The Columbia River Bar is one of the most dangerous in the world. The headwaters of the river start at Lake Columbia in the Canadian Rockies, with many other tributaries adding to the volume throughout its more than 1,200 mile course. By the time the river churns into the Pacific Ocean the average flow is 265,000 cubic feet per second.
Most mariners consider “The Bar” to be the area located between the North and South Jetties (in Washington and Oregon respectively) and Sand Island. As the massive volume of water is funneled between the jetties to disperse into the Pacific, huge waves can be generated. Although the bar can be treacherous at any time, during severe winter storms when waves can exceed 40 feet it can be harrowing even to large ocean-going freighters.
To safely navigate the dredged channel, which narrows to about 600 feet wide between the jetties, all vessels engaged in foreign commerce are required to use the services of one of the Columbia River Bar Pilots. These brave souls have been helping to protect the safety of crews, vessels, cargo—and the environment—since the mid-1800s.
Video of USCG rescue attempt of the vessel Sea King:
USCG small boat crews during surf drills on Columbia River
Link to Columbia River Bar Pilots website: Info from the Smithsonian on the Columbia River Bar Pilots: Link to the Columbia River Maritime Museum:
BQ2012: 189 words (223 including links to sites)