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Planning bar crossings
  |  First Published: August 2004



CROSSING shallow sand bars where rivers, creeks, lakes or harbours meet the sea can be dangerous.

Bar crossing accidents continue despite repeated warnings about the dangers. A closer look at marine incidents on five bars in Southeast Queensland shows 43 reported incidents in just over five years, including a fatality and several serious injuries.

Most incidents happen in good conditions, with many of the problems attributed to over-confidence, lack of local knowledge or attempting a crossing in the wrong type of boat. A dinghy with a 4hp motor, for example, will generally not have enough power to steer through a moderate swell.

Queensland has many potentially hazardous bars. Often they provide the only means of access to open waters. While some bars, such as the Southport and Mooloolaba seaway entrances, are relatively safe, others are notorious for unpredictable conditions influenced by tides, weather and shifting sand.

It’s important to plan and take precautions before attempting a bar crossing. Before you set out, obtain advice from the local Volunteer Marine Rescue organization or marine authority.

The importance of obtaining tide and weather reports for the time of crossing the bar, as well as regular weather updates while on the water, is critical. You should also wear your lifejacket at all times when crossing coastal bars.

Once in the open sea, the most obvious danger is changing sea conditions that can turn in a minute, making coming home dangerous.

Only experienced boaters should attempt bar crossings and offshore boating. Novices must take the time to learn how to do this safely. All sand bars are different and local knowledge is imperative.

Most coastal bars have a marine rescue organisation close by with experienced boat handlers who can give good advice. If possible, go with someone experienced who can guide you through the danger spots before attempting a bar crossing yourself.

There might be times when no amount of experience can save you or your boat. Vessels unable to weather adverse sea conditions outside the bar should not leave port. Do not venture out to sea if you are in any doubt about the safety of your return.

The bottom line is, if the weather looks marginal or adverse, don’t risk it. – Maritime Safety Queensland

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