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Go Back   SailNet Community > Skills and Seamanship > Seamanship & Navigation
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Seamanship & Navigation Forum devoted to seamanship and navigation topics, including paper and electronic charting tools.


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Old 12-27-2013
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How much wave/swell is too much?

We have a Pearson 30 which is considered a tender boat.

It's 30' with a 9.5' beam.

At what point would waves/swell become uncomfortable and/or dangerous for a boat this size?

We dealt with some big breaking waves on Lake Michigan, but they were very close together and I have no idea how big they were. We had a "crisis" at the time and wave height determination was the least of my worries at the time.

Anyway, at what point is it a very bad idea to be on the ocean?

I asked this because I just ran across the article where 5 vessels got into trouble in 8' waves offshore. That doesn't seem very big to me.

Can someone educated me a little?
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Old 12-27-2013
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Re: How much wave/swell is too much?

Depends on your comfort level I have been in some really big water in a typhoon off java. ( back in my navy days). Also depends on equipment, throw out a series drogue when it gets really bad. 8 ft can be bad if you are taking them on the beam but minor taken astern or quarter ahead also depends on the dominate wave period as well. The further apart the better.
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Old 12-27-2013
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Re: How much wave/swell is too much?

Depends a lot on the time between swells as newhaul said. A rule of thumb I've heard is when the height gets more then the period, it's getting bad. 10 feet at 16 seconds is rolly, but not bad. 8 feet at 6 seconds though would be way worse.

Our boat is similar to yours, 32 feet, 10 foot beam. We've been in 8 - 10 foot waves a lot off the washington coast, and as long as the period is 12 - 15 seconds it's no big deal safety wise.
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Old 12-27-2013
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Re: How much wave/swell is too much?

You are getting good advice. One other additional thing to think about is when can a seemingly benign situation get dangerous?

Some examples:

- Swells crossing shallow water will tend to get steeper and break.
- Current running against a wave train can cause it to get a lot steeper.

These situations often combine at shallow harbor entrances with rivers, and they can be hard to see from the ocean side as the break is blocked from view by the swell. We had a boat in the Merrimac River for a number of years, and saw this situation on otherwise beautiful days with a hurricane way offshore.

Deep water, no current, big long period swells are usually pretty safe sailing, as long as your crew doesn't get sea sick.
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Old 12-27-2013
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Re: How much wave/swell is too much?

There's a saying that pretty much says it all, "the boat can take more than the crew".
In other words, a well found vessel should be able to handle just about anything, but the crew's ability to do so will depend on their experience and comfort level.
What you may choose to sail out into may be very much unlike what you encounter, even on a day sail (don't we all trust the weather forecasters completely?). You can't just turn around and head for home, if conditions deteriorate; you will still in the bad stuff for some time. Odds are with you most days, but in the end (or sooner) you are going to get into some pretty unpleasant stuff and you'll just have to manage.
Only an idiot would choose to sail the Gulfstream in a northerly, but if one gets caught in a norther in the stream, there is absolutely nothing one can do but sail on for the nearest safe entrance. Turning around will not alleviate the situation and running may be even more dangerous. If you sail enough, you're going to get knocked down, possibly capsized or even pitchpoled. You can set limits based on weather forecasts, your experience, comfort level and have multiple plans, but Neptune couldn't care less. Staying calm, being proactive and in control is the best way to get through the tough stuff; it always ends, be it a squall or a hurricane.
There is no cut and dried answer to your question, for your Pearson 30 or my 530, be it on the ocean, in a bay or on a lake.
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Old 12-27-2013
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Re: How much wave/swell is too much?

I've been out on lake Michigan in 6 and 8 foot waves that were steep enough that I decided to take the oncoming waves at an angle then yanked the tiller on my little 20 foot Windrose to cross the crest straight ahead. She sailed like a little duck up and over and gave me a dry ride. I've been out in the San Juans on my Catalina 27 on four and five foot waves and received a good soaking for my efforts. Different boats; different strokes.
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Old 12-28-2013
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Re: How much wave/swell is too much?

Quote:
Originally Posted by Pearson796 View Post
We have a Pearson 30 which is considered a tender boat.

It's 30' with a 9.5' beam.

At what point would waves/swell become uncomfortable and/or dangerous for a boat this size?

We dealt with some big breaking waves on Lake Michigan, but they were very close together and I have no idea how big they were. We had a "crisis" at the time and wave height determination was the least of my worries at the time.

Anyway, at what point is it a very bad idea to be on the ocean?

I asked this because I just ran across the article where 5 vessels got into trouble in 8' waves offshore. That doesn't seem very big to me.

Can someone educated me a little?
Our prior yacht was a 1976 Cal 2-29 which is very similar to your Pearson in size and displacement that we sailed all over heck's half acre for 20+ years. On the west coast from San Francisco to as far south Ensenada, Mexico and later in South Florida from Ft. Lauderdale to Tampa and between. While the boat was (relatively) light, I did not consider her unduly tender, particularly once heeled down to about 20ļ. The only time we had difficulty with her sea-keeping ability was in short steep waves with heavy head winds. She could/would hold her own but with a deeply reefed main and a scrap of headsail had difficulty making headway unless one bore off on somewhat of a reach, only luffing up momentarily when cresting a wave but quickly bearing away to ride down the back of the wave at an angle with the lee hull "surfing" on the wave face to avoid crashing down and pounding. It was doable but quite exhausting and progress was quite slow if one's destination was to windward. Closely spaced waves much over 10-15 feet combined with winds much over 20-22 knots became a trial and, when confronted with that combination, often led us to retire to shelter and wait for a more favorable weather window.

Once, attempting to sail from Long Beach, Ca., to Newport Beach, we were confronted with a rare (for the area) southerly gale which built up a terrific sea just off the end of the stone jetty into Alamitos Bay. It took us 3+ hours to get as far as the oil platform off of Sunset Beach all the while beating up the boat and my (much) better half, a VMG of all of about 1 knt. Abreast the platform, my wife announced that if we did not abandon the effort, she intended to swim ashore (and likely file for divorce). With that, we came about and made it back to the shelter of the Alamitos Bay Yacht Club (3 miles or so) in all of about 30 minutes, reportedly leaving a "rooster tail" as we transited down the channel between the jetties (according to the bar flies at the Club once we arrived). The wind veered overnight and the next day we made the transit to Newport, about 16 miles, in a tad over 2-1/2 hours.

FWIW...
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Re: How much wave/swell is too much?

It is more about the crew than the waves to a point. As long as you are not beating into them 8 foot with a reasonable period should be no issue, but add a broken tiller or tangled line and you are all of a sudden in trouble and often quite quickly. This is why people so often preach where PDFs and don't drink because things can change so quickly. Go from bopping along, to breaking things in seconds. I have never sailed a Pearson 30, but have always thought they were really beautiful boats, and well made by most accounts. That narrow beam will come in handy when the waves get big and snotty, as you won't be pounding into them! Keep in mind that even though the Great Lakes are fresh water, they can get as rough as the ocean, so your experiences out there will serve you well if you head to the coasts. Things can really kick up out of no where on Lake Michigan.
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Re: How much wave/swell is too much?

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Originally Posted by miatapaul View Post
It is more about the crew than the waves to a point. As long as you are not beating into them 8 foot with a reasonable period should be no issue, but add a broken tiller or tangled line and you are all of a sudden in trouble and often quite quickly. This is why people so often preach where PDFs and don't drink because things can change so quickly. Go from bopping along, to breaking things in seconds. I have never sailed a Pearson 30, but have always thought they were really beautiful boats, and well made by most accounts. That narrow beam will come in handy when the waves get big and snotty, as you won't be pounding into them! Keep in mind that even though the Great Lakes are fresh water, they can get as rough as the ocean, so your experiences out there will serve you well if you head to the coasts. Things can really kick up out of no where on Lake Michigan.
We launched the boat at Kenosha, WI where we started out journey on the loop. I have zero sailing experience and have never owned a boat prior to buying this one.

We set out at 4:30 on an afternoon when the forecast was supposed to be 1-3 foot waves. With no sailing experience we were just going to motor the 50 miles or so down to Calumet Harbor where we were going to unstep the mast for the rest of our trip down to the gulf.

About halfway between the Chicago Harbor and the Calumet Harbor, THIS happened.

The waves were getting bigger and bigger into the night and started to break. Now they were breaking over the side of our boat and we had no engine and no experience with sails.

We got beat up bad before we were finally towed into Crowleys. I kept reminding the Admiral that as bad as it seemed, the boat could take more than we could and to not be scared. Inside my adrenaline was pumping and I was terrified. Needless to say, sea sickness was setting in.

I never want to relive that night again. What was supposed to be a calm 1-3 foot wave turned into much bigger waves that were very close together and began to soak us on deck.

I am hoping that those 8' waves we dealt with that night will feel completely different on the ocean when the rhythm is completely different.

This summer we are taking sailing lessons here on Kentucky Lake. We had planned to motor all the way to Florida and learn to sail there, but our plans have changed. In the last month that we have been on the loop we have realized that there are things we need to do to the boat and equipment that would make things easier.
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Old 12-28-2013
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Re: How much wave/swell is too much?

Swells, not so big a problem. Waves, breaking waves, more of a problem. I'd say by the time you get eight-foot waves on a 30' boat, the biggest problem will be seasickness or fatigued crew, and some points of sail or some maneuvers (like turning around) may become dangerous as you have to come sideways to the waves.

OTOH I've been out in 8' and 40+knot winds in a 28' boat and wile it was a tiring ride, we never felt it was dangerous. Mainly because everyone on board had been out, gradually, in conditions working up to that before.

The mythical prudent mariner would say "Gee, maybe that's too much for us..." and just take some more time working up the comfort level and experience. Nothing wrong with that. If anyone complains, let them buy the life insurance.
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