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Avoiding Costly Boating Mistakes

It's critical to learn from the mistakes of other boaters.
Boating Safety

Don't Get Caught

Stuff It
Fire Island Inlet, New York

“We could see that the waves were breaking, but from offshore they still looked manageable.”

Problem: Pete’s in the ocean aboard his go-fast center console searching for fish. As the sea breeze builds during the day, so do the waves, but coming back along with them he doesn’t sense their full power — that is, until just inside the inlet when the boat’s long, skinny bow buries itself into the back of a wave all the way to the console. The boat comes back up and Pete makes it in, but he’s wet and obviously shaken.

Prevention: Waves always look smaller when seen from behind, and that was Pete’s first problem — perception. His next issue was speed.

In a following sea, adjust the drives and tabs to keep the bow up, then work with the throttles. You can safely run at almost any speed as long as your boat’s bottom is long enough to span three wave crests, keeping the ends supported so as not to let the bow drop into a trough. Seas of three feet or less should not affect a boat 30 feet or longer, and boats under that length can usually handle a small chop. But when offshore, more throttle work is required.

Follow a contour up and down the waves, constantly changing the boat’s running attitude with the throttle. Start matching the speed of the waves, riding on their backs about a third of the way down from the crest. You can occasionally throttle up to run over a wave crest after it has broken. Don’t forget to watch astern to make sure a breaking wave isn’t catching up to you. If one does, goose it to remain ahead.

Pete’s final issue was timing. It’s best to enter an inlet during slack high water so there is little current and plenty of deep water. The worst time is toward the end of an ebbing tidal current.

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