By: Bill Jennings
Despite the long list of happenings that can potentially spoil your day of boating, I believe that ‘wind’ represents the most frequent and dangerous threat. As a boater, we have all experienced mechanical problems, but they can be fixed. We have all experienced cold or hot days, and even wet days. But getting wet is not necessarily a life-threatening problem. Wind can be.
It’s a sunny day and your group is looking forward to boating. The forecast is for westerly winds at 18 mph, gusting to 24. But what this forecast doesn’t tell you is that your planned route direction is 180 degrees and will take you along a fifteen-mile stretch, where the wind has had fifteen miles to build up waves. You will be running directly into a length of open water where the wind has built some sizable water. The uninterrupted distance for which windblown waves have the opportunity to build in size is called “reach." On the trip you plan, some of your passengers will complain about a rough ride and their complaints along with the sporadic jolts, will take the pleasure out of your ride.
Wind builds waves. The bigger the wind, the bigger the waves. Combine winds with tidal flows and you might be looking at more than you are prepared to handle. If you haven’t yet had a nasty scare from boating in high winds, you are lucky. Here is a quick review of what to do when it does happen.
The first time you find yourself in heavy seas, it will usually catch you by surprise. While locations, number of passengers and boat size will vary, the correct procedure is always the same. Assure all the passengers on board that your boat can handle the waves you are experiencing. Then ask them to put on a life jacket as an added safety measure. Re-arrange the loading of the boat so that the center of gravity is closest to the center of the boat. Slow the boat to a comfortable speed and observe the following tactics:
If you are travelling into the wind, adjust your speed to prevent pounding into the waves. You may need to reduce it to a point where you are barely making headway. A slight down trim will help prevent launching off the top of oncoming waves.
If you are travelling downwind, the danger is finding yourself surfing down the front of a wave and ‘stuffing’ the bow into the trough of the next. In this situation the following stern wave could push your stern up, causing the boat to roll or ‘broach.' If you feel that this is possible, adjust your speed to move at the speed of the waves. Trim slightly up and maintain a speed which prevents waves from behind, washing over the stern.
Making these directional changes to run with or against the waves, may necessitate tacking back and forth in different directions to end up at your destination. Taking the extra time to do this is better than taking a direct route where you end up on the bottom. Since you don’t get many opportunities to practice boating in windstorms, remember these procedures.
Situations with big waves are usually accompanied by a reduction in visibility. Regularly confirm your location and set an alternative close by destinations where you can find. Follow the simple boating rule: If you believe that there is any risk in travelling to your original destination, go somewhere else. Remember that no passenger has ever complained about being removed from harm’s way.
I have said and I believe that wind is the enemy. I also believe in ‘know thine enemy.' Download a free and handy wind information app, Windy.com and refer to before every boat outing. It will tell you the current and forecast wind factors for your specific location. While wind can be a dangerous threat to your boating fun factor, it can also be one of the easiest threats to eliminate.