Boat Handling in Moderate and Heavy Weather Conditions


Any experienced captain will tell you that weather conditions play a huge roll in decision making while navigating any vessel. Seaworthiness does not rely on the size of your boat. How your boat handles weather conditions are taken into consideration during the design and construction process. Using your boat for what it is designed to do is key. Voyages into water ways and harsh weather that your boat cannot handle can be disastrous.


Different levels of experience determine your ability to handle weather conditions. One boater may find certain heavy weather conditions to be manageable while another may not. The type of waterway you’re operating on has much to do with how treacherous weather conditions will become. Navigating in deep, large bodies of water waves build slowly than if it is shallower.  Wind activity in deep water cause slow moderate rolling swells and in shallower waters wind may cause wave breaks.


Knowing your boat

As every captain is different so are boats. Boats will not react exactly like another in the identical weather conditions. Hull designs maneuver based on load and trim. Captains learn handling techniques as the get to know their boat.


Coming up on head seas

You should be able to slow your speed in moderate seas up and over waves instead of plowing the bow through the waves. Avoid burying your bow by not falling off the top of the backside of a wave. If conditions are worsening slow down for bare steerage and keep your vessel at a 45-degree angle of the swells.

The more you slow the speed will result in less strain on the hull and superstructure. Too much pounding can cause pop out and / or break ports and windows. A 12” port hole can take on a lot of water.


A trough of waves

When on course and it shows you are heading in the direction of a trough of waves it is time for extra caution. When your boat is bouncing from trough to trough it could roll intensely and be extremely dangerous.

While in a powerboat under these conditions your best option is to change course and tack to take the waves and wind at a 45-degree angle. Be broad of your bow first and then broad on your quarter. The zig-zag approach will enable you to leave your boat in the trough long enough to turn. You need to minimize the time in the trough and being broad side by the swell, so you do not broach.


Running with the swell behind you

When running in front of the sea,, the swell comes from behind you and this can be challenging. The stern can be swept and pushed side to side. Keep the stern perpendicular to the oncoming seas to navigate these conditions.  

Being lifted by heavy seas is reason for concern. Boats tend fall quickly down the slope crest to trough. When the stern is high your propeller could rise out of the water. If the rudder loses contact with the flow of water, it will be left useless. Your boat could yaw to one side and broach into the trough.

Sliding down the wave fast enough to bury the bow is another reason for concern. Pitchpoling can exists when the stern is being pushed. To take the swells off one quarter and the other try tacking before the seas. When running before the seas consider towing a drogue to slow your speed. This will allow the helmsman an easier time control the stern in the proper position.


The heaving to maneuver

When conditions are become violent beyond your control, you and the boat are taking too much force it’s time to for the heaving to maneuver. Depending on the type of boat, this maneuver keeps the bow in to the wind or a tad off the wind and waves.

When in a power boat forget where you’re going get the bow into the wind and waves using only enough steam to make bare steerage way and conserve fuel. When fuel becomes an issue, try deploying the anchor so you can focus on keeping the bow into the wind and waves with no power needed. This will slow the drift.