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VIDEO: Running an inlet

In the superb video below shot by Geoff Mackley, we see in living color the power of the sea and the virtues of a seaworthy boat. A number of lessons are on display here and they should influence your decision making whether you’re selecting your next boat or deciding whether the one you have is up to the expected — or unexpected — conditions.

The first is the effect of a vessel’s speed on seaworthiness. The slower the boat, the less capable it is of outrunning the weather or avoiding breaking seas. The fishing boats in this video cannot keep up with, let alone outrun, the heavy surf they are operating in, and they therefore require other survival skills to make it home safely. With breaking waves boarding regularly from the stern, the freeing ports — or scuppers — must be large enough to shed water almost immediately. A deck full of water and a broach at the same time could easily capsize the boat.

Click play for the amazing footage.

A large rudder with a quick steering ratio no more than four or five turns lock-to-lock to move the rudder quickly through a 70-degree (minimum) arc is essential. This is especially true of a hull designed to carry a lot of weight, carrying its full beam well aft, making it more buoyant aft and therefore more susceptible to broaching.

One of the trawlers shown has excellent visibility from the helm, with 360 degrees of windows and narrow mullions or blind spots. The situational awareness provided by this intelligent design, which gives you the ability to see the waves all around the boat, makes it much easier, or even possible, to adjust course and speed proactively.

Without propulsion power, all of these boats would almost certainly capsize in these conditions, so maintaining the machinery in top-notch condition is imperative. It also takes more power, and therefore more fuel, to get home in very rough seas, so plan your fuel reserve accordingly.

Keeping the ocean out of the boat is crucial, and this requires watertight hatches, scuttles, doors and fittings, which in turn require regular maintenance.

Although many people tend to think of heavy displacement vessels such as these as the most seaworthy of all, that is not necessarily the case. If these 10- or 11-knot displacement fishing boats didn’t have all of the elements of seaworthiness — including the reliable machinery, rapid water-shedding capability, a large margin of stability, watertight integrity, responsive steering and so on — they likely would not survive.

A well-designed planing boat offers clear advantages in similar conditions if a skilled skipper is operating it. If the boat can maintain a good clip in rough water — say, 15 to 30 knots, bobbing and weaving between breaking waves, with responsive steering and nimble handling, strong acceleration and excellent all-around visibility — then I would rather be on that boat in these conditions. Such a boat can turn the tables and have more choice about where it is at a given moment because it can transit much more rapidly, beating its way home much more quickly across the open ocean, and is far more capable of threading its way through the surf once it’s in an inlet.

There will be much discussion about all of these points, but this reflects my experience, having run boats ranging from Coast Guard surf boats to Hunt-designed planing boats that are at the top of the offshore planing-hull universe.