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Rock and Roll


A guide to understanding waves, wave forecasting, and how best to handle your boat in them.

Boaters love waves, at least when we’re talking about the friendly gesture we give to each other when passing. But that other kind of wave, the one that makes the boat rock and roll? Maybe not so much. Like them or not, waves are a fact of boating, and every boat and every boater has a different tolerance for them.

My first rule for handling our boat in any significant waves is to try not to. When we’re planning a trip, the forecasted wave heights are a critical part of that planning. If we’re uncertain about a forecast, or if the predicted conditions are approaching our tolerance level, we ask ourselves: If we’re going to have a regret, would we rather regret staying in on a day we could have gone out, or going out and wishing we would have stayed in?

New boaters in my Trawlerfest sessions frequently ask, “What are the highest winds or largest waves I’m willing to go out in?” The answer is always, “It depends.” It’s not just about the wind speed or predicted height of the waves. It’s about direction. It’s about the wave period. It’s also about the body of water…

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