Rough Waters: 5 Tips for Handling Your RIB in Tough Conditions

Rigid Inflatable Boats (RIBs) are known for their safety and seaworthiness. They often out-perform similarly sized hard-hulled sport boats, in part due to their light weight and their low centre of gravity. It’s no surprise that coast guards and militaries around the world make use of this flexible kind of craft, as they do manage well in all kinds of waters.

So here are some tips should you find yourself in the rough.

1. Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should.

Let’s put this one right up front. 

Yes, the boat may be capable of handling bad weather and rough conditions, but that doesn’t mean you are. Just like your 4x4 truck is capable of mud-bogging, it doesn’t mean every driver should be off-roading, especially as soon as they buy the truck.

Handling a boat well in rough seas takes experience, a cool head, and often, training. Inexperienced pleasure crafters may want to test the limits of their machine, but to do so potentially puts themselves and their passengers at risk. So, take careful note of the weather conditions, and don’t push the boat past your skill and comfort-level. The most experienced boaters know not to take a boat into rough water if you can avoid it. Your life depends on it. 

2. Match your speed and direction to the conditions.

It can be great fun bouncing from wave to wave, and if you want to give your passengers a bit of a thrill, that’s how you do it. But it’s both wearing on you and the boat, as it can cause any number of challenges and maintenance issues. Instead, carefully control the throttles and the steering to drive the boat upwind. To do this effectively, drive up the face of the wave and ease off the throttle at the top to avoid bouncing off the water. Then, as you’re driving down the wave, speed up so that you raise the bow to meet the next crest of the wave. Essentially, you’re creating a smoother ride which will be easier on the boat—and the people in it.

3. Run at an angle to the wave.

Short wave lengths (the distance between the wave crests) make for a challenging ride. But if you run at a 30- to 40-degree angle to the waves, you’re essentially riding between the crests which will make your journey smoother, and allow you to pick up more speed. The drawback is it means you’ll have to keep zig-zagging to your destination, but it ultimately makes it a smoother—and more pleasant—ride. 

4. Be careful in a ‘following sea.’ 

A following sea means the RIB is running in the same direction as the wind. The danger comes from the high possibility of capsize if a breaking wave catches the RIB on its side. To avoid this, you want to match your speed to the speed of the waves, which in many instances can be upwards of 30 knots. This means you need a lot of power from your motor. But you also need to make sure that you’re not going too fast, which can get you caught up in short wave lengths, and also cause you to nose downward at a steep angle. 

5. Beware of breaking waves.

You know the old adage: “Never turn your back on the ocean.” Same goes for when you’re in your boat. Yes, the sea is all around you, which is why you need constant vigilance for changes in the wave patterns and wind direction. Breaking waves have the capability to capsize most small vessels, and despite their great buoyancy and stability, RIBs are not immune. Be sure that you’re not just ‘getting in the boat and going’ - take careful note to read the waves, and steer accordingly.

Again, the key to handling a boat well in tough conditions is experience and training. And knowing when to avoid getting into the water in the first place. There are many powerboating courses available in the Pacific Northwest. Chat with us at Dueck GM Marine Division and we’d be happy to point you in the right direction of a training program near you.