Boating in Bad Weather: How to Stay Safe

How to Stay Safe on a Boat in Bad Weather

Ideally, you'll watch the weather forecast and avoid boating in inclement weather. But what if you're already on the water when a thunderstorm rolls in? Or what if the fog is worse than you expected?

Learning how to manage bad weather is vital as a boat captain.

We’re here to help you figure it out.

Watch Weather Forecasts

The smartest strategy for dealing with bad weather is to avoid it. Before every journey, you should check the weather forecast – and don't just see whether it's raining or not. Pay attention to cloud formations, wind speeds, and other variables that may influence your journey. As an experienced boat captain, you should have a good idea of how these conditions will influence your vessel. If you're inexperienced, err on the side of caution; only head out if you're reasonably confident in your abilities to navigate these conditions.

Also, pay attention to any changes to the forecasts as you get closer to your departure. Meteorological predictions change rapidly, so the morning forecast may no longer be accurate by the time you get to your boat.

Types of Bad Boating Weather

There are a few main types of bad weather you can experience on a boat:

  • Thunderstorms. Thunderstorms typically involve high winds, heavy rains, and lightning, each of which is a separate threat. Wind can cause rough waters and interfere with your vessel, heavy rain can make it harder to see, and lightning can strike your vessel or the people on it.
  • High winds. High winds alone can also cause problems. Big waves and difficult navigation conditions can cause problems for even competent captains.
  • Fog. Foggy weather obstructs your vision and makes collisions and accidents far more likely. It also makes rescue efforts more difficult.

Dealing With Rough Waters

In thunderstorms and high winds, your biggest problem is going to be rough waters.

These are the strategies that can get you through:

  • Secure your passengers and put on lifejackets. Lifejackets are critical lifesaving devices that will keep you (and your passengers) afloat if you fall overboard. While many experts advise you to wear your lifejackets at all times, and especially when the vehicle is in motion, these devices are non-negotiable in especially bad weather. They could be the only thing keeping you alive.
  • Secure all hatches, doors, ports, and windows. Take a moment to secure all hatches, doors, ports, and windows to prevent water from getting into your vessel.
  • Secure your gear. If you have any expensive or important gear, store it someplace where it isn't going to be vulnerable. This is secondary to protecting the people on your craft.
  • Locate your emergency equipment. Bailers, hand pumps, signalling devices, and first aid kits may become necessary very soon. Locate and prepare your emergency equipment.
  • Pump the bilges dry. Pump the bilges dry periodically to reduce risks.
  • Chart your position and course. Take a moment to chart your position and course, making a rescue mission easier if it becomes necessary.
  • Listen to weather updates. Pay attention to weather updates on your VHF radio (or using another piece of communications technology). This can help you improve your navigation, and potentially maximize your chances of escaping unscathed. In the UK, you can call the National Coastwatch Institution on maritime VHF channel 65 for current local weather conditions and sea state.
  • Turn on your navigation lights. Even if you feel like your vision isn't particularly impaired, turn on your navigation lights. These are useful not only for illuminating the area in front of you but also making your boat more visible to potential rescuers.
  • Head into the wind at a 45-degree angle. If there are strong winds, consider heading into the wind at a 45-degree angle. This angle minimizes potential resistance and makes it easier to maintain control of your craft.
  • Avoid lightning hazards. Lightning can be a threat to you and your passengers. Stay away from metallic and tall objects that could attract lightning bolts.
  • Go slow and steady. It’s wise to reduce your speed and venture forth steadily; exercising caution and remaining consistent is your best course of action.
  • Send a Mayday message if you fear losing the boat. If things get rough and you fear losing the boat, don't hesitate to send out a Mayday message.

Dealing With Fog

If fog is your biggest problem, follow these strategies.

  • Chart your position. Just like in a thunderstorm, it's important to chart your position and course. This will make it easier for others to find you if you get lost.
  • Turn on your navigation lights. Navigation lights can help you navigate in fog and visually signal your position to others.
  • Reduce your speed. Going slower makes it much less likely for you to run into another vessel; you'll have more time to see what's in your vicinity and more time to react to it.
  • Ask your passengers for help spotting and listening. In fog, you're going to heavily rely on all your senses to detect what's going on around you. It's often helpful to ask your passengers for help spotting objects and listening to what's going on.
  • Blast your horn every two minutes. Boat captains should sound the horn once (for 4 to 6 seconds) when the boat is in motion and sound the horn twice when the vessel is stopped. This will provide an auditory signal for other boat captains to recognise your position.

The Importance of Experience

No matter how much experience you have, bad weather can be a problem for you and your passengers. That said, more experience is always a good thing when it comes to managing inclement conditions. Once you gain more familiarity with the tenets of boatmanship, you'll be much more confident in mitigating the effects of mild to moderate bad weather.

Are you searching for a vessel that can stand up to even the toughest weather streaks? Or are you a new boat captain just seeing what types of yachts are out there? Your search begins and ends here – use our platform to find the perfect boat for your needs!

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