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<p class="intro"><font size="4">The holiday season is with
us and many people with limited experience will contemplate
cross<span class="intro">i</span>ng a bar over the coming
weeks. Warren Steptoe has some expert advice. </font></p>
<p class="text">Crossing a barred entrance to the open sea
from an inlet or river mouth is without doubt one of the
most dangerous things you can do in a boat. Bar crossings
can never be treated lightly and the risks are all too real.
<p class="text">Without being too dramatic, the reality is
that when crossing a bar you're dealing with the possibility
of injuries and fatalities. So to begin with we have a very
simple one-word piece of advice about bar crossings, if
there's any doubt about getting across safely - don't! </p>
<p class="text">It makes for an extremely difficult situation
when facing the prospect of bar crossings. There's a certain
amount of knowledge and experience necessary to gain confidence.
Without confidence there's going to be doubt. So what can
you do? Where and how do you begin? They're good questions.
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<td class="caption">This is about right, just enough power
applied to crest the wave and allow the boat to land
in the trough with its composure intact.</td>
<p class="text">Experience only comes from, well, experience
and in a situation with inherent dangers the only way to
gain it (safely) is sensibly. Obviously this is not a situation
where learning the hard way is any kind of sane option.
As for knowledge, a lot of Aussies already have a better
grounding in the basic knowledge necessary for safe bar
crossings than they might realise. Who amongst us isn't,
or at least wasn't, a beach kid? </p>
<p class="text">You too? Whether you realise it or not, growing
up swimming in the surf, which so many Aussies do, ingrains
a considerable amount of fundamental understanding about
bar crossings. People who have actually surfed are well
in front of anyone who hasn't. It really doesn't matter
if the surfing meant trying to 'shoot' waves by throwing
yourself in front of a shorebreak, or a spell in life dedicated
to the pursuit of the perfect wave, you just can't do that
without understanding certain things about waves and surf.
<p class="text">Things like waves (swells) breaking over shallower
water marked by white froth and rolling across deeper water
indicated by a darker colour. The way waves come in sets
that differ significantly in size and come through in some
sort of a regular pattern. That this pattern, while more
or less regular, can't be relied on like clockwork - there's
no such thing as 18 bigger waves followed by seven smaller
ones, nor do the lulls last 12 minutes exactly with 28 minute
periods of bigger swells between them. </p>
<p class="text">Surfers talk about 'lefts' and 'rights'. It
means the direction the wave crest breaks away from where
it first began to break. What relevance does this have to
a skipper attempting a bar crossing? A lot of relevance
because it's going to dictate which direction they'll have
to turn the boat and run to cross the swell without having
to negotiate the breaking section of the wave. </p>
<p class="text">Anyone who has surfed will be well aware that
a wave releases an enormous amount of power as its crest
topples over to become a 'breaker'. They'll never have to
be told what's going to happen if they put their boat through
the actual breaking part of a wave, or why it's preferable
to turn and apply power to 'run' the break and cross a wave
where its crest yet remains rounded. </p>
<p class="text">There's a lot more to bar crossing than that
of course, but such fundamental knowledge can be vitally
important and its value tends to only be evident to those
who don't have it. Unfortunately, the prevailing situation
with litigation in this country has meant an end to many
if not all the courses on bar crossing once conducted by
boating clubs and marine rescue organisations. If one of
these courses or a familiarisation day or similar is available
on any bar you intend to cross, we commend them as a great
place to start learning about individual bars - and bar
crossing generally. </p>
<p class="text">Another means of learning about bars is a
recently released video. The Sunshine Coast-based Australian
Boating College spent six months producing the 60-minute
How to Cross Bars Safely; it's simply the best bar crossing
instructional video the writer has ever come across. </p>
<p class="text">Occasionally, while apparently attempting
to entertain as much as inform, it does stray towards the
gung ho, but the information is certainly there. As someone
who has surfed since I could swim well enough (er, that's
about 40 years,) and has crossed bars in boats for over
30 years, I'm comfortable saying that How to Cross Bars
Safely explains things it literally took me years to learn
and to understand. It's a free plug I know, but this video
is essential viewing for all neophyte bar crossers and will
be referred to again and again as you learn. </p>
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<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">FAMILIARISE YOURSELF
WITH YOUR BOAT</font></b> in non-threatening water. On a
bar you can do without any surprises. Try some sharp turns
at various throttle openings and in both directions; because
of the rotational effects of a propeller, outboard-powered
boats tend to be able to turn one way better than the other.
Find out how your boat reacts when power is applied suddenly,
and when power is applied and a turn made at the same time.
<p class="text">Many boats, particularly aluminium hulls,
are prone to severe propeller ventilation (often incorrectly
termed cavitation) when power is applied and a turn made
at the same time. Experiment with how motor trim affects
all aspects of your boat's performance. Trim can have dramatic
effect on how long it takes a boat to get up and plane and
its 'attitude' while crossing swells and waves. If there's
an area inside a bar somewhere nearby where left over waves
are small enough to learn in safely, go there and try the
sharp turns with power applied. Try powering the bow over
the tumbling white water after a wave breaks. Even try punching
a small breaker or two, and learn to power the boat up a
wave and ease it over the crest without launching it. Take
an experienced mate with you for this if possible. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">DON'T TAKE YOUR BOAT'S
SET UP FOR GRANTED,</font></b> there is often a compromise
between outright performance and propeller grip in bar crossing
situations and some dealers set boats up for better performance
at a certain cost to grip in bar crossing situations. You
may need to lower the outboard motor down a hole or so to
improve propeller grip. Also, a change of propeller can
greatly improve grip (at different motor heights,) there
are types of propellers which tend to grip better in the
aerated water frequently encountered on bars. </p>
<p class="text">Talk to your dealer and/or experienced people
about this before going anywhere near a bar. Talk to an
experienced person about your boat's power-to-weight ratio,
snappy acceleration is an asset during a bar crossing, and
an underpowered boat is a definite liability. </p>
<p class="text">Does your boat have positive buoyancy flotation?
Does it have a self-draining deck? What is the capacity
of your bilge pump? A bilge pump will probably not be able
to clear water quickly enough in the event of a complete
swamping, but for smaller amounts of water coming aboard
a bigger, faster bilge pump has to be better. Can the passenger
reach the bilge pump switch easily? The helmsperson might
be too busy. If your boat's nimble enough to turn tail 180
degrees and run away from an approaching wave that's good.
Become VERY familiar with how much time and space this needs
and PRACTISE it. There may not be time for this manoeuvre,
but you need to be confident that you can do it. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">CHECK YOUR BOAT,</font></b>
the last thing you need is to have any kind of mechanical
failure at all on a bar. Regular servicing of the motor
and its controls should go without saying. Now is also the
time to find out if your windscreen is glass or acrylic/plastic;
and if it's secured in a way capable of withstanding a 'greenie'
over the bows. Many experienced skippers prefer real glass
to the Perspex type. Screens are not much help if they'll
come away from their mountings too easily and finish up
wrapped around the passengers. </p>
<p class="text">Does the boat have strong grab bars positioned
where the passengers you carry can comfortably hang on during
the inevitable bangs and bumps - and brace themselves against
extra big ones? If not, fit some! </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">ANYTHING LOOSE</font></b>
inside the boat and liable to be thrown about needs to be
secured especially the anchor. Many a bar accident has been
caused and/or exacerbated by the anchor bouncing out of
an open topped well and either anchoring the boat inadvertently
or entangling the propeller in trailing rope. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">THINK THROUGH</font></b>
what you are going to do in emergencies and if forced to
exit the boat. There won't be much time to figure out what
to do if a situation ever arises, and now is the time to
imprint possible escape routes in your mind. Another thing
to think through is whether to fold a shade canopy down
where it can't be shaken loose. Canopies can make it very
difficult to get free from an inverted boat. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">LIFE JACKETS</font></b>
- statistically, the chances of surviving a bar accident
are vastly improved by wearing a PFD, so wearing one is
a no brainer - besides which it's a legal requirement in
some states. Nonetheless, a normal lifejacket can trap you
underneath an overturned boat - it will then need to be
removed before and then replaced after escape - a difficult
and potentially dangerous process indeed in rough water.
Some experienced bar crossers prefer the ability to choose
when their PFD inflates. (This, plus the comparative comfort
of an inflatable PFD, is exactly why Club Marine's boat
test team wear Stormy Seas PFDs.) However, the chances of
a being rendered unconscious in a rough water emergency
must also be considered and there's a strong argument that
the odds favour being positively buoyant whether you're
conscious or not. The decision here is up to you. </p>
<p class="text">Check that all PFDs are an approved type and
remember that just because a life jacket or PFD is approved
doesn't mean it's going to be good enough for bar crossing
safety. Maybe it's worth purchasing some better lifejackets
or even an inflatable PFD like we use. Remember the old
saying about crash helmets, &quot;if you've got a 10 dollar head,
wear a 10 dollar helmet&quot; The same applies to PFDs and more
so when crossing bars! </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">OBSERVE THE BAR</font></b>
(preferably from the highest vantagepoint available) as
much as possible and under different swell conditions. Observe
it at different stages of the tide to learn where the channels
are and what effects different stages of the tide have on
their location. Study what effects winds from different
directions and of different strengths have at different
stages of the tide. When possible, ask an experienced local
to accompany you and explain the bar's idiosyncrasies. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">CHECK THE ALTERNATIVES,</font></b>
is crossing the bar the only way to get where you want to
go? What if you can't cross back, is there another way home?
If so, you should be carrying enough fuel for the alternative.
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">READ THIS ARTICLE
AND WATCH THE VIDEO</font></b> a few times and discuss them
with an experienced person. Take it a step at a time. Pay
particular attention to the part of the video that discusses
the differing approach to bar crossing in different types
of boats. </p>
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<div align="right">During a Club Marine boat test photo
shoot an extra large wave set caught Northside Marine's
Bill Hull in this very anxious situation. He survives
it with considerable skill and a bit of common good
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">LEARN EVERYTHING</font></b>
you can about the bar from every source available to you,
friends, local marine rescue etc. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">TAKE AN EXPERIENCED
PERSON WITH YOU</font></b> for the first few times if at
all possible. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">YOU'RE GOING TO BE
NERVOUS,</font></b> that's OK, but by now you should've
done enough homework to have some confidence in your boat
and that you know what to do. Still, remember the golden
rule, if there's too much doubt, don't! </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">ENSURE EVERYBODY
<p class="text"><font color="#FF0000"><b>CROSS ON A SMALL
TIDE,</b></font> which is when there is a minimal tidal
variation (the difference between low and high tide). Bigger
tidal variations generate stronger tidal currents on the
bar. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">CROSS AT HIGH TIDE</font></b>
the more water over the bar the less the chance of grounding
your propeller in shallow water and when there's no tidal
movement, there will be little, if any, tidal current. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">CROSS ONLY WHEN THE
is a great rule of thumb for inexperienced skippers. This
way the boat should be able to cope with any minor miscues.
In short, if the waves are higher than the bows, maybe another
day is a better idea. </p>
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<div align="left" class="caption">After surviving the
incident and getting the Pacific Sportfish turned
into the sea, Bill shows the correct way to negotiate
a breaking wave, first avoiding the breaking section,
and then using just the right amount of power to negotiate
himself out of trouble at lastÉ.</div>
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<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">READ THIS ARTICLE
some of it will make a lot more sense now. </p>
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<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">MANY OF THE THINGS
A BAR. </font></b></p>
<p class="text"><font color="#FF0000"><b>SET YOURSELF A ROUTINE</b></font>,
make up a checklist, pilots do it, it's commonness in any
situation like this? </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">CHECK THE WEATHER
FORECAST,</font></b> we assume everybody does this before
setting out anyway. If you don't you should! In addition
to this, before any bar crossing, it's well worth checking
surf reports. If the surfers are complaining about a lack
of swell it's going to be a good day to cross a bar. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">CHECK THE TIDE TIMES
AND HEIGHTS,</font></b> when is the tide going to change?
Is it a big or small tide, and how is this likely to affect
the bar? By now you should have a pretty good idea about
such. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">TIME ENTRY AND EXIT</font></b>
for when the bar is going to be the least hazardous. Avoid
strong tidal runs across the bar in opposition to prevailing
winds as much as humanly and practically possible. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">CHECK THE BAR FROM
A HIGH VANTAGEPOINT</font></b> if possible before attempting
a crossing. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">SECURE ALL LOOSE
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<td class="caption" height="30">Way, way, way too much
throttle has been applied here and the boat has launched
itself into the air. At best it's going to come down
hard. At worst it could land on its stern and simply
sink backwards!</td>
<p class="text"><font color="#FF0000"><b>CHECK YOU HAVE MORE
time to change tanks in the middle of a bar. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">ARE THE STEERING
Is the motor tuned and responsive to variations in throttle
settings. If there's any hesitation about any of these things,
turn around and go home! </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">ALWAYS RADIO THE
NEAREST MARINE RESCUE</font></b> base to log on before you
cross and off again afterward. Describe the boat; tell them
how many people are aboard and the approximate time you
intend to return. Support them in any way you can, these
are the people who give their time to make your bar crossings
safer! </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">DOES EVERYBODY HAVE
A PFD ON? </font></b></p>
<p class="text"><font color="#FF0000"><b>SIT IN A SAFE ZONE
AND WATCH</b></font> the bar for as long as it takes to
determine the pattern of sets on the day. You should do
this even if you've been able to check from a vantagepoint
already. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">DON'T ATTEMPT TO
CROSS WITH ANOTHER BOAT</font></b> on the bar at the same
time, take it in turns and don't let anyone pressure you
into a decision to go. The skipper is in charge! </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">DO YOU HAVE YOUR
COMMONSENSE SWITCHED ON?</font></b> Do we really need to
explain what we mean by this one? </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">USE THE BOAT'S SPEED
AND AGILITY</font></b> to spend as little time on the bar
as possible, but do so sensibly, this is no time for showing
off. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">TAKE A ZIG ZAG COURSE
is why you've practised those turns and set your boat up
to be as nimble as possible. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">TAKE WHITE WATER
SQUARE ON</font></b> with enough power applied to lift the
bows, but not too much power which might cause the boat
to launch vertically then land on its stern and sink backwards.
You really need to have practised this beforehand. Avoid
the peak where a wave is actually breaking if at all possible.
Square to the bows is your boat's best angle to deal with
white water because it minimises the chances of being knocked
sideways and allows the shape of the bows to lift the boat
over. If white water is unavoidable, it's preferable to
take it on after the wave has broken and its power has dissipated
somewhat. So this is one time in life when procrastination
can be constructive. Be aware that white, foamy water may
afford dramatically less propeller grip. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">TAKE ROLLING SWELLS
AT AN ANGLE</font></b> and with just enough power applied
to get over without launching into the air. Ease the throttle
off as the bows pass the crest and reapply power as soon
as the boat regains its composure in the trough. </p>
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<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">WHEN YOU'RE OUT CHECK
THE LOCATION OF THE ENTRY CHANNEL</font></b> from outside
the bar. Remember that it will look different when you return,
the light will have changed and the tide may have changed
the location and nature of a safe entry route. If a GPS
is available, waypoint the exit/entry point. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">DON'T FORGET TO LOG
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<p class="text"><font color="#FF0000"><b>MAKE SURE YOU'VE
IDENTIFIED THE CHANNEL</b></font>, this may not be as simple
as it sounds. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">TRIM THE MOTOR OUT,</font></b>
as you do in any following sea situation. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">CHECK YOU HAVE MORE
THAN ENOUGH FUEL FOR THE CROSSING,</font></b> there's no
time in the middle of the crossing to change tanks. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">NEVER EVER POWER
always follow a wave in. Keep a hand on the throttle lever,
the wave's speed may vary as it encounters shallower or
deeper water and you need to react to that and keep your
bows on the back of the wave in front. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">SIT OUTSIDE THE BAR
AND WATCH AWHILE</font></b> before committing to a crossing
to check the pattern of bigger sets of waves and the calmer
lulls between them. </p>
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<td class="caption">Take rolling waves (swells) at a slight
angle to minimise the tendency of the boat to launch
itself. The correct (Lower pic) way to follow a wave
back in over the bar. Note that the bows are on the
back of the wave in front. NEVER position the boat on
the front side of a wave when coming in over a bar!</td>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">RADIO THE NEAREST
MARINE RESCUE BASE</font></b> and log yourself on before
crossing and off afterwards. Don't forget a few brief words
of thanks for their coverage, these people are volunteers
who do a thankless job and a simple thank you might make
their day! </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">SIT OUTSIDE THE BAR
IN A SAFE ZONE</font></b> and watch the bar for as long
as it takes to establish the pattern in the wave sets as
they come through. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">IF THERE ARE NO CALMER
BIG SET.</font></b> I tend to do this anyway. Let the chosen
swell slide underneath the boat and then power on and catch
up to it again. Sitting on the back of the last big one
means following waves are going to be smaller than the ones
in front and it decreases the chances of a wave behind you
catching the one in front. This is an unlikely event, which
does happen sometimes. It's far less likely if the wave
behind you is smaller than the one in front. A set of big
waves across a shallow area also means that extra water
has been deposited across the bar for you. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">WATCH OUT FOR PRESSURE
WAVES,</font></b> these are standing waves formed by strong
tidal currents, avoid them if possible and be aware that
they may take extra power to negotiate and that it's going
to be a bumpy ride through them. Pressure waves can be so
steep and hollow that they won't support the boat so it
may cut through them and dump water over the bows. </p>
<p class="text"><b><font color="#FF0000">DON'T FORGET TO LOG
YOURSELF BACK 'INSIDE' BY RADIO,</font></b> if you don't
the marine rescue people will instigate a procedure because
they'll assume someone has gone belly up and they have a
rescue on their hands.</p>
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<p class="text"><b><i>How to Cross a Bar Safely</i></b> is
available from <br>
The Australian Boating College <br>
PO Box 5669 <br>
Maroochydore Business Centre, <br>
Qld 4556 <br>
Ph (07) 5443 1077 <br>
Website: <a href="http://www.abcboating.com">www.abcboating.com</a></p>