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Course Outline

Coastal River Bar Waves

Crossing the bar to the ocean requires extreme caution.

The coastal bar is the area where the deep waters of the Pacific Ocean meet the shallower waters near the mouth of a river. Crossing a coastal bar from a bay to the ocean always requires extreme caution. Most incidents and deaths that occur on coastal bars are from capsizing.

Regulated Navigation Areas
Because of the risks involved in crossing bars, the USCG has established Regulated Navigation Areas on all coastal river bars along the coasts of Oregon and Washington. These areas are listed in 33 CFR 165.1325(a) in the Code of Federal Regulations.

  • Title 33 of the Code of Federal Regulations also gives the USCG the authority to restrict any recreational and uninspected passenger vessels from crossing a bar when hazardous conditions exist.
  • Failing to comply with a posted bar restriction may result in a civil penalty of up to $25,000.

To reduce your risks on coastal bars, take these precautions.

  • Always wear your life jacket when crossing a bar!
  • Never operate an overloaded boat. Make sure to load your boat evenly, and have passengers sit or lie down in the center of the boat to improve stability.
  • Avoid crossing the bar on an outgoing tide even on days with relatively calm waters.
  • Be aware that boats are more likely to capsize when crossing the bar from the ocean because the seas are on the stern and the boater may have less control over the boat. When coming in, make sure to keep the boat square before the waves and keep the boat on the back of the swell, riding it to stay clear of the following wave.
  • Do not allow the waves to catch your boat on the side (beam). It can easily result in capsizing.
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