How to Safely Drive a Bass Boat in Rough Water


Sometimes when you’re trying to get to that perfect fishing spot, you experience some rough water, quite literally. That was a big concern in my head, I wasn’t sure what to do when moving through rougher waters, but here I’ll be able to share some things that I learned.

The biggest thing that you need to remember when you’re out in the water and it starts to get rough is to go slow. If the waves are two to three feet, you can break the waves with your keel head on, but when the waves start growing, that’s when your tactic needs should change.

That’s just a quick answer for you, but don’t worry, we’re going to go more in depth. How we prepare, what do we do, what do we consider, and other things along those lines. Being prepared is one of the best things that you can do, but sometimes you don’t expect the wind or weather to change drastically.

Check the Weather

One of the main things that you need to be able to do when you’re going to go out on the water, in general, is to check the weather. If there is a report that’s saying you’re going to receive 20 to 40 mile an hour winds, it would be a good idea not to head out.

Especially if you’re just beginning to drive a boat, you definitely would want to think twice if there is bad weather reported. Don’t get cocky. It’s not worth your life. There are different types of boats, and with that, there are different types of hulls.

With this revelation, you have to realize that each boat will handle the waves and conditions differently than others. This isn’t something that you need to do just because you’re looking for something that will fulfill your need for adrenaline.

Weather is really the big boss when you’re considering going out on the lake, river, or wherever you’re planning on going. Like I said before, your life isn’t worth the thought “Oh, that’s fine, I can handle it” especially if you’ve never gone out on rough water before.

Prep your boat.

Even if the forecast says that you’re going to have great weather, it doesn’t hurt to have your boat prepared for anything that may come your way. Here are some things that you can do in order to prepare your boat:

  • Keep your boat light; If you don’t need it immediately, don’t have it on your boat. An example is to have your back-up equipment and lures in your car until you need it.
  • Protect your essentials; Placing your essential items such as your keys, cell phone, charger, etc in a plastic bag is a good thing to keep them safe in case water happens to get into your boat.
  • Bring a bilge pump; When the waters suddenly shift in strength and size, it’s important that you’re prepared. A little water over the front of the boat can really do some damage, you can get one that will plug into a cigarette lighter and always have it in the bottom of your boat.
  • Pack an extra cooler; Despite what the weather channel may have said, it’s important that you bring along some extra ice or drinks even. There’s nothing wrong with being safe, and with having an extra cooler, you can be sure that you’ll be prepared in case something comes up unexpectedly.
  • Get creative with accessory storage; One fisher has a contraption attached to his boat which allows himself to lock it onto the deck. If things become a little rougher, he can unclip this and then put it back in the storage container. It is easily packed away and just as easily brought out.
  • Pre-rig; Sometimes you’re not sure what you’re going to be coming up to, and you don’t want to spend all that time rigging what you could’ve already had prepared and in the end the big one gets away. This just helps so you don’t have to waste a lot of time and can continue to enjoy your time outside.
  • Stay organized; It’s important that when you’re out on the water, you’re not trying to dig through your storage bin looking for something that you think is going to be in there. With being organized you can have your main supplies, as well as some emergency supplies in the same spot every time and not have to worry about searching for them and potentially being involved in a more severe crisis.
  • Only pack the rods you need; When you’re headed out, you don’t need to take every single rod that you own, you don’t need to feel like you’re going to miss the big one if you don’t have this rod or that. This also helps to be able to avoid breaking more rods in the end, so only bring what you need and you’ll be okay.
  • Secure the trolling motor; When you’re already out on the water, you don’t want to worry about changing the trolling motor, so be sure that you strap it down before you head out. Double straps are a good idea, otherwise, you can have it shift and that’s how it can get damaged.
  • Protect your Power-Poles; Although this may not necessarily be something that you would have to worry about when you’re in rough waters, it’s important to protect them if you’re not intending on using them. Be sure to put the cover on them to keep them in good condition.
  • Have a back-up prop; A lot of people can change props when they are in big water, but also, when you’re in rough water if something was to go wrong with the current propellor–even though you’re supposed to be going slow–you can rest assured that you’re going to have another way to get out.
  • Don’t forget your life jacket; It’s important to be able to be sure that you have the personal safety devices that you would need. Having a life jacket could quite literally save your life, especially if something happened in rough waters.

These are just a few suggestions, this isn’t the specific list that you should go by each time, but you can use this in order to create a list for yourself and what you want to be able to bring onto your boat. That’s something that you need to be comfortable with–the safety of your boat–as well as the safety of others that you may potentially have on your boat.

Determine the Water: Bumpy or Rough?

The best way to be able to determine the status of the water is by looking at the size of the swells. If they are about two to four feet that’s what you would consider being “bumpy” water. Anything that’s from five to ten feet would be considered “rough” water.

A lot of bass anglers haven’t seen anything that’s above six feet in regards to the height of the waves. You may think that since you can handle the “bumpy” water that you would have no problem going into the “rough” water and navigating through that. That’s not usually the case.

Although it takes time to be able to get better at driving in the “rough” water, it’s also important to remember that you shouldn’t go out looking for the kind of water that could potentially end up causing harm if you’re not too careful. There’s a lot of mistakes that can be made when moving through “rough” waters.

So be careful and be smart before you go out thinking you can conquer bodies of water.

Go Slow

Some of you may think that it would be a good idea to punch it through the rough water, but that could result in your boat skipping across the water, which in turn could cause an accident that may or may not end up being fatal.

Here are some tips that you can use in order to help navigate your boat through rough waters:

  • Drive slowly
  • Trim your motor so that the keel cuts through the water
  • Keep your bow high
  • Make sure your equipment is secured

“Traveling into the wind is smoother than moving into it, when in rough waters. Do not cross the wind as it is a killer. Running slow while keeping the bow high will shield you from some of the weather.”

-USAngler.com

In order to ensure that your ride can be smooth, you need to be sure that you’ve trimmed your boat. Change the angle of the prop or level the boat out, just enough to get the gear case out. But when you get into choppy waters, it’s important that you drop your trim below neutral because this will also help to keep your ride smooth.

When you’re going through this, be sure that you’re aware of the other boats that may be around you and that you’re not getting too close to them. When you’re close to another boat, that could potentially be dangerous as well. So be sure that you’re aware of others around you.

Be sure that you’re aware of the weather as well. Rain, snow, and fog can make it difficult to navigate, and navigating on rough water already isn’t the easiest, so slow down, listen for others around you, and if you can, anchor your boat until the weather clears so you can see and continue.

Don’t Panic!

When you’re starting to get into rougher waters, it’s important that you’re not panicking, especially if you’re the driver and you have other people on your boat. Granted, you may not always have kids on your boat, but just in case, put this into practice.

You’re going to get wet. When you’re traveling in rough waters, it’s not something that’s going to be magically solved and that’s it, you’re nice and dry out on the other side. You need to understand that you may need to bring extra clothes, like a rain jacket or something along those lines.

As long as you remain calm, you should be able to keep moving forward and get you and your partner back to the safety of the shore. Panic has never really helped anyone, but if someone on the boat decides to panic, it’s best that it isn’t the person that is driving.

Sometimes the option that you have is to sit and wait the storm out. That’s not necessarily the most exciting thing to do, but that could be all that you can do. Be sure to keep watching the weather, if it’s not something you’re sure about navigating, stay on shore.

It’s honestly better to be over cautious than it is to be overconfident in yourself and then you end up causing a problem bigger than you expected. I’ve been in situations–not on the water–where I was the one that needed to be calm, and others were panicking. That can be a stressful situation.

Be sure that you’re breathing, that you slow the boat down, and you focus on reassuring the people that are with you that you’re going to have a little bit of an uncomfortable ride and to hold on. Being firm and confident in the manner that you speak to them is important as well.

That way they know that they have a voice of reason along with them and feel safer about the stressful situation.

The reassurance that you can give is helpful. When I was placed into situations where someone was panicking, being able to tell them that it was going to work out and that they just had to hold on was something that they were grateful for, and it’s something that I hadn’t really thought about being important, but to them, it could completely change their mindset.

Enjoy the ride.

The most important thing when you’re out on your bass boat is being able to enjoy yourself. Whether or not the waters get “bumpy” or “rough” it’s still important to know that you’re going to have a good time. That’s not going to stop you from enjoying your time out on the water.

If you’re involved in something that doesn’t necessarily make for a happy ending, that’s okay. Experience is the best teacher, and sometimes that’s all that we have as we go through life.

Understand that when you’re in those rough waters, you need to direct your boat in the correct manner so you don’t end up capsizing and causing an even bigger problem or having harm come to yourself or to your boat. It’s best to avoid those situations if you can even before you leave the shore.

Don’t go out if you aren’t comfortable. If your buddies give you a hard time for it, oh well. Better safe than sorry, and it’s better you all come out with your lives.

There are lots of things that can be dangerous in life. Boating on rough waters just happens to be one that enters into my mind quite a bit. I’ve been on a few boats that ended up bouncing along the water, and I wasn’t quite sure where we were going to go or how the situation was going to end up, but in the end, we were okay. Don’t risk it.

No matter how “perfect” the fishing may be, don’t risk your life, your boat, your friendships, or anything along those lines for a selfish and dangerous reason. It’s really not worth it in the end.

Geoff Southworth

I am a California native and I enjoy all the outdoors has to offer. My latest adventures have been taking the family camping, hiking and surfing.

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