SEAMANSHIP

When and how to run in fol­low­ing seas.

Boating - - CERTIFIED TESTS - By Pete Mc­Don­ald

I’ll al­ways re­mem­ber one par­tic­u­lar tuna fish­ing trip out of Ocean City, Mary­land, not for the sushi, but for the ef­fort it took to bring it home. We’d run around 25 miles off­shore to catch a few, and on the way back in, the weather started to turn. The last thing you want to do is get stuck surf­ing down a wave, which can cause you to lose steer­age and your stern to swing out.

I re­mem­ber how the feel­ing of re­lief as we neared the in­let mor­phed to un­ease as our cap­tain turned away from it. It’s a sen­sa­tion I’m sure you’ve felt on a tur­bu­lent com­mer­cial flight when the pilot sud­denly cir­cles away from the run­way into a hold­ing pat­tern.

“Too risky,” our cap­tain said. “We’ll run out un­til it calms.”

We’d been run­ning to shore in a head sea and were tak­ing a pound­ing. The waves stacked up even higher as the wa­ter got shal­lower and, de­spite our dis­com­fort, the safe thing to do was to turn and go with the seas. Mak­ing the de­ci­sion to run away from your home port is not an easy one. How did our cap­tain make the de­ci­sion? It was a judg­ment call. While fol­low­ing seas in an in­let can be pre­car­i­ous, in this case, run­ning with the swells off­shore seemed safer than run­ning through a nasty head sea.

Once you de­ter­mine that turn­ing to run in fol­low­ing seas is the best course of ac­tion, the first thing you need to do is fig­ure out how to safely come about. If the swells are small enough or spaced far enough apart, wait for a wave to pass be­fore start­ing your turn. Then quickly come about and ad­just your speed to keep ahead of the next wave so that you do not surf down the face of it.

From here, ad­just the trim of your en­gine, and your trim tabs if you have them, to keep the bow up so that it doesn’t stuff. You must con­stantly ad­just your speed to at­tempt to ride on the back of the wave in front of you. The last thing you want to do is get stuck surf­ing down a wave, which can cause you to lose steer­age and your stern to swing out, height­en­ing the pos­si­bil­ity of getting rolled. Or you could stuff the bow into the trough or the wave in front of you and take on wa­ter. If the fol­low­ing seas are break­ing, you also want to avoid al­low­ing a wave to break on your stern, flood­ing your decks. Try to use your throt­tles to ride on the lower por­tion of the wave, about a third of the way down from the crest. This way, you have time to re­act if the wave breaks, as well as some room to work the throt­tles.

For run­ning in large fol­low­ing seas, it may be best to run at a 45-de­gree an­gle to lessen the im­pact. This is known as quar­ter­ing down sea. (For a bet­ter un­der­stand­ing of this, read Jim Hendricks’ take on tack­ing strate­gies at boat­ing mag.com/how-to/tip­stack­ing-power­boat.)

On this par­tic­u­lar tuna trip, we rode the fol­low­ing sea for a while un­til we knew the tide had slacked and the seas had calmed down enough to safely run in. We made it back to port in time to clean the fish. And the sushi that night? It tasted ex­tra de­li­cious.

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