Sunday, February 9, 2014

How to handle rough water in a boat, Part 2

That's me at the tiller. Note I'm wearing a PFD and the bailer is stowed at the stern. The yellow dry-bag at the left holds all the required safety equipment for the boat. A bigger drybag is a great way to stow your raingear and essentials. Blaine Carpenter photo
This is the second of a three-part series.

There are three components to boating safety: 1. preparedness, 2. situational awareness and 3. proficiency at operating the boat.

Situational awareness

Just as there are times and places in a city when and where it is dangerous to travel, a person needs to "keep his head up" when it comes to boating. The wise boater almost never encounters scary wave conditions because he avoided them in the first place.The big thing to always keep in mind is the wind, its velocity and especially, its direction.
Big waves are created by strong winds that have traveled a long distance over the water. No matter how strong the wind, there are almost no waves at all on the shoreline from where the wind originates. If there is a strong wind from the west, for instance, there are no waves on the western shore and big waves on the eastern one.
Boaters should always recognize the wind direction when planning their fishing day. The wind usually doesn't vary in its direction throughout the day but if it does, you should be aware of the change. The velocity of the wind; however, almost always picks up as the day goes on and peaks between 2 p.m. and 5 p.m. If there is a strong wind in the morning, it's probably only going to get worse. It would be prudent to avoid the sides of the lake where the wind is blowing towards, i.e. stay away from the northeast sides of big bays if the wind is strongly blowing from the southwest.
If the wind is light in the morning, go ahead and cross over to the windy side, just keep your eye on what is happening. You may have left the big water to fish in a sheltered bay where it is hard to detect what is going on wave-wise. Watch the tree tops up on the hills as an indication of wind velocity.
At Bow Narrows Camp there are lots of sheltered bays that can be reached without crossing any big water at all. If it's a windy day, it is a wise choice to plan on staying in these areas the whole day. Leave the big bays for days that are calmer.
A needless risk that we see our guests take all the time is running their boats across big water right in front of thunderstorms, trying to get back to camp just before the downpour occurs. You should always know far in advance that a thunderstorm is coming. You can hear the thunder and can see the thunderhead. The time to get across the big bays is as soon as you see the storm, not moments before it strikes. These storms can pack incredible gusts -- enough to flatten trees and easily enough to flip any boat. The winds are totally unpredictable. So get the heck to safety before the storm occurs. You may not need to come all the way into camp right away, just get into the narrows or one of the nearby sheltered bays. If the storm gets nearer, come all the way into the dock and get in your cabin. No one should be out in a boat with lightning. Sometimes as you are fishing in the narrows you see that the storm is going to miss you. As soon as it passes, you can go back to where you started from.
But what if you are caught by the thunderstorm anyway? Somehow you miss the signs of its coming and the first thing you know the wind is gusting and thunder and lightning are all around. There is an appropriate weather saying for such occasions: "A sudden storm is soon over." Stay where you are. Put on your raingear which you should always have with you no matter what the weather conditions were when you left camp (a waterproof dry-bag is perfect for this. Just leave it clipped to a seat brace the entire week.) Get into a sheltered spot, tie up to shore and sit it out. A half-hour later the storm will have passed. If it's the only one on the horizon, you can just go back to fishing. Sometimes, however, you can see another one coming farther away. If the waves have calmed down, head back to camp.
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