With ocean Salmon season just getting underway, and some excellent Rock fishing to be done off the coasts of Oregon and Washington, the lure of the sea is palpable. Here are some tips on keeping safe when crossing the Pacific Northwest's dangerous bars.

Vessels- Having the proper craft is probably the most obvious part of any bar crossing, yet can be difficult to quantify.  On any given day, the pond might lie down and you will see everything out there from small riveted boats, to kayaks, and wave runners.  But there is nothing like having 20’ or more of fiberglass or welded aluminum boat beneath you to get the job done.  But more importantly than just length, things you should consider are beam (width) and how deep of a V the hull has.  These will have a great effect on both the stability, and comfort of your ride.  The standard “guide sled” will get you across and back safely much of the time, but a shallow v, can make for a bumpy ride when the wind chop comes up.

Electronics- A quality depth finder is just the beginning for modern day sea navigation.  Integrated GPS units with Navonics chips are increasingly popular and for good reason.  Having a detailed overview of depths as well as navigational markers, and hazards relative to your position is invaluable.  I also carry a secondary GPS as an app on my phone.  Electronic failures happen even on new equipment so having a backup is a good idea. 


A VHF radio is another must-have if you plan to cross the bar.  Learn to use it and make sure to call for a radio check before crossing.  Channels, 16, and 22 are emergency channels for the Coast Guard so make sure to monitor them during any crossing.

Forecasting- Let’s face it, just like trying to predict the weather, forecasting bar conditions will never be an exact science.  But there are some websites and apps available to give you a pretty accurate idea of what the bar and ocean will look like when you get there.  As I have mentioned in previous blogs, the Surfing community has wave and swell forecasting down to a science.  Solspot, Magic seaweed, and others provide as accurate info on this subject as you will find anywhere.  Here is the NOAA website with bar cameras, current conditions, and bar restrictions for the Oregon and Washington coastlines. http://www.wrh.noaa.gov/pqr/marine/bars_mover.php

When using these sites, be sure to pay attention to not just the height of the combined sea’s, but the period in between them.  Five foot seas at 12 or more seconds is rather comfortable in most craft, however the same height at 7 seconds can be somewhere between uncomfortable, and flat out terrifying in all but the largest vessels out there.

Tides- When planning to fish the Ocean, I always target days with a morning low tide. This allows me to cross the bar at low slack and fish until having to return on high slack.  It is almost always a bad idea to cross on an ebb tide as the wind and waves will be fighting against each other creating a “stacking” effect.  If you find yourself having to cross back inside under difficult conditions, match the speed of the waves and ride the back side of the swell in.  Do not allow a wave to catch you from behind as it could break right into the back of the boat.

Safety Equipment- Of course I’d be doing a disservice if I didn’t talk about safety equipment.  The most important of which is of course quality life jackets for the entire crew.  With Auto-inflatable life jackets readily available now there is really no excuse not to where one.  Flares, fire extinguishers, and noise making devices are just a few more of the required items that you should have available.  Contact your state Marine Board for a full rundown of the required equipment.

Have a back-up plan- Don’t let the fear of wasting precious sleep, and fuel to head down to the coast and fish the ocean overcome your better judgment.  Most of our ports offer other things to do besides pursuing your intended quarry.  With the exception of Depoe Bay (which is not far from Yaquina, and Siletz), all of our coastal ports offer crabbing, clam digging, rockfish, Sturgeon and Salmon fishing within the protected waters of their estuaries depending on the time of year. 


Have fun out on the pond, but be safe!