Don’t get roughed up by rogue waves

Published 12:00 am Monday, January 12, 2004

Special to the News-Herald

An article last week from the Associated Press indicated that a &uot;Rogue Wave&uot; swept a young eight-year old boy out to sea in Eureka California. Reports indicated that the wave snatched the boy up, from the sand, and drug him out to sea. This tragic event illustrates something which every mariner should be aware of because they are both very really and very dangerous: rogue waves.

During the earliest years of sail there was a strong belief that large monsters roamed the seas and destroyed ships with powerful jaws or a strong tale. Ancient chart makers drew angry monsters on their charts often in the middle of the Atlantic. The stories carried on for centuries when in reality the occurrence was created in nature by nature.


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The mere mention of this term sends a distinctive visual picture to career merchant marines and recreational boaters alike. The only distinction is the severity of the visual picture and its’ consequences. Just think of the word &uot;rogue&uot;. What does this single word bring to mind?

Think of the movie &uot;The Perfect Storm.&uot; Huge waves coming at the fishing vessels from all sides. Tall as some downtown buildings rogue waves have been a part of merchant marine and whaling law. They don’t just make a vessel rock and shutter; they can damage screws, break windows and send enough water into the exhaust masts to disable a vessel.

History records that in 1942 the British Cruise Ship turned troop carrier was hit by a huge wave that appeared out of no where and actually ended up crashing over the upper deck of the vessel, which carried over 14,000 troops. In 1965 the USS Pittsburgh, a massive &uot;heavy cruiser&uot; was slammed by a massive wave which resulted in 90 feet of her bow torn off. The ability to do any of the three results mentioned above is a sign of sheer power!

Ever since men and women went out to sea there have been tales of huge waves that appear out of no where and can easily sink of ship if unprepared.

Rogue waves can affect boaters right off Hampton Roads and should be something that any owner or passenger should be ready for.

There are several possible causes, according to the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Web site (

n Constructive Interference. Anyone who has ever been under way on any size vessel in open-water knows that there are often different wave trains operating in different directions. They operate at different speeds. When several wave trains collide, the result could be a rogue wave.

n Wave Energy: according to the same NOAA web site &uot;when storm forced waves are developed in a water current counter to the wave direction an interaction can take place which results in a shortening of the wave frequency. The result is the superimposing of wave trains and the generation of extreme waves.&uot;

n Normal part of the wave spectrum: Within one wave train you can have a varying number of wave sizes from smallest to largest. This third explanation, also from the same web site, proposes a training of wave crests in one train. The rogue wave is actually quite normal, since one has to be the largest and one the smallest.

Rogue waves. It is important to understand the concept and the potential for damage. Simply put – expect the unexpected.

Until next week…boat safe… and boat smart!