How Rogue Waves Work

Wave Defense

If the MaxWave study is correct, and rogue waves are much more common than previously thought, does that mean oceangoing vessels are far riskier than we thought? It might. Ships and offshore structures, such as oil rigs, are built to withstand a certain significant wave height, whatever is determined that the ship is likely to encounter in its lifetime. Few are built to handle 100-foot waves. Furthermore, a ship's ability to withstand a strike by a rogue wave depends in large part on the ballast, or stability. If a ship has the right amount of ballast and is floating at the proper level, it will be more likely to right itself after being pushed over by a wave [source: Smith, 233]. Today's international shipping laws don't necessarily take frequent rogue waves into account where ship construction and maintenance are concerned. But that's not to say all ships are unsafe -- perhaps it would be impossible to build a ship that could withstand any wave.



For more information on rogue waves and related topics, check out the links below.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles

More Great Links


  • Amadio, Jordan Paul. "High Seas." Natural History, Oct. 2004.
  • Bryant, Edward. Natural Hazards. Cambridge University Press; Updated edition (February 21, 2005). 978-0521537438.
  • Cush, Cathie. Shipwrecks. MetroBooks (NY) (October 1997). 978-1567994759.
  • The Denver Channel. "Crippled Ship With CU Students Limping To Port." Jan. 27, 2005.
  • European Space Agency. "Ship-sinking monster waves revealed by ESA satellites." July 21, 2004.
  • Freeze, Ken. "Monster Waves Threaten Rescue Helicopters."
  • Haver, Sverre. "Evidence for the Existence of Freak Waves."
  • Peterson, Ivars. "Rough math: focusing on rogue waves at sea." Science News, Nov. 23, 1996.
  • Smith, Craig B. Extreme Waves. National Academy Press (Nov. 7, 2006). 978-0309100625.
  • Wheeler, Kyle, producer. "Finish Line." Deadliest Catch, Season 2.