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How to Handle Chop in a Small Boat

Russ is a boat owner and a veteran of the United States Navy.

Boating Occasionally Means Rough Water

Boating through choppy water is an experience that most boaters would rather skip. But rough water is inevitable unless you leave your boat at the dock permanently. If you venture onto the water you will occasionally encounter rough water even when the weather is calm. Waters can become roiled because of opposing currents, especially with an incoming tide.

How you handle choppy water is a skill that you need to develop if you want to enjoy boating. This article covers the basics of boating safely through chop.

Power boats are designed with rough water in mind. Hull designs such as the deep V and even double hulls have made choppy waters less of a problem, but the burden is on the captain—that's you—to get it right. Well designed boats are half the equation; the other half is you.

Choppy Water Basics

1. Batten down. No matter how skillfully you maneuver your boat, if loose equipment and just plain stuff litter the boat you may be in for an expensive experience, not to mention danger. Debris flying around a boat can damage the vessel and injure the people aboard. Simply stowing things into compartments is a good first step. Some experienced boaters keep a few old towels aboard as stuffing material to keep things in place. Of course there are some items that you need to keep handy such as binoculars. Velcro fasteners are a great way to keep these things in place. It almost seems that the Velcro people make this stuff for boating.

Good seamanship dictates that you prepare your vessel for rough water even when things are calm. Boats should be ready for the water to turn to chop.

2. Watch your speed. Power boats can go very fast, but sea conditions may dictate that you go slowly. Handling power boats in chop requires careful use of the throttle—and a lot of common sense. There is no clear-cut definition of when water turns from chop to just plain rough. In a choppy sea, you may not encounter waves that come in regular intervals, just a mess of little waves that don't seem to go anywhere. In a chop you want to add speed; in a rough sea with large waves, you want to go slow.

If you have a planning hull, that is one that enables your boat to skip or plane across the surface of the water, you should "get up on plane." Planning enables the boat to avoid the worst effects of the chop and can deliver a smoother ride than going slow. Boats without planning hulls, such as trawlers, have it a little tougher. If your boat doesn't plane you handle chop by just gutting through it. This isn't as bad as it sounds because a displacement hull is designed for stability.

If the chop turns to heavy waves, slow down. You can't plane along the surface of eight-foot waves at 20-foot intervals. You can kill yourself.

Boating through chop, like most things in boating, requires a strong dose of common sense. Follow the simple rules discussed in this article and your boating time will be what it should be: fun.

Choppy Water Can Get Rough


n stover from 77356 on August 09, 2016:

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Nice advice

Russ Moran - The Write Stuff (author) from Long Island, New York on December 12, 2012:

Thanks for you comment Dale.

Dale Anderson from The High Seas on December 12, 2012:

Good tips.

Russ Moran - The Write Stuff (author) from Long Island, New York on June 12, 2012:

Flat bottom sailboats can be fun, You fight both the wind and the chop.

Leah Lefler from Western New York on June 12, 2012:

I once went out in a flat-bottomed sailboat in choppy water... now THAT was fun! Ha! We're near a lake now and don't get the same waves that we once experienced on the ocean, but significant chop can still crop up!

Russ Moran - The Write Stuff (author) from Long Island, New York on June 11, 2012:

I got seasick writing this Hub.

Simone Haruko Smith from San Francisco on June 11, 2012:

Some very good common sense advice! I've only been in choppy water in human-powered boats, but these same basic principles mostly hold true.

Thanks for sharing more great boating advice with us!

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