Absolutely! Waves are much more dangerous, especially the ones that are short, steep, and close together, with a very short time between crests. If you’re talking about a sailing vessel, the wind can cause a knockdown. In a life boat, you could capsize. It’s not the end of the world—you’re going to get wet. On a larger boat, with the keel, you’re going to take a knock down, but eventually you’ll come back up. And, if you’ve got the boat closed up like you should if there’s that much wind, you’re not going to take on any water or very much. That’s not an issue. But, water’s 700 times denser than air. So, when a wave hits, it hits with a lot more force than boaters realize. It’s not unusual for waves to knock people across the deck, same thing on a small boat.
Another thing to keep in mind is that a gallon of water weighs about 6½ pounds. Now a wave hits and gets into the bilge. That’s a potential 50 gallons of water weighing in at 300+ pounds just from waves sloshing over. Leave the hatch boards open and get a good wave down in the cockpit and you can get 50 gallons of water down there. That water is now free surface as it sloshes around. Imagine 300 or 400 pounds of people running back and forth from one rail to the other at the worst possible times, and you can see what that would do to your stability. Now you have an issue, because a boat that was stable through its design before now has all this free weight sloshing around and causing issues.
If you’re a power boat taking on 50 pounds of water down the bilge, you’ve got a problem with the engine. Salt water can fully discharge a battery when it’s wet. Now you’ve lost that battery. You could find yourself without power—no engine, no steering—completely at the mercy of the winds and the waves. Water needs to stay out of the boat, not in the boat. If it gets in, you have to have a way to get it out. Strong winds are definitely better over big waves any day. At least winds don’t affect your stability.
Robin G. Coles is a passionate marine enthusiast and sailor who has interviewed countless industry experts as well as visited, interviewed personnel at, written about, and photographed hundreds of marine ports in the US and abroad. She is also an author, columnist in her local paper and owner of http://TheNauticalLifestyle.com. For more topics in her book: Boating Secrets: 127 Top Tips to Help You Buy and/or Enjoy Your Boat, go to http://BoatingSecrets127TopTips.com.