Driving in "Big Water"...How I do it. :)by Capt Juls on 01/23/19
I run the Ranger 621 FS, which is a 21’ 10” beauty, and is rated for up to 350Hp motors. My 621 is powered by a Evinrude 300 G2, which is more than enough HP to reach speeds up to the mid to high 50’s. I am not as concerned with top end speed as I am with the mid-range torque, since there are few days where I can open it up, due to lake conditions, and powering up a wave with ease, is what I’m most concerned with.
Lake Erie is the shallowest of the Great Lakes, and the Western Basin is the shallowest of the entire lake. With shallower water, comes the dangers of boat handling when the wind blows. Unlike deeper waters, shallow water creates waves that are closer together, and peak higher with lesser winds.
It’s important to have a boat that can handle the conditions that the lake can throw at you, and for this reason, I run a Ranger. There is one thing that Ranger does better than any other boat manufacturer, and that is, they fill the hull cavity with spray foam to completely cover every nook and cranny, which would keep the boat horizontal in the water in the event that it was to ever to fill with water. Most boats will not do that.
Good boat handling in rough conditions will prevent you from ever having to find out if your boat will float or sink, if you’re unfortunate enough to find out.
When I first learned to run big water, it was out of a Ranger 620. My mentor told me something that I have never forgotten…”If you can feel it in your ass, the boat can too”. Which, basically means, if you’re beating yourself up, then you’re beating the boat up too. No one wants to get back to shore and then have to spend hours fixing loose screws, getting the windshield fixed, or listening to your fishing partner swear at you for hurting their back!
Here are some tips I learned for running big water, that might help you too.
1. Do not hide behind the windshield, if you have one. Get up above it where you can “read the waves”. If you can see what’s coming, you can adjust your speed to accommodate it. I change out the original driver’s seat pedestal with one that is a little higher. On the days where I need a little more height, I fold the seat down and sit on the back of the seat.
2. Keep your hand on the throttle at all times. Unless you run a “hotfoot”, one hand should be on the steering wheel, and the other on the throttle.
The best reason for keeping your hand on the throttle is for “driving”.
While you’re reading the waves, you will be on and off the throttle continuously driving through the waves.
If you simply pick a speed, you’re going to get into trouble, because not all waves are going to be the same. Now, throw in a few boat wakes from other boats, that turns the wave action into a “washing machine”. If you are not reading the waves, and using the throttle for what it was designed to do, then you will find yourself in trouble.
Power up a wave, let off on the throttle a little bit, and let that wave go under you, so that you don’t drop off the top of it, and fill the boat up with water at the bow, then power up the next one.
Even on the calmer days, I still drive with one hand on the throttle, because that one or two seconds it takes to take your hand from the wheel to the throttle could be the difference between safety and tragedy…ie: submerged log you spot at the last second.
A following sea is the most dangerous, but can be the easiest to run if you have a lot of patience. This is what I call “surfing”. Keep the motor trimmed down when running a following sea. This keeps the prop from blowing out, and keeps a grip on the waves.
Power up the backside of the wave, reduce speed on the top, so you can surf it, and then let the wave set you down on the wave in front of you. If you run a following sea too fast, you run into the danger of putting the bow of the boat into the backside of a big wave. Not only will it basically stop the boat in its tracks, but it will fill the boat with water from the bow. Now, all those waves that were following you will be filling your boat from the back end too. This is why it is imperative that the operator have a lot of patience and just enjoy the “surf” until he or she is safely back to port.
The smoothest ride you’ll find, when it’s rough, is “running the trough”, or between the waves. The boat will roll back and forth with the waves, but it won’t get pounded.
Becoming a great boat operator takes a lot of practice. And, with practice come confidence. Having confidence to know what to do when the conditions change for the worse, will get you back home safely.
When I run my charter business, I usually don’t take customers out when the wave forecast is calling for anything over 3-4 footers. Reason being, most customers do not have the big water experience and will usually have trouble getting out of their seats. This is not fun for them, and it’s not fun for them, it’s not fun for me either. Fishing and boating is all about having fun!
The worst conditions I ever ran my Ranger in was during a tournament back in 2003 out of Dunkirk, NY on Lake Erie. Luckily, the lake is the deepest at that end, so the 7-10 foot waves were spaced much further apart than on the western end, and the 10-mile run back in was safely done. I seriously doubt any small boat could safely handle the same conditions on the Western end of the lake.
It’s important to check the weather forecasts, and wave forecasts, before heading out, so you know what is coming in for the rest of the day, and prepare accordingly.
With today’s advances in technology, there’s no excuse to not be prepared. And, always keep a plan in your mind throughout the day, as to what you will do if conditions change unexpectedly, and you need to find shelter from a storm. Always, have a plan, and keep safety your number one priority when playing on the big water.
Live to fish, and have fun, another day!