What is a Rogue Wave?

When SAIL decided to print something on rogue waves (October, 2003), the first question that came up among the editors was—what IS a rogue wave? Soon it became clear that "rogue wave" means different things to different people. Faced with the job of making sense, or a bit of sense, of the jumble, I eventually decided that a rogue is any wave that is bigger, steeper, moving faster, or coming
Author:
Publish date:

When SAIL decided to print something on rogue waves (October, 2003), the first question that came up among the editors was—what IS a rogue wave? Soon it became clear that "rogue wave" means different things to different people. Faced with the job of making sense, or a bit of sense, of the jumble, I eventually decided that a rogue is any wave that is bigger, steeper, moving faster, or coming from an angle different from whatever the boat and crew were prepared for. In storm conditions, a rogue can rise out of a wave train in which one wave overtakes another, and multiple waves build combined energy and height. Big waves are frightening, but not necessarily dangerous unless they're breaking. Cross-pattern seas can be the most dangerous to meet.

Additive rogue waves are statically predictable (so you could argue they are not "rogues" at all, but that's not a productive line of argument). Cross-pattern rogues should have a level of predictability if you are able to know what's happening in other parts of the ocean, but for most of us most of the time that's a lot to ask. The great puzzles are the documented rogue waves that seem to appear out of nowhere and nothing on a mild day in a mild sea (not to be confused with tsunamis, which have little effect on open water).

There's quite a bit of information online. Look below the Sponsored Links for a sampling that I found informative, entertaining, or both—Kimball Livingston

Heavy scientific noodling from NOAA: NOAA on rogue waves

A window into the world of the scientists who study rogue waves for a living, largely on behalf of international shipping and oil platform companies: Scientific conferences and Modeling a rogue wave; is it possible?

The brief text here is actually about the camera used to make the shot, but it's worth a click to see the shot: big ship in BIG wave

A BBC news story analyzing the sinking of a ship by waves that were deadly because they were the same length as the ship: BBC on sinkings

A student expedition to a wave-beaten peninsula proves that the umpteenth wave can be much bigger than the ones before Almost scary

An account of the QEII's encounter with something real, real big: QEII's storm encounter

And an account of the 61-foot Sorcery's encounter with "A freight train: There was no time to react. As the starboard locker emptied onto me, the engine, which had been battery charging, kicked off. I piledrived into the amazingly white surface of the overhead, right where the cabin sole used to be; the port lockers emptied out. Sometime in between, it seemed that a wave had washed through into the forepeak, but I barely noticed it. Everything was very, very vague, and I sat buried in cans and boxes on the cabin sole watching black stuff run down my arms. The whole world kept going in a barrel roll, and the noise was like being in a cement mixer. The first definite sounds that penetrated the chaos were piercing screams from on deck, then a sound of "Man Overboard, Man Overboard, Man Overboard". One yacht's trial

Info about the Coastal Data Information Program (CDIP), which measures, analyzes, archives, and disseminates coastal environment data for use by coastal engineers, planners, and managers as well as scientists and mariners. A West Coast deal at CDIP

The quote is a fair taste of what you will find here: "Writing in Smithsonian Magazine, Peter Britton cites a study of giant waves in the Gulf of Alaska. Waves there are found to be no worse than in the northern North Sea, where extreme wave heights are near 100 feet. However, the study indicates that the maximum possible wave height in the Gulf of Alaska is a terrifying 198 feet:" Alaska Science Forum

Here's the Marine Prediction Center on its part in predicting "The Perfect Storm:" NOAA tracks a big one

Related

TOTW_PromoSite

SAIL's Tip of the Week

Presented by Vetus-Maxwell. Got a tip? Send it to sailmail@sailmagazine.com No chafe, safe stay  If you’re leaving the boat unattended for a longish period, there’s a lot to be said for cow-hitching the shorelines, as this sailor did. They’ll never let go, and so long as the ...read more

belize600x

Charter Special: Belize

It would be hard to imagine a more secure spot than the Sunsail base on the outskirts of the beachside community of Placencia, Belize. The entire marina is protected by a robust seawall with a channel scarcely a few boatlengths across. It’s also located far enough up Placencia ...read more

DSC00247

DIY: a Top-to-Bottom Refit

I found my sailing “dream boat” in the spring of 1979 while racing on Lake St. Clair in Michigan. Everyone had heard about the hot new boat in town, and we were anxiously awaiting the appearance of this new Pearson 40. She made it to the starting line just before the race ...read more

01-oysteryachts-regattas-loropiana2016_063

Light-air Sails and How to Handle Them

In the second of a two-part series on light-air sails, Rupert Holmes looks at how today’s furling gear has revolutionized sail handling off the wind. Read part 1 here. It’s easy to look at long-distance racing yachts of 60ft and above with multiple downwind sails set on roller ...read more

HanseCharles

Video Tour: Hanse 348

“It’s a smaller-size Hanse cruiser, but with some big-boat features,” says SAIL’s Cruising Editor, Charles J. Doane. At last fall’s Annapolis Boat Show, Doane had a chance to take a close look at the new Hanse 348. Some of the boat’s highlights include under-deck galleries for ...read more

amalfitown

Charter Destination: Amalfi Coast

Prego! Weeks after returning from our Italian flotilla trip last summer, I was still feeling the relaxed atmosphere of the Amalfi Coast. It’s a Mediterranean paradise, with crystal-clear waters, charming hillside towns and cliffside villages, plenty of delicious food and wine, ...read more

image005

Inside or Outside When Sailing the ICW

Last April, my wife, Marjorie, and I decided to take our Tartan 4100, Meri, north to Maryland from her winter home in Hobe Sound, Florida. This, in turn, meant deciding whether to stay in the “Ditch” for the duration or go offshore part of the way. Although we had both been ...read more

MK1_30542

SailGP: There’s a New Sailing Series in Town

San Francisco was the venue of the biggest come-from-behind victory in the history of the America’s Cup when Oracle Team USA beat Emirates Team New Zealand in 2013, so it seems only fitting that the first American round of Larry Ellison’s new SailGP pro sailing series will be ...read more