Boaters: Employ severe weather safety tips to stay safe
Last updated: January 1
Whether on a sailboat, fishing boat or yacht, boating is an activity enjoyed by many people around the country. But boating in a storm can be scary and dangerous. From first-time captains to sailors who practically live on the water, it’s important to be prepared in the event you get stuck in bad weather while on a boat.
“We’re more likely to encounter Mother Nature and her capriciousness aboard our boats than in most of the other places where we spend our time,” says Beth Leonard, technical services director at Boat Owners Association of the United States (BOATUS). Leonard has sailed around the world twice, has written three books on boating and is well versed on hurricane preparation, offshore sailing and heavy weather tactics. “Being a responsible, safe boater means being prepared to handle any bad weather you might encounter.”
So, how should you prepare? Remember the following boating storm safety tips before your next trip out on the water.
Preparations to take
Before pushing away from the dock, there are certain things you should consider to get ready for a day at sea. First and foremost, always check the weather. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), all recreational boaters should look up the marine forecast before getting on the water, and if inclement weather is expected, the trip should be postponed. The NOAA constantly broadcasts Weather Radio All Hazards and is a reliable source for offshore weather updates.
If the weather forecast looks good and you decide to take your boat out, you should still always be ready for an unexpected storm to blow in. Leonard says the boat should be stocked with the right equipment to handle any potential weather. For example, it's important to have radar and a GPS device on board so you can still track your position and avoid other boats, even if the storm has made it too dark to see them.
Understanding your boat
Along with checking for ideal weather, a boater should understand the limitations of the vessel before heading out, says Leonard. Consider factors such as boat size, shape and stability when evaluating the abilities of the watercraft.
"Stability, or the boat's ability to stay upright when wind and waves are trying to make it otherwise, allow a boat to handle stronger conditions," Leonard says. "Stability is generally related to weight, which is often related to size, but also to hull shape and the overall width of the boat. Boat type is also important — if waves break over the front of a bowrider (a boat with seating in the front of the boat), they will be much more likely to fill the boat with water than if they break over the front of a boat with a closed deck forward of the windscreen."
In addition to knowing your boat, try to develop a good understanding of your capabilities as the captain. Leonard suggests taking on-the-water courses or having an experienced instructor coach you on your boat the first several times you go out. But even if you are prepared, remember to avoid the water if the weather is supposed to be less than ideal.
Handling a boat in a storm
Even the most experienced boater with a perfectly functioning boat and all of the proper equipment may eventually get caught in bad weather. If this happens and you can't get back to shore, there are a few things you should consider to help protect your passengers and boat in a storm, says BOATUS's Trip Planning and Preparation Guide:
- Make sure all loose hatches, gears and ports are secure.
- Have everyone on the boat put on his or her life jacket if not already wearing it (in accordance with recommendations by the U.S. Coast Guard's Boating Safety Division)
- Unplug electrical equipment if you see lightning.
- Steer into waves at a 45 degree angle to minimize pounding, increase safety and keep the propeller under the water.
As the storm approaches, reduce your speed to that of the waves. The Coast Guard says this will put less strain on the hull and structure and better keep windows and portholes intact. As you slowly maneuver your boat in the direction of shore, watch out for rocks, floating debris and other boats. Keep your navigation lights on, says the Coast Guard, and wait for the storm to pass.
No boater wants to get stuck on the water in rough weather, but sometimes life on the water is unpredictable. If you do your best to gather as much experience as you can and always be prepared, you may be able to get through it with minimal stress and damage.