Not every day on the water is going to be flat calm and glassy smooth. If the wind is up or the weather is about to change, rough water can make getting to the fish, or getting back to the dock, a challenge. Here are some tips for staying safe and comfortable while navigating the rough stuff with your fishing boat.
Modern weather forecasting is so accurate there’s almost no excuse for getting caught out in a storm. Make a habit of checking the weather before you head out, and then monitor the weather while on the water. Better to get back to shore before a cold front blows through than to have to ride it out.
If the wind comes up and you know you’re going to be in for a rough ride, get yourself and your passengers into life jackets and secure any loose gear in the boat. Stow rods, tackle boxes and coolers that could go overboard or cause an injury flying around in the aluminum fishing boat. Get into foul weather gear before it starts raining and the air temperature cools suddenly. Get passengers out of bow seating areas and behind the windshield.
It can be tempting to try and run fast and get the rough ride over with, but that could really beat up your aluminum boat, your gear and your passengers. Instead, throttle back to a speed that just keeps the boat on plane, and keep the outboard trimmed down. You want to let the sharp entry of the hull cut through the chop rather than smacking every wave in the flatter, center section of the boat hull, especially when heading into the wind and the face of each wave. Slowly adjust your speed and trim until you find a combination that lets you make way with good boat control but without excessive pounding.
When caught in very heavy seas, offshore anglers will often run at a 45-degree angle to the waves, zigzagging toward shelter or the dock rather than navigating in a straight line. This technique may also be useful for driving safe your boat in extreme conditions on big fresh water – a long run on Lake Erie, for example. It will take more time and fuel to reach your destination, but with less impact on the boat and crew.
Instead of heading directly back to the dock or launch ramp, consider a route that will keep you along the leeward shore, where the water is protected from the wind. Even running on the leeward side of an island could give you some respite. Again, you may ultimately travel a longer distance, but you’ll be more comfortable and be at less risk of damaging gear or the boat.
Sometimes when a storm whips up the lake the best plan for the safety of you and your crew is to seek a safe place to tie up or drop anchor and wait it out. Head for a closer launch ramp or marina and if you need to, catch a ride on land back to your vehicle and trailer.