Coastal bar crossing course a must for boaters
  |  First Published: June 2007

Owners of offshore fishing craft often face the vexing bluewater fishing problem of having to cross coastal bars to get to where the fish are. Coastal bars are like doors that only open now and again, but seem to be more ajar when it’s back to work…

Apart from the Gold Coast Seaway – which can be a fierce adversary anyway – there are no easy ways of heading offshore without negotiating a bar.

The worst part is that every so often the media shows graphic footage of yet another boater coming unstuck during a bar crossing. We’ve all seen it. There’s the boat. It’s upended at the end of a tow line, the crew are wrapped in blankets and thankful for their rescue. And that’s the best case scenario. In the worst case, helicopters are out looking for missing people.

It’s sobering stuff for boaters to see their mates in such dire straits, but as Bill Corten pointed out during one of his brilliant Coastal Bar Crossing and Offshore Boat Handling tuition courses, it’s sheer lack of knowledge and practical experience that causes this to happen.

Bill has had decades of experience on the water and is amply qualified to teach boat owners how to understand and negotiate what appears to be difficult water. In reality the water is really quite negotiable if you know how to go about things.

I’ve been boating since I was a child but bar crossings were never part of my itinerary. I flyfish or work plastics wherever I can stand up to cast in Moreton Bay, beach launch at Iluka’s Woody Head and troll out off the Gold Coast for billfish, but the South Passage bar has never been my playground. However it’s obvious that Bill knows the entire area as well as his backyard.


I joined three other boaters, Fred and Mark Price of Victoria Point Tackle and Bait and Chris for a day’s tuition. After a thorough grounding on safety issues regarding Bill’s Yamaha 150 HPDI powered Cruise Craft 625 Outsider we launched at Raby Bay and headed straight across to Amity.

Once in the bar area out from Amity township Bill showed us the three main channels that exit the wide shallow expanse of water between Moreton and North Stradbroke islands. He also explained how the incoming tide was affecting each channel at that particular time. A strong tidal flow was pushing south across the incoming easterly swell so the Amity channel, which runs parallel to the beach on North Stradbroke Island, gave us an easy run into bluewater.

Bill explained in detail that bar crossing strategy always requires due recognition of the tidal flow in respect to a particular stage of the tide. Incoming waves always have, and always will, stand up against an ebb tide but tend to soften and flatten with a flood tide.

While we easily negotiated the Amity channel close to the beach on North Stradbroke Island it was a far different proposition on the flood tide six hours later. True, it was still negotiable, but the channel was not as easily identified.

The same went for the northern Channel past Reeders Point and Clohertys Peninsula on Moreton Island. On the flood tide it was smooth as custard with just a bit of cross chop. On the ebb tide it was a nightmare of incessant pressure waves that were not so hard to negotiate when moving in towards shore, but it was still important to watch astern for a big green one building up above the pressure waves. It would have been very wet and sloppy if we were trying to head out.


What impressed me most was the way in which Bill Corten explained what we were going to do. He first had each of us take the wheel of his Cruise Craft to become familiar with controls and to gauge the response from the Yamaha 150.

He then talked us through each stage in detail and pointed out what we needed to achieve before explaining how we would do it.

Bill then set out to have each one of us, at the wheel, undertaking the different strategies in easy stages. We took turns riding successive waves in almost to the beach, exiting the wave sharply with a snappy U-turn, then we weaved and dodged our way back amidst the breakers to clear water for another run. As Bill pointed out, the trick is to take the fight to each wave when heading out; driving hard up the front of it (prior to it breaking) and then ease off to skew right or left right on the crest to avoid uncomfortable impact. With practice it soon became routine: an enjoyable exercise with fellow students rating each effort.

After our skills increased out of sight we took turns entering and then heading out through the main bar channels on the flood tide. Identifying the safe water – the spot where waves broke least frequently – was the first part of the exercise, followed by proper and precise boat handling.


I think the Coastal Bar Crossing and Offshore Boat Handling tuition course is a must for any boat owner who wants to learn the intricacies of bar crossing or become a better boat handler. I gave the day 10 out of 10 as an invaluable learning experience and enjoyable day on the water.

Bill says boaters don’t need years of experience to be able to undertake the course, just some experience in driving a boat. From there Bill will take the boater to a level of expertise that will allow them to be far more confident at the wheel than ever before.

Boat owners can also assess their own craft’s sustainability for offshore work after spending time on Bill’s cuddy cabin Cruise Craft. Participants also receive useful hand-outs and GPS co-ordinates for the bar at the end of the course.

Bill Corten can be contacted on (07) 3286 3647.

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