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When Is It Safe to Fish Offshore?

Finding the Right Boat to Fish Offshore Can Be a Task

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When Is It Safe to Fish Offshore?

About's Bay Boat

Photo © Ron Brooks
When Is It Safe to Fish Offshore I have received a number of questions recently about offshore fishing in small boats. My first reaction to the questions was “don’t do it!” But then I had to stop and think about just what a small boat is and what it is not.

Small Boats

There is no standard definition of what a small boat is. Under 25 feet? Under 20 feet? Under 18 feet? Everyone’s perspective is different. To me a “small” boat is any boat under 25 feet in length. To the USCG it may be any vessel under 100 feet. Whatever your definition, a small boat should be thought of as a basic inshore fishing vessel.

Most small boats are built with a very small dead rise (the angle of the hull in the water) and short gunnels (the side of the boat). They are designed for inshore fishing. Bay boats are the first to come to mind when I think of an inshore boat. They are built for bay fishing – and yet on every trip I make I see them as far as 30 miles out into the Atlantic. Inshore boats are almost always powered by a single engine.

Offshore Boats

These are the boats that are designed to take big water and large waves. They range from 20 feet and up, and they have a significant dead rise, often over 20 degrees. That dead rise gives them the ability to cut into a wave rather than pounding on top of it. And, because they cut into a wave, their bow needs to be, and is, big and deep.

Offshore boats are powered by one or more engines, with the larger ones always having at least two engines. Face it; thirty miles or more out into the Atlantic or Gulf is no place to break down and have no power to get home.

Compromise Boats

I spoke of bay boats earlier as inshore or small boats. These bay boats are now coming out in lengths up to and over 24 feet. Many people call them, and I have even written about them being called “compromise” boats. No true offshore boat can be used inshore very easily and no true inshore boat can be used offshore. Comes the bay boat – a boat trying to be the best of both worlds. It is has a shallow enough draft to fish inshore and yet has a larger dead rise and somewhat bigger bow that lets it get offshore. But ask the manufacturer about whether you should take that bay boat very far offshore and you are liable to get a big “no!”

The Test

Should you purchase a bay boat, you will find yourself doing what I and a number of other anglers I know did. We would venture offshore on a good day when the winds were light. As time went on, we would try a day when the wind was a little heavier. They would be rough, pounding days, but we always bragged on the seaworthiness of our boat , and took it out anyway.

We did this, and so might you, until that one day that the weather kicked up so bad that we were caught twenty miles off the beach in five to eight foot seas, wondering if we would make it back in. We headed northwest back toward the inlet as the wind howled right down our throat. Every wave was a challenge, and many of them broke over the bow. It was a day that had all three of us wearing life jackets for the ride back in. It took us almost four hours to reach the inlet, and the inlet was a frothy torrent. The tide was heading in against the wind, and the waves were deep and steep. It took all the skill I could muster to safely navigate the inlet.

That was the last time I took that boat offshore. It was sold within six months, and I no longer take a bay boat – any bay boat - out of the inlet on a windy day. If the weather says anything greater than 2-4 foot seas, I fish inshore. With over fifty years on the water operating a variety of power boats, this captain learned his lesson.

The Safe Bet

Want to fish inshore? Get an inshore boat! Want to fish offshore? Get an offshore boat! Can’t afford two boats? Do what my son and I did. One of us kept an offshore boat and one of us kept an inshore boat. Since we fish together all the time, it works out just fine! The compromise was not in the boat, but in who owns which boat!
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