
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Old 03-08-2013, 03:36 PM   #20
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For those interested...there are different approaches and avenues...

http://www.nmsc.gov.au/media/pages_m...simulation.pdf

not many places just let recs in...but try enough places and you may get a seat if you are convincing (or you checkbook is) enough.

Lot's of "training captains" will take you out on your boat and increase your rough water skills to a point....beyond that you have to do it alone (every boat is a little different anyhow so you and your own boat are the perfect match)...but like reascue agencies that have a training cutoff limit...there "better" crews are ones that have exceeded those limits on certain occasions whether training or actual rescues. The gradual worse and worse conditions survived are the only real teacher.

I have read many books/articles where one captain swore by one approach that was almost fatal for another.

Only you and your boat with enough experience will survive "the big one"...unless you get lucky or just wind up in a liferaft sooner or later.
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