RNLI Top Tip 5

RNLI Top Tip 5 – Keep an eye on weather and tides

Before you set out on any trip, it is important that you plan your journey properly. You must have an understanding of meteorology and navigation, ensure you have sufficient equipment on board your craft, and brief your crew on safety matters.


Always check the weather forecast before you set off. Get regular updates if you are planning to be out for any length of time. Be prepared to change your plans or cancel the trip if the forecast is unfavourable.

In addition to national and local radio and TV forecasts here is a selection:-

  • Shipping forecast on BBC Radio 4. (Not all forecasts are on FM so it is best to stay tuned to LW.)
  • HM Coastguard broadcasts weather forecasts on VHF radio using various channels following an announcement on VHF Channel 16. Fresh forecasts are broadcast every six hours and repeated 3 hours later.
  • Met Office on line www.meto.gov.uk
  • Many harbour and marina offices display a written forecast.
  • 518/490 Khz Navtex receivers provide printed forecasts and navigational information from radio signals.

Internet weather

We jokingly say that if you don’t like the forecasts for your area look at another supplier. If you search hard enough you will find one you like. Seriously, suppliers use varying amounts of data and sampling points to deduce their forecasts. Not all have a human being in the decision chain to apply a ‘sanity’ check. Try out a few sites and build up a rapport and confidence with a supplier. Lists of ones we have used are appended.


It is very important to ensure your plans fit with the tidal predictions for the day of your trip.

  • Most slipways and launching sites are tidal. Check the times of high and low water and how they will affect your trip when you launch and later head for home.
  • If the tide turns to a wind against tide direction the sea may become much rougher.
  • An ebbing tide may create dangerous areas of shallow water.
  • Check whether it will be a neap or spring tide.
  • Beware of harbour entrances where tidal currents can be quite severe.

Limitations of the vessel

Is your craft capable of the proposed trip? Do you have sufficient safety equipment and stores with you? Do not overestimate your vessel’s speed or ability to handle difficult conditions. Remember that the sea and weather can change rapidly. Do a risk assessment. Ask yourself the following:-

  • Have you completed your engine checks (oil, cooling water, fuel)?
  • Are all parts of the vessel operating correctly?
  • Do you have sufficient fuel for the trip (? out, ? back and ? spare?
  • Do you have sufficient safety equipment onboard?
  • Are the crew ready to sail? Do they have suitable clothes, shoes/boots, spare spectacles, lifejackets, harnesses, and do they need to take a sea sickness remedy? Cold, wet and hungry sailors don’t perform well when the chips are down.
  • Do you have sufficient food, drink and warm clothing for the length of your journey?

Limitations of the Crew

Being the skipper means taking responsibility for your actions. Your safety and the safety of the crew are in your hands. You must match your knowledge to the conditions and never put either the crew or the vessel at risk. Take into account the experience and physical ability of your crew for the type of journey proposed and the weather conditions. Crews suffering from cold, tiredness and seasickness won’t be able to do their job properly.


Ensure the crew is sufficiently prepared for any trip by briefing them fully on:-

  • when the skipper should be called
  • location of the first aid kit
  • onboard dangers – including the boom, winches, windlasses, cleats, propeller, engine/shaft
  • lifejackets and harnesses – how they should be worn
  • safety procedure for going on deck
  • starting and operating the engine, including how to use the kill cord. Beware of cheaper versions without a wire inner cable.
  • how to switch on/off the boat’s batteries and ancillary equipment
  • switching on and operating the VHF radio or activating the Digital Selective Calling (DSC) button
  • man overboard drill
  • how to read latitude and longitude of the Global Positioning System (GPS)
  • operating gas appliances including isolating the gas supply
  • where the flares are stowed, and when and how to fire them
  • sending a distress message – keep the emergency procedures stickers from our Sea Safety Guide beside your radio
  • what’s in the grab bag and where to find it
  • use of fire extinguishers, fire blanket and other fire safety equipment
  • when and how to launch the liferaft or inflatable dinghy
  • leaving/returning to a mooring or berth, use of fenders and warps (not arms or legs)
  • how to anchor
  • where to find spare / waterproof clothing

Navigational dangers

Make sure you are familiar with any navigational dangers you may encounter. Check an up to date chart and a current pilot book or almanac. If you are unfamiliar with the area seek advice from other users or the Coastguard before you set sail. If trailer boating choose a launch spot that is clear of boats, rocks, swimmers and other obstructions. Show courtesy to other people in the vicinity.

Follow Up

If you want to follow up any of these points or have any other sea safety issues don’t hesitate to contact the Lifeboat Sea Safety Officer at your local Lifeboat station. If there is not one appointed yet the station can give you a contact in a nearby station who will be only to happy to help in any way. Free sea safety advice is always available.


Hope you have found this series of articles of interest and hopefully we have made you stop and think about a number of points. Why not try one of our Advice On-Board sessions?

Ten top weather websites

It is possible to spend many hours surfing for good sites although the information found is often the same, presented in different ways. It is best to start with the local national met service as many have websites and links.

http://www.metoffice.com Inshore waters forecast, shipping forecast and a whole lot more. Good for observations from around the coast. In the aviation section, the ballooning forecast gives the chance of sea breezes developing. The inshore forecast can be delivered automatically on a weekly basis direct to your e-mail address.

http://www.metbrief.com Really the only site you need, as it has numerous links to all the major weather sites; including charts, satellite pictures and observations.

http://www.wetterzentrale.de/topkarten/ Lots of weather models including the familiar Met Office charts. Long range forecasts for up to 15 days. Can be useful for planning but only for a general idea.

http://www.xcweather.co.uk Up-to-date observations from around the UK. Also accessible by WAP phone. Observations also include buoy reports, so very useful when sailing around the coast.

http://www.ndbc.noaa.gov Buoy reports for around the British Isles

http://www.greatweather.co.uk A huge number of links.

http://wwwghcc.msfc.nasa.gov/GOES Interactive satellite pictures for anywhere in the world.

http://www.meteo.Fr Meteo France wind maps include the English Channel.

http://www.weatheronline.co.uk/forecast.htm Information for around the world.

www.movingweather.com A subscription service. Temperature, wind, rain, pressure, clouds and humidity can be selected. Wave height and swell length. Select the area required from a world wind map and home in on the particular location. From 2 to 7 days ahead. Prides itself in providing downloads with minimal connection time.

‘Invite us onto your boat before we invite you onto ours’

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Thanks to the author, PT Corner, for permission to publish this article.

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