Boating is an unforgettable adventure for many. It is a mesmerising field that draws adventurous and leisure-seeking people alike. But it is also important we should never forget that the sea is an unforgiving entity. One grave mistake may cost you your life. So, how do you deal with rough waters? In this article, we will cover some boating tips for rough waters in South Africa.

South Africa and the Sea

As we all are aware, South Africa is blessed with the two most prominent oceans of the world, the Indian Ocean and the Atlantic Ocean. While it means that you get to experience two different oceans in South Africa, we shall not forget what sort of unpredictabilities they bring.

South African shores are relatively safe and enjoyable with little precaution. However, as you go deep, the ocean gets unpredictable. The cold currents of the Atlantic and the warm currents of the Indian Ocean collide near South Africa’s southern tip—near the regions of the Cape of Good Hope and Cape Agulhas. In the reference given above, you may find mariners’ logs saying how treacherous South African seas can really be.

Besides that, interesting creatures like Giant Squid resides deeper in the South African waters as well. You must have heard this news of a giant squid washing up on South African shores before.

In a nutshell, South African shores are relatively enjoyable. But if you are going deeper into the ocean, you have to be heavily prepared.

Boating Tips Prior to Navigating through Rough Waters in South Africa

Safety is paramount, no matter what your purpose for going deep into the ocean is. Here are some tips you should absolutely remember:

a. Prepare your emergency safety gear

It is absolutely a must to have safety gear onboard. Make sure your fire-fighting equipment, safety jackets and wearable personal flotation devices, first-aid kits, and radios are working well. If your boat also has a life raft, make sure it is in tip-top condition.

It is an absolute must to have a signalling device, sounding devices, radios and cell phones. Apart from that, you should have gear such as oars, flashlights, flags, and snorkel.

b. Make sure your boat is in good condition

SAMSA South Africa has provided guidelines regarding categories of a boat. For example, you shall not take a category E boat deeper into the ocean.

If you own a boat, you have to get it licensed from one of the SAMSA-authorised entities. If you are going to use it for commercial purposes (such as fishing), you will have to get it licensed directly under SAMSA’s authority. After their inspection, they will decide whether the boat is fit for going on the water and will assign it to a category based on their guidelines.

c. Always check the weather forecast before your voyage

Knowing the weather conditions on the sea can help you stay safe during your voyage. If there’s a storm warning, then if you can, avoid going to the sea. Or at least make sure you are prepared to face the storm and that your boat can stand the storm.

d. Make sure you carry excessive fuel

Rough water can take a heavy toll on fuel usage. It is always better to carry extra fuel for such situations so you don’t end up like a sitting duck in water.

e. Learn your Glossary of Nautical Jargon

Trust us, learning the nautical glossary will actually make your sea-going life easier. Here’s the link: Glossary of Nautical Terms (Wikipedia)

f. Make sure you carry the latest navigational charts

Always check the forecast before you plan your trip and carry the latest navigation charts. You can’t always rely on your onboard navigation systems in rough waters. God forbid but if your ship navigation system fails, you should be able to manually chart your course.

Tips for Boating on Rough Waters in South Africa

a. Understanding your and the boat’s limits.

The best way to stay safe on rough waters is by avoiding them. If you do not have to face rough waters and instead can take a detour, then take the detour. Safety is the first rule on the sea.

Besides, it is always important to understand whether your boat can actually handle rough waters. You do not want your boat to be critically damaged during your voyage, do you?

b. Do not underestimate the sea.

The sea waves may look easy from a distance, but they can actually be really tall, up to 5-7 metres in height. Again, make sure your boat has what it takes to cut through the waves.

One of the most common pieces of advice is to be slow and steady when you face the waves. Also, you should optimise the running angle of your boat according to sea situations. Avoid beam seas—where waves crash perpendicularly to your ship’s broadside. This will hinder your movements and may capsize your ship as well.

Also, avoid dead-heads (like logs and other floating items) as they can seriously damage your boat.

c. Understand how Trim Tabs work.

Trim tabs work wonders in stabilising your boat. There are people who absolutely forget about this wonderful add-on on your boat. If your boat does have a Trim tabs system, make sure you use it appropriately.

Here’s a video on how a trim tab work (thank you, Nautimundo!).

<iframe width=”560″ height=”315″ src=”” title=”YouTube video player” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; clipboard-write; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture; web-share” allowfullscreen></iframe>

d. Weather the Storm

Sometimes it is better to face the storms than to run away from them. Storms move fast, so it is better to make straight and slow headway while keeping your bow against the wind and riding it out. This way, you can be cleared of the storm quicker than trying to run away from it in an opposite direction.

e. Don’t panic

Last but not least, it is important to stay calm and focused on rough waters. The weather and the waves can feel overwhelming, but panic will not help in the situation. Rely on your knowledge and skills, keep your boat levelled, and you will be able to get through this in one piece.

Besides, it is a good idea to manoeuvre in a zigzag manner to weather the waves. And if you are doing a round trip, it is always a good idea not to take the same route to return to port.


We have just touched the surface of navigation through rough waters. There are a lot of skills and knowledge involved. However, these basic tips will give you an idea about surviving and navigating through rough waters in South Africa.

Remember, you will require an appropriate license to actually traveller deeper into the ocean in South Africa. If you are looking for a skipper’s course in South Africa, Sail and Power SA can help you obtain your license. For more information, feel free to connect with us anytime.