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Tres Martin’s Safety Corner: Trim Smart For Rough Water

With the first wave of performance boats in the Florida Powerboat Club’s Key West Poker Run already on its 160-mph journey today to the Southernmost point in the United States with rough, wind-whipped conditions predicted for the entire week—two more FPC waves of boats are heading down Thursday and Friday—we thought this would be the perfect time to check in with Tres Martin on running in nasty conditions. A former offshore racing world champion and the founder of the Performance Boat School that bears his name, Martin knows a thing or two about running in the rough stuff.

In rough conditions such as these—this photo was taken during the 2013 Emerald Coast Poker Run event—too much positive trim can lead to big problems. Photo courtesy/copyright of the Florida Powerboat Club.

In rough conditions such as these—this photo was taken during the 2013 Emerald Coast Poker Run event—too much positive trim can lead to big problems. Photo courtesy/copyright of the Florida Powerboat Club.

“It has always has to be in the back of your mind that as the driver, because you’re hanging onto the steering wheel and throttles, you never feel what your passengers feel,” said Martin. “So you might have a misconception about what a great job you’re doing.

“You can never defeat nature,” he continued. “It’s never been done before, and it never will be done. People have it in their minds that because they bought these big wave-crushing boats that the boats are better than they are, and that maybe they are more talented than they are. Boats are way faster than they were 10 years ago. There is no ‘throttle-jockeying’ any more. Now it’s more a matter of power management, and the best way to manage power is to keep it in the water.”

Martin said the most common misconception drivers have about running in rough water is that they need to keep nose of their boats “up.” In short, they over-trim.

“Simple physics dictate that the higher you put the nose in the air, the harder it will fall back into the water when it reenters,” he explained. “So they trim to keep the nose way up, which is wrong. When I train drivers for the Navy, I tell them, ‘The best operator is the one whose boat exits the water the least.’ That means he chose a speed and trim level that will allow the nose of the boat to divide and displace the water and keep from damaging the boat’s drive train and occupants.”

How does that translate into real-word operating advice? “If you’re running in rough conditions and you think you have you’re boat trimmed perfectly, tuck it in—drives and tabs—just a little more than you think you need to,” said Martin. “Don’t be afraid that you’re going to waste a little fuel by dragging your tabs and keeping the nose down.”

Martin said that the “set it and forget it” approach to trim, especially in rough water, is just asking for trouble.

“You can never expect the rhythm of the water to remain the same,” he said. “In Atlantic Ocean off the Florida Keys, for example, the water is following the contours of the ocean floor. It might be 40 deep at one moment and then, because you are over a reef, 14 feet deep the next. You can see the waves and seas ahead of you, but you can’t necessarily see where the water depth will suddenly decrease. That creates ‘holes’ and holes can be big trouble if the boat’s nose is too high when you go into one.”

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