There are three components to boating safety: 1. preparedness, 2. situational awareness and 3. proficiency at operating the boat.
There are three main considerations when boating through large waves: 1. speed of the boat, 2.weight placement in the boat, and 3. direction of travel as compared to wave direction.
Speed of the boat
Slow down! The exact speed you should be traveling is dictated by the wave height: the higher the waves the slower you need to go provided the boat is still planing. You can tell the boat is planing when it has "climbed" to the surface of the water. At rest the boat would have water part-way up the transom. When planing, the bottom edge of the hull is visible at the stern because the boat has parted the water as it moves ahead. The boat is also throwing spray off each side of the boat somewhere between the mid-point of the vessel and the "shoulder."
You know you have the right speed when the boat is not crashing into oncoming waves but rather meeting them smoothly. The bow shouldn't be pounding, just lifting and falling rhythmically. You may need to travel at half-speed or even less.
For rough water you want the weight placement in the boat farther toward the stern than normal. For a two-person boat, the front rider should move so he is one seat ahead of the driver. You want the bow to be lighter than normal so it rises and falls with the waves instead of plowing through them. If there are three adults in the boat, the two riders should each sit in the seat row immediately in front of the driver.
Direction of travel
You always want to handle large waves by either heading into them or going with them. You never want to travel broadside to the waves. You can "angle" into or with them but no more than 45 degrees.
This will very likely mean you must travel out of your way. That's no problem; you're on a lake, not a road. You do not need to travel in a bee-line from one spot to the other.
Here's an example: you are on the north side of a large bay and must reach the south side but there is a strong west wind that would make traveling from the north to the south broadside to the waves. So instead, head into or angle into the waves all the way to the western shore where it will be calm, drive along the western shore as far as possible and then head or angle as necessary to your destination on the south shore.
It's easier to head upwind than down because the speed of your boat stays the same as you meet the waves. Going downwind your boat will want to pick up speed after you crest a wave and start downhill so you might need to throttle back a little to slow down before speeding up again to climb the next wave.
When moving at an angle to the wave direction, if you travel too quickly or if you have too much weight forward, the boat will want to yaw -- pull to one side. It feels like the boat is trying to roll. You can quickly correct for this by steering the boat straight downwind until you adjust your speed, then resume your angle. You should have made your weight adjustment long before getting into rough water. It is dangerous to do so once you are in big waves.
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