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Old 05-23-2020, 02:12 PM   #1
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Transiting the Columbia Mouth

I feel like this is something that has probably been discussed here, but a search didn't turn anything up, so...

What's involved with transiting the mouth of the Columbia River, either getting into or out of it, for boats in the ~35 foot range?

As we work to imagine how we might make our idea of boat ownership, and for that matter living aboard such a boat, it's natural to think that we would want to to either north or south out of the Columbia River at some point. It's either that or moor the boat, at great expense, in the Puget Sound and rarely get to use it.

A Google search about the Columbia Bar turns up videos of the water there basically swallowing fishing boats. And there's an organization called the Columbia River Bar Pilots, suggesting that if you want into or out of the river, call someone to come do the driving, even if you're an old sea dog.

What can you practical-minded folks tell a wannabe boat owner about making the transit? Presume that we're willing to wait for best conditions and not get impatient.

Thanks.

JD
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Old 05-23-2020, 02:42 PM   #2
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I bet Tom on ASD will help you out, being a Columbia River dweller.
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Old 05-23-2020, 02:46 PM   #3
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While I have not gone into the Columbia, I have gone past it. We were 8 NM offshore and I thought we were going to die, seriously. We worked our way our to 11 NM and it was just white knuckle.
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Old 05-23-2020, 02:54 PM   #4
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Watch the weather, and transit near the slack currents (the last of the flood usually preferred). NOAA and the CG have up to the minute information on the state of the bar, and will readily close it based on conditions. No real reason to be afraid of it, but do respect it. The Bar Pilots are for big ships, and required for them, not for small recreational vessels.
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Old 05-23-2020, 02:58 PM   #5
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USCG Columbia River Bar Hazzards

Start here. Note the danger areas on page 2 - others have had problems when this guidance is not followed.

Also, “It is normally best to cross the bar during slack water or on a flood tide, when the seas are normally calmest”.

https://www.pacificarea.uscg.mil/Por...-20-140024-403
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Old 05-23-2020, 03:02 PM   #6
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I've got many dozens of Columbia River bar crossing under my keel.

First get familiar with your boat and how to handle her in rough water before you even think about it. The pilots can be a good source of information but their business is running ocean going ships across the bar.

Best to call Cape Disappointment Coast Guard for bar status.

Make your first crossings in broad daylight and calm weather with a low swell off shore. Go out when the flood tide is running and come back in on that same tide. Do that several times until you gain experience before you plan to stay out to return on another flood.

Learn the difference between tide height times and tide current times. You need to know current times.

Avoid times when the current direction and the wind direction oppose each other. The seas can become big, close together and breaking on those conditions. This will often happen on the CR bar on the ebb current.

Make sure your boat is prepared. Everything stowed and secured. Everyone seated, best if all are wearing PFDs.

Make sure your fuel system is clean, you have spare filters and know how to change them. In rough water. In a dark engine room by flashlight.

Stay away from Clatsop spit and Peacock Spit. They'll kick up with no warning very quickly.

What I've outlined are the basics. Others here will offer their advice as well.

Lots of boats your size cross the bar. If all of this seems foreign to you then you are by no means ready. Best in that case to ride along with someone with more experience and watch them and ask questions.
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Old 05-23-2020, 03:23 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by DDW View Post
Watch the weather, and transit near the slack currents (the last of the flood usually preferred)...
When we were West Coast based we learned from commercial fisherman, who were typically in smaller vessels, that the general rule was “flood is fine, ebb is evil”. Once we tried on an ebb tide and
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Old 05-23-2020, 03:28 PM   #8
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Hi,

As have others here, I've made the run from Portland north and back around 15 times. The brochure at the link below gives a good overview of crossing the bar.

re: bar pilots, they are for commercial freighters and such which are required by their insurance to use bar pilots.

Study the bar a whole lot before attempting it. There are just too many details to pass on here. Take classes if they are available in your area. There is lots of info on the web. The information is overwhelming but make no mistake: the Columbia River Bar is serious stuff. I believe there have been more lives lost and more tonnage lost here than on any other Bar in the world.

What I did was join a yacht club, ask around and found many seasoned guys who would ride up with me and show me the ropes. Over time I became one of them. Another tip: Run the ocean with other boats. It's more fun and if something goes wrong, you have a buddy to help. I had a friend with a well maintained Hatteras that mysteriously caught fire and sunk off Grey's Harbor. A buddy running with him picked him, his wife, daughter and dog off the boat.
Then they all watched it go up in a blaze and sink. Shit happens, be careful out there.

https://www.oregon.gov/OSMB/forms-li...olumbiaBar.pdf

Pete
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Old 05-23-2020, 04:29 PM   #9
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What all the others have said. People cross regularly in various boats, but must be respected. I'd add one thing. Astoria is your friend. No one is forcing you to proceed on out and a few days in Astoria can be a nice wait. When coming in, The ocean is your friend and the previous stop is. You check things out before proceeding there and then again before entering. The available current information from the CG along the coast there is superlative. Best of any inlets I'm aware of.

Also, your first time it can be helpful to follow an experienced professional, often a fisherman. Keep your distance but observe how they go and handle things. Observe when they go. Great if you can talk to one before crossing and hear their plans and how they approach crossing.

Hale's Bar was our first west coast inlet. We watched the day before from the point. Then that morning we watched the parade of charter fishing boats crossing as there were 10'+ swells that day but little wind. Very long periods. All the fishing captains took basically the same approach and we found out it worked quite well. We later followed a couple in as well. And we never went in or out of any inlet along the coast there without getting a CG update.
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Old 05-23-2020, 10:21 PM   #10
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Taking this thread in a different direction for a moment (upstream, now downstream) if your boat is maintained in Portland, consider a trip UP the Columbia then UP the Snake. You will find some great boating, you get to pass through up to 8 locks, and you will find some great harbors to overnight in.

Crossing the bar takes an hour or two each way. Cruising up the Columbia to the Snake takes about 2.5 to 3.5 days depending on your boat. If you make it as far as the Tri Cities, the first round is on me.
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Old 05-23-2020, 10:38 PM   #11
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Slack water, high tide and watch ocean conditions.


The Columbia bar got it's fearful reputation from bad weather and idiots crossing at the wrong times. Commercial fishermen cross almost daily. So do pilots.

If the ocean is calm, you can cross anytime. I've crossed at low tide, end of the ebb without problems or a bad ride. What is bad is the current coming out and high winds coming in. It makes big, steep, rollers.
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Old 05-26-2020, 05:54 PM   #12
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OK, what I've gathered here is:

a) Be prepared. Batten things down, be topped up, and don't be distracted with things that aren't steering the boat.
b) Don't be in a hurry.
c) Learn from someone who knows what they're doing, and learn live (on their boat or yours, not on a message forum).
d) Call the Coast Guard and ask questions.
e) Find the best time to cross, then get it done; don't dally.

Does that about cover it? Again, I don't have a boat yet, but am shopping in the 35-45 foot range, leaning on the lower end. It appears that, with learning and a little guidance, it's feasible to cross in a boat that size.

Thanks.

JD
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Old 05-26-2020, 08:21 PM   #13
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On nice weather days its hard to even realize your “at the bar”. Slack Flood or just a bit early. Its a big bar and takes a couple hours to get away from the “Influence”. Going North, we make our turn between first and second Green bouy and try to head NW aiming for deeper water. Going south we stayed in the channel until 4th or fifth red bouy as you will be in a SW direction. Again aim for deeper water, our you will fight ground swell. Deeper water is a long ways out 12-15 miles or so. This also gets you away from the Crab Pots, they are everywhere. I always picked the right weather window and paid close attention to Swell, duration and direction.
The first time we crossed the bar, the wife asked me when we would cross the bar, I told her we did that about 5 miles back.
Best of luck.
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Old 05-26-2020, 09:05 PM   #14
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Crossed it coming and going twice. The captains timed it right.
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Old 05-26-2020, 10:26 PM   #15
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This topic is near and dear for me. I’ll be crossing (out) for the first time next month in my single engine 35’ CHB trawler. I have studied EXTENSIVELY, but nothing beats experience. I’m only going to cross in good conditions, so I’m to the point where I’m not so worried about the bar itself, but I am still concerned about the long run north and the potential of beam or following seas. My boat hasn’t yet been out on the open ocean, and it’s got a big caboose.
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Old 05-29-2020, 11:35 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Portage_Bay View Post
I've got many dozens of Columbia River bar crossing under my keel.

First get familiar with your boat and how to handle her in rough water before you even think about it. The pilots can be a good source of information but their business is running ocean going ships across the bar.

Best to call Cape Disappointment Coast Guard for bar status.

Make your first crossings in broad daylight and calm weather with a low swell off shore. Go out when the flood tide is running and come back in on that same tide. Do that several times until you gain experience before you plan to stay out to return on another flood.

Learn the difference between tide height times and tide current times. You need to know current times.

Avoid times when the current direction and the wind direction oppose each other. The seas can become big, close together and breaking on those conditions. This will often happen on the CR bar on the ebb current.

Make sure your boat is prepared. Everything stowed and secured. Everyone seated, best if all are wearing PFDs.

Make sure your fuel system is clean, you have spare filters and know how to change them. In rough water. In a dark engine room by flashlight.

Stay away from Clatsop spit and Peacock Spit. They'll kick up with no warning very quickly.

What I've outlined are the basics. Others here will offer their advice as well.

Lots of boats your size cross the bar. If all of this seems foreign to you then you are by no means ready. Best in that case to ride along with someone with more experience and watch them and ask questions.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Pdxstriper View Post
Hi,

As have others here, I've made the run from Portland north and back around 15 times. The brochure at the link below gives a good overview of crossing the bar.

re: bar pilots, they are for commercial freighters and such which are required by their insurance to use bar pilots.

Study the bar a whole lot before attempting it. There are just too many details to pass on here. Take classes if they are available in your area. There is lots of info on the web. The information is overwhelming but make no mistake: the Columbia River Bar is serious stuff. I believe there have been more lives lost and more tonnage lost here than on any other Bar in the world.

What I did was join a yacht club, ask around and found many seasoned guys who would ride up with me and show me the ropes. Over time I became one of them. Another tip: Run the ocean with other boats. It's more fun and if something goes wrong, you have a buddy to help. I had a friend with a well maintained Hatteras that mysteriously caught fire and sunk off Grey's Harbor. A buddy running with him picked him, his wife, daughter and dog off the boat.
Then they all watched it go up in a blaze and sink. Shit happens, be careful out there.

https://www.oregon.gov/OSMB/forms-li...olumbiaBar.pdf

Pete
Quote:
Originally Posted by BandB View Post
What all the others have said. People cross regularly in various boats, but must be respected. I'd add one thing. Astoria is your friend. No one is forcing you to proceed on out and a few days in Astoria can be a nice wait. When coming in, The ocean is your friend and the previous stop is. You check things out before proceeding there and then again before entering. The available current information from the CG along the coast there is superlative. Best of any inlets I'm aware of.

Also, your first time it can be helpful to follow an experienced professional, often a fisherman. Keep your distance but observe how they go and handle things. Observe when they go. Great if you can talk to one before crossing and hear their plans and how they approach crossing.

Hale's Bar was our first west coast inlet. We watched the day before from the point. Then that morning we watched the parade of charter fishing boats crossing as there were 10'+ swells that day but little wind. Very long periods. All the fishing captains took basically the same approach and we found out it worked quite well. We later followed a couple in as well. And we never went in or out of any inlet along the coast there without getting a CG update.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Lepke View Post
Slack water, high tide and watch ocean conditions.


The Columbia bar got it's fearful reputation from bad weather and idiots crossing at the wrong times. Commercial fishermen cross almost daily. So do pilots.

If the ocean is calm, you can cross anytime. I've crossed at low tide, end of the ebb without problems or a bad ride. What is bad is the current coming out and high winds coming in. It makes big, steep, rollers.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Crusty Chief View Post
On nice weather days its hard to even realize your “at the bar”. Slack Flood or just a bit early. Its a big bar and takes a couple hours to get away from the “Influence”. Going North, we make our turn between first and second Green bouy and try to head NW aiming for deeper water. Going south we stayed in the channel until 4th or fifth red bouy as you will be in a SW direction. Again aim for deeper water, our you will fight ground swell. Deeper water is a long ways out 12-15 miles or so. This also gets you away from the Crab Pots, they are everywhere. I always picked the right weather window and paid close attention to Swell, duration and direction.
The first time we crossed the bar, the wife asked me when we would cross the bar, I told her we did that about 5 miles back.
Best of luck.
Sorry I am so late on this. Didn't see it.

Planning is EVERYTHING! We make the run from Astoria to Neah Bay in 12 hours. We don't cross on an ebb, unless it is dead smooth which is rare. Wait for the flood.

For us it starts like this:

1. Start looking at weather a week or so in advance.
2. Time your crossing when the weather is good and seas are reasonable. So we not only look at the bar but the weather up the coast to Strait of Juan De Fuca. (or the other way).
3. Look at Windy, listen and look at the USCG reports. Doesn't do you any good if you travel from Neah Bay to the bar, just to find the bar is closed due to weather or a heavy ebb.
4. Marine Traffic. Who is crossing the bar?

So with what every one has stated what is the common denominator?
WEATHER! WEATHER!! WEATHER!

Get use to looking at it. As stated above stay in Astoria a few days if weather is not favorable. If you have a schedule, that schedule will kill you. The Bar is not a big thing if you have patience and do it right. Below are a few links I use:

https://www.windy.com/?50.717,-127.500,5

https://www.weather.gov/pqr/barcams

https://www.wrh.noaa.gov/pqr/marine/BarObs.php
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Old 06-02-2020, 12:11 PM   #17
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I feel like this is something that has probably been discussed here, but a search didn't turn anything up, so...

What's involved with transiting the mouth of the Columbia River, either getting into or out of it, for boats in the ~35 foot range?

As we work to imagine how we might make our idea of boat ownership, and for that matter living aboard such a boat, it's natural to think that we would want to to either north or south out of the Columbia River at some point. It's either that or moor the boat, at great expense, in the Puget Sound and rarely get to use it.

A Google search about the Columbia Bar turns up videos of the water there basically swallowing fishing boats. And there's an organization called the Columbia River Bar Pilots, suggesting that if you want into or out of the river, call someone to come do the driving, even if you're an old sea dog.

What can you practical-minded folks tell a wannabe boat owner about making the transit? Presume that we're willing to wait for best conditions and not get impatient.

Thanks.

JD
Not to be particularly "snarky" but most locals refer to it as the Columbia River BAR, not the "mouth".
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