Safe Boat Handling in Bad Weather

Posted: January 1, 2011

By: Wayne Stacey

Recreational boaters should always check the marine forecast before heading out on the water and postpone their cruise if foul weather is on the way. Out on the water, however, severe thunderstorms can still materialize without warning. That’s when having sound knowledge of your vessel, as well as wind, water and geography, comes into play. You and your boat need to be prepared at all times. Anchors and lines should always be readily accessible, along with life jackets and other safety equipment.

In a sudden storm, your most immediate problems are limited visibility, high winds and, depending on your location, rapidly building seas. Have passengers dress as warmly as possible, put on their life jackets and, if possible, go below. Close all hatches, doors, watertight compartments and windows. In an open boat, passengers should sit low in the bottom of the boat along the center line.

Although you need to get to the dock quickly, once waves reach a certain height, safety dictates that you match the speed of the vessel to the speed of the waves. That means slowing down a lot. The more you reduce speed, the less strain will be put on the hull and the less risk that portholes and windows will pop out or break. Keep your vessel at a 45-degree angle to the wind, and make slow but steady progress to the nearest port.

Stay away from rocky shorelines.

If you’re far from port but have shelter available such as islands and peninsulas, sheltering may be a good idea depending on the depth of the water and the condition of the shoreline. Just bear in mind that in most thunderstorms the wind direction will probably change. In a thunderstorm, winds generally blow outward from the area of heaviest rain. As the storm approaches, winds come straight at you. As it passes overhead, the winds ease off, then reverse direction. Understanding this pattern can give you a reasonable idea of how long you’ll be fighting the storm. In a smaller boat, putting up on a sandy beach may be a good idea. If the situation is life threatening, it’s better to sacrifice the boat to save yourself, your family and friends. BW

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