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Navigating the Breachway in Bad Weather

We recently wrote about keeping your weather eye peeled when out on a boat, and listed a few apps that can help the mariner keep abreast of conditions.

But as many of our customers know, the weather also plays a huge role in safely and comfortably navigating a breachway inlet…like the Charlestown Breachway that connects Block Island Sound with our own Ninigret Pond.

It stands to reason that wind, waves and tidal flows out on the open water are magnified and intensified when you’re talking about a narrow (60 foot width in the Charlestown Breachway) and enclosed inlet (1400-foot length).

The good news is that most of the time, the weather conditions for boaters using the Charlestown Breachway are moderate. But every boater should be aware of the special needs in navigation and handling that can be required when passing through a tight space like the Breachway.

Weather is an important consideration, and not just the local conditions. If there are storms brewing far offshore, waves and tides might be exaggerated, and those conditions are magnified inside an inlet. When the swells from an oncoming storm meet the shallow bottom of an inlet, the waves begin to hump.

And if the incoming water meets an outflowing tide, dangerous standing waves can form. Standing waves seem to stay in place, sometimes tumbling over on themselves and often spanning the entire width of the breachway.

The flow of water into and out of the pond can be swift.  Probably the biggest hazard, as in most other boating situations, is the other traffic. You might know what you’re doing in the breachway, but you can’t assume the other guy is just as knowledgeable.

Most of the time, when the seas are down, the wind is light and the tide is flowing with the wind direction, passing through a breachway is easy peasy. But before entering one, you should take a second, or third, look, and consult the tide charts. 

Experienced captains know to watch the waves both ahead and astern at all times inside the breachway or inlet. Having a crew member help with the visual observation helps. If you see a large wave about to break on the stern, either try to outrun the break or stay just ahead of the break. If you have a big wave mounting ahead, don’t try to plow over it–your bow can fall into trough beyond and get buried under tons of water. Not good. If you have to, ride the crest until it breaks with your boat.

It’s just good boatmanship to keep aware of conditions when attempting to navigate a breachway. Pay attention, watch the waves, be ready to add or subtract power when needed.

Ocean House Marina has created a tide chart on our website to provide our customers and others who enter the Charlestown Breachway on a regular basis with accurate tide and weather information for the Breachway and Ninigret Pond. Put this page on your Favorites list and have it handy next time you have to navigate the Breachway!

Of course, once you’re inside the Charlestown Breachway, there’s the snaking line through the shallow pond. Have your chart handy, follow the buoys and keep the speed down.

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