Checking Weather and Water Conditions
Keeping an eye to the sky is an important part of planning any outdoor adventure. In many cases, both your safety and your enjoyment of the outdoor trip will depend entirely on the weather conditions. Check the weather forecast before you leave the dock–but be aware that the weather can change very rapidly. Thunderstorms can roll in as ‘fast as lightning’. So, what’s the best practice for tackling bad weather? Be prepared for it.
Find the latest weather reports by turning on your TV, tuning into your VHF FM radio, or going online. You should also check the weather the good, old-fashioned way—go outside and take a good look at the sky and the water. Avoid having to deal with severe weather by doing your homework and finding the weather report before you leave the dock!
It’s the boat operator’s responsibility to decide whether to continue or to make adjustments to a trip if the weather forecast is less than ideal.
Small Craft Advisory:
A warning of weather conditions that may be dangerous for small boats. This warning indicates winds of at least 18 knots (24 mph) and rough, wavy conditions.
A warning of strong winds within the range of 34-47 knots (39-54 mph).
A warning of winds within the range of 48-63 knots (55-73 mph).
A warning that indicates hurricane winds of 64 knots (74 mph) and higher. This warning identifies that a combination of dangerously high water and rough seas are expected to impact a specified coastal area.
Dangerous Weather and Water Conditions
Although you should always check the official weather forecast before you go boating, you should always be watching out for the development of any of these dangerous conditions:
- Fog, dark clouds and lightning.
- A falling barometer (If the barometer falls, you can expect rain to fall too).
- A noticeable halo around the sun or moon (this usually indicates rain).
- Changes in the direction and temperature of the wind (a drop in temperature indicates a storm).
- Puffy, vertically rising clouds.
- Watch out for the West: Foul weather usually comes from the west, but storms from the east tend to be the most powerful.
In addition to the dangerous weather conditions you should be watching out for when boating, you should also keep an eye for any of these dangerous water conditions:
- High water: After heavy rainfall, flooding rivers or tide changes, high water can camouflage obstacles in the water that would normally be visible.
- Sand bars: Watch out for these shallow water areas that can damage your boat.
- Strong currents: Currents can make swimming very dangerous and will make boat navigation difficult.
- Large waves: A heavy-looking sea is a sign of a storm and large waves could swamp your boat.
If you get caught in a storm, take the following actions:
Step 1) Make sure every passenger is wearing a life jacket.
Step 2) Reduce your speed and maintain your movement forward.
Step 3) Turn on your required navigation lights—you may not be the only boater out there.
Step 4) Seat your passengers on the bottom of the boat, along the centerline. This will help stabilize the boat and prevent your passengers from falling overboard.
Step 5) Stow away any loose gear. A wakeboard or fishing pole can catch the wind and fly at you or your passengers.
Step 6) Cut through large waves at a 45° angle—this will reduce the chance of your boat being swamped by them. If you’re operating a PWC, cut through the waves at a 90° angle to help maintain lateral stability.
Step 7) Keep the bilges free of water in order to stay well above water level (make sure you have a good bailer or working bilge pump on board).
Step 8) If it’s safe to do so, head towards shore.
Anchoring in a Storm
If you find yourself in increasingly high seas, you should make your way to a sheltered mooring, such as a protected bay, cove or breakwater. If wave and water conditions make it unsuitable to operate safely, immediately set anchor and signal your need for help.
Step 1) Angle the boat as though you were still moving, at a 45° angle, headed into the waves. This positioning will prevent the boat from drifting or from being swamped by waves.
Step 2) Drop the anchor from the bow of the boat.
Step 3) Stay low in the boat and turn off the electrical equipment while you wait for the storm to pass.
Step 4) Use your sound signalling device to indicate to other boaters that you’re at anchor. To do this, sound a signal rapidly for about five seconds in intervals of not more than one minute.
Step 5) If you find yourself in need of rescue, use the appropriate visual distress signal equipment.
Step 6) If you find yourself without an anchor, the Coast Guard recommends using a bucket and rope as an emergency anchor.
Note: If you cannot reach your destination safely, you should seek shelter for the duration of the storm. Safe shelters include marked areas for mooring or bays and docking areas that are protected by breakwaters.
Operating in Bad Weather
Operating in bad weather is primarily a matter of avoiding collisions. Use the following techniques to avoid collisions in bad weather:
Proceed with caution: Be able to stop in a short distance rather than having to resort to unexpected evasive manoeuvers
Place lookouts: If you have passengers onboard, place them near the bow and stern as effective lookouts–operate with caution during high wave conditions when other craft may not be visible
Look and listen: You and your passengers should ‘look out’ for other craft and navigational aids by both sight and hearing
Navigation lights: Use your craft’s navigation lights during periods of restricted visibility to alert other boaters to your position
Stop your engines: If you are underway in heavy fog, stop your engines at specific intervals to listen for fog signals from other vessels or from marker buoys
Use your radar: Radar is your best option when visibility conditions are reduced–if you have a passive radar reflector it should be displayed during periods of restricted visibility