Safety Tips For Boating in Bad Weather
Boating in bad weather is not only unpleasant, but it could also be downright terrifying and potentially fatal. The best advice any boating website can give is to avoid sailing in bad weather, of course.
But hey, we’re boaters and we love our water, and it’s not in our nature to stay on land for too long, even if the weather is less than ideal. Speaking of nature, Mother Nature herself is known for throwing us curveballs and changing the weather dramatically and unexpectedly while we’re out on the water. “Weather” you planned on it or not, here are some tips for boating in bad weather.
Pre-Journey Safety Tips
Just as you prepare for good weather before setting out on your boat (sunscreen, drinking water, etc.), you should also prep for adverse weather by packing lightweight rainproof jackets, fleeces or similar insulating layers.
Keep an Eye Out For Bad Weather
Check the forecast to get the latest information, and reschedule your trip if unsafe conditions are expected. If you’re already out on the water, always be on the lookout for bad weather closing in. Remember, the weather can quickly take an unexpected turn for the worse. If you notice any signs that weather conditions are deteriorating, immediately turn around and head for safety.
Common signs of approaching bad weather include:
- Cloud cover getting thicker, darker and lower
- Clouds rising into a mushroom shape
- Rapid drop in temperature
- Wind increase and change of direction
- Heightened swells and waves
Safety Tips When Boating in a Storm
If your boat does get caught in bad weather, plot a course for the nearest safe haven to your current location. Don’t try to get back to your original launching point if there’s a closer and easier alternative.
If your boat is small enough and the weather gets extreme, head to the nearest shoreline. Reduce your speed to put less strain on your boat’s hull and try to match the speed of the waves if possible. Steer your boat at a 45-degree angle, which also reduces strain on the hull and helps gain control of the boat. Make sure everyone is wearing a personal flotation device, and have passengers sit as low in the boat as possible along the centerline.
Get all your emergency equipment ready to go and turn on your navigation lights. Close all hatches, watertight compartments, portholes and windows to minimize the volume of water coming onboard. Position heavy gear as low in the boat as possible and tie it down to prevent it from shifting. This keeps the boat’s center of gravity low and helps stabilize the boat.
Turn on the bilge pumps and keep the bilge as dry as possible to minimize the volume of water moving around inside the hull. Look out for floating debris, rocks, obstacles and other boats. Keep as low in the boat as possible and avoid using the flybridge if there’s lightning present. Finally, if the situation gets extreme and you fear for the life of anyone onboard or the loss of your boat, send a Mayday to the Coast Guard using Channel 16 on the VHF radio.