Boater’s guide to rough weather
Rough weather can ruin a day on the water. You can avoid problems by checking the weather forecast, preferably on the VHF NOAA weather channel and by first-hand observation, before heading out.
Pay attention to potential squall line thunderstorms. Monitor forecasts for strong winds and other rough weather. If high waves or high winds are predicted, wait for a better day. Don’t venture out in conditions that could exceed your boating skills or your boat’s capabilities.
Listen to weather forecasts while on the water. Keep an eye to the west; weather usually changes from that direction. High, dark clouds or a change in wind direction or velocity often predict threatening or rough weather. Check the radio. Electrical activity in the air associated with thunderstorms can cause excessive static on an AM radio.
Heed warnings of approaching rough weather and find a safe harbor as soon as possible. An approaching storm should cause immediate concern for the safety of your craft and crew.
Handling your boat in rough weather
Even cautious skippers occasionally get caught in bad weather. If you’re forced to ride out a storm, follow the following procedures:
Have all crew members put on life jackets. Dress appropriately to avoid exposure and hypothermia.
If on a sailboat, fasten safety harnesses to a jackline or a sturdy through-bolted fitting (a strap running from bow to stern at the middle of the deck).
Batten down (secure) your boat. Close hatches and ports to avoid flooding. Stow loose gear. If you’re in a sailboat, reduce the sail area: Reef sails, change to smaller sails or drop sails completely. The wind in thunderstorms can be extreme and unpredictable.
Make sure your best helmsman is steering the boat. Meet the waves at the most advantageous speed and angle for your boat under existing conditions. In most circumstances, it’s best to steer the boat to meet the waves at about a 45-degree angle off the bow. Experiment to determine the correct crossing angle for your hull; the angle will vary with sea conditions. Take special care when taking waves on the stern or broadside.
Find the best speed for controlling your boat. Be aware that reducing speed decreases steering control. Selecting the correct speed requires practice and varies with existing conditions.
In a small boat, seat your passengers in the bottom of the boat, as close to the centerline as possible.
Check for water in the bilge; pump it as often as required to keep it dry. Water is heavy and affects boat stability.
Always know where you are and the location of the closest safe harbor. Choose the safest course—it may not be the shortest route. Always steer away from hazardous ground.
You may need to ride out a storm at anchor. Use a scope of at least 7 to 1 on the anchor rode, and protect the rode with chafing gear. Anchoring will normally keep your bow into the wind.
Handling waves in heavy seas
If at sea, seek a region of lesser chop and avoid breaking waves. This may not mean seeking deeper water away from shore. Beware of locations where current and winds oppose each other. This causes high, pointed waves.
Check local and distant weather forecasts frequently. Distant storms and hurricanes produce fast-moving swells.
Wind produces waves. Waves affect both the boat’s forward movement and its steering. Seas striking the forward section of the boat tend to decrease its speed through the water, while waves coming up astern can increase speed in short bursts. A boat drifting without power will broach, turning broadside into the waves and increasing the risk of capsizing. In order to stay on course, the helmsman must continuously adjust steering.
Forecast the weather
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