How to Run in a Following Sea

Rough seas
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Skippers and captains of all boats, no matter how large or diminutive, share one thing in common; they are all subject to the whims of the sea upon which they travel. From the smallest dinghy to the largest ocean liner, they all must eventually yield to its ultimate power in determining their fate, as referenced in the old sailors’ adage, “Oh Lord; Thy sea is so mighty, and this ship so small.”

One of the most daunting examples is when you find yourself in a ‘following sea’. A head sea refers to times when the direction of the waves is flowing toward the boat so that the bow is the first part of the craft that encounters the oncoming sets. Depending on the size of the waves and the size of the boat you happen to be in, it can be rather uncomfortable slamming into them one after the other as you slowly maneuver through the water.

A following sea, however, is the exact opposite as your boat is moving in the same direction as the waves. And if the waves become large during these conditions, it can usher in disastrous and potentially life-threatening circumstances. A wave moving faster than your boat has the capability of overtaking it from behind, pushing your stern sideways and capsizing your boat in a split second.

To sidestep this problem, always be sure to match the speed of your boat to the speed of the waves behind you in order to keep them from catching up with your craft. It is also important to avoid powering through a breaking wave too early as you approach from behind, and you may even have to decelerate a bit in order to keep from doing so. While small craft skippers should always wear a cord attached to the kill switch on their boat for safeties sake, it is absolutely mandatory that they do so during a following sea.

There's danger ahead if you're caught in heavy seas and the way back in is with the wind in a following sea.

Here's How to Respond

  1. Until you are ready to begin the trip in, keep your stern away from the oncoming seas. Waves over the stern are the major cause for swamping.
  2. Ideally, head your boat at a 45-degree angle to the waves, and move slowly enough to allow the waves to roll under the boat and beyond you as you move.
  3. In a true following sea, adjust your speed so that you can stay on the back side of a moving wave. Use the throttle to keep your boat always attempting to climb the back side of the wave, but never reaching the top.
  4. Continue to climb the back of this wave until it dissipates or until you need to change course.
  5. When you need to change course, back off the throttle and change directions on the back of the wave.
  6. Never attempt to ride down the face of a wave. If you do find yourself going over the crest, never try to turn the boat as you go down the face. The bow will dig in and slow the boat and the following wave will flip the boat over sideways.
  7. Keep the boat straight if you top the crest. You may bury the bow into the back of the next wave, but chances are better that you won't flip.

A Tip

  1. When the weather is bad and seas are high, stay in port or fish protected water. You can always fish offshore on another day.