I get this question all the time: I want to take my boat offshore, maybe even far enough to encounter pelagics like marlin, but I’m not sure it’s big enough. What do you think is the minimum size, for taking a boat offshore?
Unfortunately, there’s no one answer to this question. Some 22 foot boats are competent to make long offshore runs, and some 30-footers should never go beyond sight of land. Every boat is different, and due to age and maintenance, some that were offshore-able at one time are not, at a different time. The bottom line? This is a judgment call which you, as captain, have to make. The fact that there’s already some doubt in your mind is an indication that either you or the boat aren’t ready for such a voyage. That said, here are a few key points to consider:
1. Range – Plan on 1/3 fuel capacity for the ride out, 1/3 for the ride home, and 1/3 in reserve. This sets your outside limitation for range.
2. Reliability – If you have a single engine, you need to be 99.9-percent confident you won’t lose power. If you have twins, you need to account for time spent getting home on a single engine. If single engine speed is 12-knots, for example, you need to calculate and understand how long it will take you to get home at that speed. Towing insurance, by the way, is never a bad idea.
3. Safety gear – Life jackets alone are not enough, for an offshore run. You also need to have a signaling device that works within whatever range you’ll be at, such as an EPIRB, sat phone, or satellite messenger. If you’ll be going far offshore where there aren’t other boats around, it’s time to invest in a life raft. A back-up GPS and VHF are in order, as well. And if your main VHF isn’t DSC-enabled, shame on you.
4. Pumps – Bilge pumps MUST be in perfect working order. If you have any doubts (a glitchy wire or connection, a switch that sometimes gets stuck, whatever) take care of it before you even consider leaving the dock.
5. Seaworthiness – Here’s where size comes into consideration. But again, size is not the end-all, be-all when it comes to seaworthiness. There’s no calculation or formula that will tell you if your boat can handle the conditions you’ll encounter offshore, so when you make this judgment call, make it the right one. The bottom line? Pick your weather, assume the worst, and never go beyond your own comfort level with your boat.