Take On Head Seas More Smoothly | Boating Safety

Take On Head Seas More Smoothly

Beat the abuse of head seas with these helpful tips.

How to beat head seas

You can beat head seas by decelerating in advance.

Boating Magazine

An editor metaphorically takes on big waves, what with publisher needs, reader expectations and writer quirks.

Kevin Falvey, Boating magazine editor, makes taking on seas more than a metaphor. Here’s how he says you as a boater can take on head seas more smoothly.

Head seas are waves that strike the bow of your boat, and high, stormy head seas call for deft boat handling.

Remember when your brother jumped off the low end of the teeter-totter, when you were on the high end? Wham, right? Down you came with a thud at the end. That’s what it can feel like when a head sea brings a boat- and bone-thumping rapid deceleration, with your boat falling off one wave and slamming into the next.

Paradoxically, you can beat it by decelerating in advance—easing back on the throttle when heading directly or nearly directly into the next waves.

After all, Falvey says, “The faster you come off the previous wave…the faster your boat will slow down when it hits the next…the harder you will pound.”

Yes, a slower boat—and Falvey’s editing colleague Randy Vance says 5 to 10 mph may be your max in big seas—keeps your brother on the seesaw as you descend more slowly.

There are other ways to beat the abuse of head seas, Falvey says, two of them making use of your boat’s particular design.

Remember the swimming pool: The same fall into water can produce either a knife-sharp, low-splash dive or a loud and painful belly-flop. Knifelike is the deep-V hull, which slices into a wave before decelerating; harder-landing is the boat with shallower deadrise.

Low Deadrise? Ride the Chine.
In hulls, flat means splat. The low-deadrise boat’s design offers advantages including quick planing and great load bearing—but wave taming is not among them. You can, though, reduce the abuse of head seas by riding on your chine—in effect, creating something of a wave-slicing keel by canting the boat, heeling it over by using trim tabs, or shifting weight or crew.

Like a sharp hull, the chine now slices the water and slows deceleration when meeting the next wave. It looks and feels a bit ungainly, and it may throw extra spray, but it won’t loosen fillings.

V-Hull? Do Your Level Best!
The opposite is true for boats with deeper-V bottoms. High-deadrise hulls often lean into the wind, riding now on the flatter surface between keel and chine. Reverse the shallow-deadrise trick: Shift weight or use tabs, not to lean the boat, but to stand it straight for the softest ride.

A Tack Attack
In large swells, where your boat falls off the crests, take the seas at a slight angle instead of head-on. That keeps more of your hull supported as you go over the crest, so your boat rides, rather than falls, down the back side.

Zigzagging—what sailors call “tacking”—may take a little more time, maybe a little more gas, but it can pay off in the form of a lot more boating comfort.


The U.S. Coast Guard is asking all boat owners and operators to help reduce fatalities, injuries, property damage, and associated healthcare costs related to recreational boating accidents by taking personal responsibility for their own safety and the safety of their passengers. Essential steps include: wearing a life jacket at all times and requiring passengers to do the same; never boating under the influence (BUI); successfully completing a boating safety course; and getting a Vessel Safety Check (VSC) annually from local U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, United States Power Squadrons®, or your state boating agency’s Vessel Examiners. The U.S. Coast Guard reminds all boaters to “Boat Responsibly!” For more tips on boating safety, visit www.uscgboating.org.