Table of Contents

Download the PDF Version

Hazardous Coastal Bar Information

The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the roughest coastal bar conditions in the world. Unfortunately, some boaters are unaware of the warnings, laws, and hazards specific to this area.

Many boaters have been lulled into a false sense of security with tragic results by not taking the time to gather information and observe the conditions on the bar prior to launching their vessels. Many boating accidents and fatalities in the Pacific Northwest have been attributed to hazardous coastal bar conditions.

Distant storms from as far away as Asia can travel unobstructed across the vast expanse of the Pacific Ocean and can affect sea conditions on local river entrances and beaches.

  • Swells can build suddenly, making the river bar regions extremely dangerous.
  • Converging tidal conditions and inland rainfall will clash with ocean swells, creating hazardous seas at a river entrance.
  • Bar conditions may become hazardous when an outgoing tidal current meets an incoming ocean swell.
  • During high swell conditions, a boater may wish to wait for an incoming tidal current or high tide to cross the bar.

Small craft advisories or wind warnings should not be confused with warnings for hazardous bar conditions. Because ocean swells can travel such great distances, they may be present on a day when the winds are calm.

The local U.S. Coast Guard Commander evaluates the conditions and makes safety broadcasts on VHF-FM Channel 16. These broadcasts tell when bar crossing restrictions are imposed, what size boats are covered by the restrictions, and when bar restrictions and conditions change or subside.

  • Each estuary has a warning sign with amber flashing lights located in the local harbor or near the river entrance that warns when bar restrictions are imposed
  • If the amber lights are flashing on the “Rough Bar Warning” sign, call the Coast Guard weather phone recordings for information regarding any restrictions that may be in place or tune your VHF radio to Channel 16.

Coastal Bar Information on Low-Band Radio Station

The U.S. Coast Guard and Washington State Parks broad­cast coastal bar conditions and restrictions on AM radio channel 1610 at select coastal communities. The broadcast can be heard locally in the Grays Harbor, Ilwaco, and La Push areas. The broadcast provides local area weather conditions, weather hazards, alerts, and boating safety public service announcements.

NOAA and the U.S. Coast Guard also have coastal bar webcams and provide bar conditions/restrictions on these websites.

Before You Go

Check your local weather reports to see if advisories have been issued for rough bar conditions.

Contact the local U.S. Coast Guard unit and learn where the regulated areas are located, and call the Coast Guard weather phone recordings for information regarding any restrictions that may be in place.

Monitor channel 16 on your VHF radio for safety broadcasts and information broadcasts on rough bar conditions.

Unsafe conditions are defined as:

  • Wave height is four feet or greater or …
  • Wave height is greater than the length of the boat divided by 10 plus the freeboard or …
  • The surface current is four knots or greater.