Bar crossings

Throughout Victoria waterways there are many shallow sand bars, formed at the point where rivers, creeks, lakes or harbours meet the sea.

This shallow water combined with ocean swell produces a nasty surf-like break. Even in apparently calm conditions, vessels can be swamped, damaged or wrecked – and too many lives have been lost.

The worst time to cross a coastal bar is during an outgoing, or ‘ebb’, tide. It’s recommended that you only cross coastal bars during calm weather. 

A coastal bar in Lakes Entrance, Victoria

To be safe when crossing a coastal bar, you should have: 

  • Experience and local knowledge; this is invaluable
  • A vessel suitable for the conditions at hand
  • Everyone on-board wearing a lifejacket rated at Level 100 or greater. Lifejackets are compulsory when crossing any coastal bar.

When attempting a bar crossing, it is important to watch the conditions:

  • If you need to cross a bar, it is preferable to do this during a rising tide
  • Avoid crossing a bar on an ebb tide (outgoing tide) – this is the most dangerous time to cross a bar, as the water is at its shallowest, and dangerous waves may occur with the tide working against incoming waves
  • Onshore winds and large swells can affect wave heights at a bar. Carefully check the weather, swell forecasts and talk with experienced locals about bar conditions before you attempt to cross it.
  • The vessel should travel at the same speed as the waves. The worry here is the waves breaking on top of you, filling your vessel with salt water. In a following sea situation, your aim should be to maintain a position behind a wave, but not too close.

If it’s too dangerous to cross, consider waiting for conditions to calm, a change of tide or just seek alternate safe harbour.

If in doubt, don’t go out.

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