How to Handle Big Seas


Sooner or later running offshore for salmon, tuna or halibut you’re going to get caught in high winds, big seas or both.  Unless you’re running a 50ft sportfisher you’re not going to be immune from Mother Nature’s fiery. If you slow down and drive accordingly, potentially hazardous situations can be avoided.

Here are some tips to help when you encounter bad weather.

Driving offshore to fish the Pacific Ocean off the Washington coast you’re going to get hit by 6-9 ft seas and winds 40 knots that are going to be between you and the dock. Novice boaters don’t realize how fast the weather can change and they panic and don’t know what to do. A clear understanding of the situation and some common sense will get you back to the dock safe.

If you tack your boat like a sailboat quartering the waves off the bow or stern of your vessel you will make better time and have a softer ride. Plan your route to optimize the boat’s running angle with the sea conditions. Avoid a dead-head or beam sea whenever possible as you will have trouble making any headway.

One of the biggest mistakes is the urge is to run in straight course back to the dock.  Taking your time and running with the seas will keep you safe and you will arrive late but with your boat and crew in tacked. This could even mean deviating from my original port if the weather is really deteriorating. Safety is always paramount and top concern of any captain when fishing offshore. Knowing the performance characteristics is paramount to fishing safely offshore too. Over use of a trim tabs is a quick way to plow into a big wave during a following sea. Knowing how your boat performs is a great equalizer in bad weather conditions.

Keep an eye on the weather while fishing; we all tend to push the weather window in conditions we should not be fishing in, especially the weekend warriors that don’t want to give up a day on the water. I always watch my Sirius weather on my Lowrance HDS-10. I also keep the Broadband radar on and look possible approaching storm cells or use it to plot a course that avoids rough patches on the return to port.

Rough Weather Tips:

  • Slow down, slower speeds allow better reaction time. Use the throttle to avoid plowing into waves and taking on water
  • Use your trim tabs very carefully, too much in a following sea can cause you to submarine into a big wave in a flowing sea. Using more tabs while running against big wind chop keeping the bow down and running slower can make for a better/softer ride
  • Always watch the radar and satellite weather. Its easer to avoid big weather then to run through it
  • Carry plenty of fuel, bad water conditions eats fuel
  • Tack into waves instead of taking them head on
  • Alter your course to use favorable sea conditions
  • Know the bar forecast for the port your retuning too, nothing sucks more than beat you way back to the beach and find you can’t cross the bar back into port
  • Wear a life jacket
  • File a float pan
  • Travel with a partner boat there is safety and reassurance in numbers
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