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Phil Herring

Dethroned Admin
Mar 25, 1997
Hunter 450 Bainbridge Island
Just about everyone who owns a boat has experienced a moment ranging from surprise and concern to flat out panic. Thinking back on your experiences, what happened that scared you the most?

A storm? Near-collision? Going up the mast on a frayed halyard? Asking your habormaster for a better slip?

Share your most terrifying sea stories here.

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Oct 19, 2017
O'Day 19 Littleton, NH
Being at the helm on an overnight sail from Carrabelle to Cedar Key in a storm at about two in the morning and having a wave roll right over us. Center cockpit, no harness, I'm about 13, relieving my father while he goes below to check our loran position and...
A huge wave rolled right over the entire 56' schooner up to my chest. For a moment, all I could see was ocean and two masts sticking up out of it. Oh, and the main hatch was wide open.
I had visions of trying to grab the lifelines as I was swept past them. Luckily, my mind is kinda slow, so it was over before it really had a chance to hit me with all the implications.
My father's head popped up out of the hatch after all that water dumped down below and he said, "Willy! What happened?"
After that, we got a dodger.

-Will (Dragonfly)

Brian D

Feb 17, 2006
Lancer 27PS MCB Camp Pendleton KF6BL
This from 2009...

It started as any sail would start, getting the boat ready and heading out. The wind wasn’t all that great and the pacific ocean was calm with light swells. But it was a day of sailing and that beats a day of anything. Even practiced with my sextant.

About a mile off the coast and heading towards the harbor, I started my routine of taking my sails down. First the head sail bundled on the deck. Next the main. With the motor running a slow forward motion and the auto pilot on I started to fold the main on the boom. The boat started to roll from a swell and it almost knocked me off balance. Then another swell hit and this time it did knock me off balance.

I grabbed the boom and one more swell knocked me on the boom. The combined weight of the boom and me snapped the link on the boom end of the topping lift. The boom went crashing into the cockpit and with me completely off balance, I went crashing into the cabin below. That would be about a six foot fall straight down into the companion way ladder. Luckily it was feet first, but it still hurt like the dickens. My chin came within inches of smashing into the companion way.

I took a mental inventory and found I had a sharp pain in my left leg below my knee and my right leg just below my cheek. Also my right arm was hurting, but it was my left leg that was my main concern.

I exited the cabin back into the cockpit and checked my position. Half a mile to the harbor entrance. I pulled my pant leg up and just below and to the inside of my left knee was a knot about 2” high, 4” wide and about 6” long. And it was getting bigger. My first thought was blood clot and I should call the Harbor Patrol and ask for assistance, but I started instead to massage the knot. I thought it was a busted blood vessel or something really bad, but after massaging a minute or so the knot went down. No numbness to my toes or coldness in my leg. So whatever it was it went back to normal. Today the swelling is way down and my leg has signs of bruising.

I think I was extremely lucky on Monday. I did have my PFD on but I was not harnessed to the boat. Lesson learned - wait until I enter the outer harbor before taking the sails down.
Jun 4, 2009
Pearson 530 Admiralty Bay, Bequia SVG
At about 9:00 PM it became apparent that in 12 hours we would be in a hurricane with only about 25 miles of sea room from the western reef of Fiji. The waiting was the scary part as once the storm hit we were so busy fighting to keep the boat afloat through 3 capsizes, we had no time for fear.
Jan 25, 2011
S2 11.0A Anacortes, WA
No fear but one of those after moments. On my previous S2 36, some 35 yrs ago, I went up the mast on the jib halyard for some reason I don’t remember. Got down and rigged the jib and hoisted it. About 3/4 up, it came crashing down to the deck. The halyard broke at the rope to wire splice. Fortunately, there were a few brewskis in the fridge...
Apr 21, 2014
Hunter 356 Middle River, MD
Unfortunately have 2 times when I had that "oh crap" moment.

Coming into a narrow channel entering a river and the light was going down and the Admiral was up on deck to visually see if we were proceeding OK. She asks if I see the tripod fixed pole marker ahead and I reply yes, it's right on my chart plotter. Unfortunately I did not know how to turn down the brightness and was night blind and could not see well outside. She more urgently says that the unlit pole marker is dead ahead and I finally maneuver around it. It was stupid not to know how to turn down the brightness to allow me to use it at night, in addition we order a hand held spotlight from the anchorage from Amazon to use on the boat and dinghy. Makes me cringe...

Another time we were motoring down the bay towards Solomon Island and had the bay to our selves, watching untold numbers of cow nosed rays fly by under the water and no markers on the chart plotter. Flat calm and no boats around and we spend a few moments looking into each others eyes and all of a sudden I catch a white shape out of the corner of my eye and in a blind panic I try to over ride the auto pilot and steer to the side. There was a 5 foot tall white marker that was 5 feet in diameter just floating out there and we missed it by 5 feet, took a while for the heart beat to return to normal. Thinking it was a military marker or something, as we had gone by a base.

Live and learn and try not to do the same dumb thing again...

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Oct 22, 2014
CAL 35 Cruiser Portland OR, moored EVERETT WA
My worst frightening experience was the appearance of this fishing boat speeding out of the fog, 50 yards away heading for my starboard side mast.


Feb 14, 2017
Catalina 310 211 Lake Guntersville, AL
That picture on the home page for this subject scared me a bit:yikes:

On that note I have a list...
1) Getting overpowered on the O'Day 25 with my family and stuck getting knocked over several times in complete lose of control. What I learned was to pay attention to downwind sailing and white caps on the lake are not a good family fun day.

2) Scarring the stuffing out of myself 2nd time out in the Cataline 310 when the depth gage went less then 3' on our boat with a 4' 10" wing keel. I learned the calibration was from the sensor down and had to add the distant to waterline to that number.

3) When an audience appears just as we are coming into the slip, never fails to provide entertainment and calamity:cowbell:
Oct 22, 2014
CAL 35 Cruiser Portland OR, moored EVERETT WA
I was lucky to turn to port when all my training and experience was shouting turn to starboard upon seeing an approaching vessel.
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Dec 27, 2012
Precision 22 (Sold), O 240 (Sold), Precision 28 Somers Point
More of an embarrassing moment then anything else. We had our fist sailboat (Oday 22) out about 7 years ago on July 4th. The wind velocity started at about 15 but started climbing. It got to about 25 with the wind and tide opposite of each other. We threw in the towel and lowered the sails. I started the motor but the prop wouldn’t bite due to the vertical chop. We started drifting toward a large metal Tow Boat US vessel that was docked beside a restaurant on the water. The vessel had workers on it and the restaurant had about 100 people on the waterside deck. I floored the motor in reverse but continued forward toward the vessel. I heard people yelling, “ What are you doing” from the restaurant and the crew from the vessel where standing there with confused looks. The bow of my boat smashed into the transom of the vessel. Once contact was made my prop bit into the water and I was able to motor away. The tow boat sustained a dent in the transom. Amazingly no damage to my boat, just my pride. To add to my embarrassment I was using the public ramp that is directly next to the restaurant.

The joys of boating.


Mar 23, 2017
Hunter 30 Snug Harbor, Lake Champlain
A buddy of mine and I were moving a good sized steel hull sailboat (about a 40 footer, can't recall exactly how large - it was heavy though) from Spain to France, a very short trip across he Bidasoa river. It was a very blustery day with high wind gusts, cold and just a not nice day to be on the water. But heck we were only going a few thousand feet... We fired up the engine and were motoring across and had almost reached our destination having arrived inside the fishing port on the French side - going through lots of moored fishing boats - when we lost all steering. We had essentially no control over the boat, the wide gusts were pushing the bow around anywhere it wanted to and we were surrounded by boats in every direction that were moored/docked. We finally essentially rammed (trying to "dock" on a docked boat) one of the large docked fishing boats where I jumped off with a line and the two of us finally got the sailboat under control by attaching to the boat we ran into. To this day I have no idea how I got up onto that fishing boat and kept the line in my hands.... Clearly pure adrenaline!

From there we moved that beast to where we had to go using lines. But lucky for us there were no damages to speak of either material or human...

Nov 9, 2012
Oday 192 Lake Nockamixon
In my 20's, when we were invincible, my friends and I would water ski, wakeboard, and kneeboard. Unfortunately, we also would do so without a spotter, because we didn't always have enough people. We developed a game where we'd put out 2 tow lines of equal length, and 2 of us would have "kneeboard wars" trying to knock the other down hand-to-hand combat style. We weren't stupid, we only did it on kneeboards, where we didn't have as far to fall as when we were on skis or wakeboards! Anyway, we were out with just the 3 of us, and 2 of us were warring, with just one in the boat at the helm. Let's call him #1, and it was his boat. He had just put a Doel Fin or equivalent on the outboard, and loved the fact that he could now turn sharply at higher speed without the prop ventilating and losing bite. But it also allowed the boat to exhibit a very bad tendency to "catch an edge," which I think might have been caused by a spray channel along the chine (late 60's round chine aluminum AMF runabout.) When this happened, it was usually a pretty aggressive "toss" of the boat, and instigated a tighter turn. So, me and #2 were laying across our kneeboards, waiting for #1 to bring the boat around between us, and we were facing in the direction we figured he'd pull us back up. Without looking backwards, I thought #1 was running at too high a speed, obviously making the turn quickly before slowing down. Well, out of the corner of my eye over my shoulder, I saw the cream color of the bottom of the boat. I was like "WTF!!!!" and like kinda kicked against the boat. Then my back and heel of foot were numb, and the boat was stopped. #2 was frantically swimming to me, and #1 was looking over the side of the boat. They were yelling at me "Wiggle your feet!!!!" and I was yelling at them "AM I CUT, AM I CUT" frantically trying to look back and see if there was any red water. We calmed down, and I wiggled my damn feet. And #2 looked over my back and didn't see any cuts or blood. I said I climbed into the boat, but they said they bodily lifted me. We went immediately back to my Grandparent's place, and they physically pulled me out of my full length wetsuit (was October or something) and we packed into the truck for a trip to the hospital. Told my Grandparents I had twisted my back on the wakeboard, but Granddad was no dummy and knew we had done something stupid. ER x-rayed me, and gave me muscle relaxants to deal with the muscle spasms. Next morning they called me and told me to call my doctor. Turns out the radiologist saw hairline cracks in L3 and L4 transverse processes.

So, basically, what happened was #1 was turning at too high a speed, intending to go between us laying on our kneeboards. I was to the right, and the boat was turning to the right, and I expected it on my left side. The boat tripped a chine, and knocked him out of the driver seat, and tripped a chine again. He clawed to the throttle just in time, but now the boat was turning a tighter radius and going to my right side. The stern of the boat was sliding out, and this is what basically mashed me across my back. Good thing I was wearing a wetsuit and PFD, which protected my upper back. I never got close to the spinning prop, which, thank god, because my greatest fear as a child was getting cut up by a propeller. Well, and getting my feet bitten by crabs. So, I spent a week on muscle relaxants (basically sleeping) and then a month not lifting anything, and then I was good to go. Have had no problems since.

But, christ, feeling that boat hit me, and not knowing if I was cut open by a prop... I've had some other scary boating things, but this probably takes the cake.
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Nov 9, 2012
Oday 192 Lake Nockamixon
Ok, another one? Sure!

So I was out with #1 one again in his 16' aluminum AMF, overpowered with 115 "Shark Fin" in-line 6 cylinder Mercury outboard. He says, "You wanna run out the inlet?" I'm all, "Ooookayyyy...?" As I was growing up, Granddad basically planted the fear of the inlet and ocean in me. Of course, Granddad had incidents where the vertically laminated 2 layers of the transom in the wood Cruisers by Thompson started to delaminate out fishing in the ocean once. He told me that story after I asked why we had a massive piece of aluminum angle iron bolted across the top the transom... And of course everyone knows the only thing that an outboard will do reliably is to fail to run when you need it to run. So, there was plenty of groundwork laid for the "Avoid the inlet and the ocean" maxim in our family... When I was a teenager, and I was allowed to use the 13' Whaler with 20 horse pull start Merc, me and my buddy Bryan fished the inlet when I started to get a bit cocky. We were amazed at how fast the current was, but I always started up and went back in when we got to the bridge which was about 1/2 of the inlet.

Oh, by the way, this is Indian River Inlet in Delaware, which is a fully stabilized, narrow inlet, originally formed in its current location by a hurricane in the 40's maybe? And it is known as one of the more difficult inlets along the east coast.

So, yeah, #1 is like, "Let's run out the inlet." I'm like "Ummm, is that a good idea [with Granddad's voice in my head: 'Don't go out the inlet!']" And #1 is like, "Yeah, I've done it before with Marty a few times." So were buzzing out in the 16' runabout, and as we get to the end of the inlet, the standing waves start up. And then they interact with the incoming swell, and THAT stands up. We're standing there at the windshield (as one does on a runabout) and I'm gripping the windshield frame, let's say, tightly. I turn to #1 as we climb up a wave again, and I say "Where are your life jackets again? Under the back seat?" and he looks over and sees me white knuckling the windshield. In his mind, this process starts: "So, Brian taught me most of what I know about boating, and his Granddad taught him. And he's white knuckled and wondering about PFDs. Maybe this isn't such a good idea after all. The conditions are definitely worse than last time I was out here...." So he says, "Yeah, you're right, we should turn around!" But then he realized the waves are pretty dang big. So he's like, "We gotta go out further, so maybe the waves aren't so big and I can turn around." About 3/4 of a mile. He manages to turn around, and we head back in. Following a large convertible sportfisherman type boat, who's just powering in, and BOOOSH!!! the sportfisherman's bow just bashes through a wave, and he throttles back. Meanwhile #1 is sweating bullets having barely made the turn in the trough of waves without us getting rolled. He's trying to play the throttle to keep us riding up the back of a swell, to ride it in. If we had got on the front side, surfing down the wave, we'd have stuffed the bow into the backside of the next wave, and pitchpoled for sure.

So, we finally make it past the standing waves coming out the inlet while we're trying to ride a swell coming in, and #1 turns to me and says, "Holy shit, I wasn't sure we were going to make it." I smile wanly. "I swear, when me and Marty went out, it was so much more calm!" Lesson learned.

When I look back on my 20's, hanging with my friends like #1, I don't know how the hell we survived to adulthood...
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Jan 7, 2011
Oday 322 East Chicago, IN
I’ve had a few, but almost all involved docking.

I took delivery of my current boat, at the PO’s slip at an unfamiliar marina. Winds and rain, not a great day to start the passage to my marina. But undaunted, I back out of the slip, into the fairway...but I cannot get the boat to turn. Backing up, straight into the fairway and wind blows me broadside down the fairway. I am backing and forwarding I try and keep the nose and the stern from hitting any of the boats on either side of the fairway...until I finally came to rest up against the marina sea wall....and then I looked up and saw a crowd looking on and waiting for some action :yikes:.


Rigged a spring line to bounce off the wall the boat pointed into the wind and made my way out of the marina, head hung in shame, but thankful I didn’t hit anybody and that I was on my way home.

Joy didn’t las too long, as once I got onto Lake Michigan, under power, bashing through the seas, my engine alarm went off....:banghead:.

Oh joy!

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Oct 19, 2017
O'Day 19 Littleton, NH
I don't know how the hell we survived to adulthood..
That is a sentiment I often have.
We were in Horta, aboard Absolute, a Shannon 50, coming from Bermuda. In Burmuda, we met another Shannon 50 crewed by four college kids who had borrowed their boat from the father of one of the crew, for their adventure. We met again in Horta so I invited whomever was interested to join me for an exploration of the caves that came down to the water just outside the marina.
Three joined me in our 12' Achilles with its 9.9hp o.b. We crossed the bay to the caves on a beautiful, but windy day, maybe 10-12 knot winds and a bit of chop on top of an oncoming sea swell.
You can drive a small boat right into those caves.
The water was so cleared you could see twenty, thirty feet down and there was no bottom.
We cruised deeper and deeper until there was too little room and we were in danger of not being able to turn the boat around. So we turned around using our hands on the walls and headed back out. This is where it got "fun".
The incoming swells get pinched by the narrowing walls of the cave and get taller deeper into the cave. With four college aged kids in the little tender, it didn't look like we were making any headway. We fell back down the wave faster than the outboard could push us up the wave.
The Achilles would be pointing almost straight up, at times, with the transom threatening to sink. We worked at it and worked at it. Kids trying to push on the walls of the cave to help, but the up and down motion was too severe to allow for much of a grip. I also tried to stay away from the barnacles and keep us in the center. A couple of the others expressed some concern that we wouldn't make it out.
I asked how their swimming skills were and suggested that if we had to abandon the boat, we could actually swim under the waves by swimming 1 and a half times the wave's height below them. (I don't know, You weren't there!) Since we couldn't see over the waves if we stood up, that put them at about 7 feet tall.
Finally, we started to see real progress and the light at the end of the tunnel. We didn't sink, run out of gas or crash into the back of the cave. No further expeditions followed.

-Will (Dragonfly)