Boating in Heavy Weather – Part I

Ian Fortey by Ian Fortey Updated on May 8, 2021. In

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Preparation For Heavy Weather

This week’s tip is all about preparing yourself for heavy weather. If you have kept a proper lookout, developed a “weather eye” and monitored the weather on your VHF radio, you should have plenty of time to get prepared. Obviously, the best way to handle rough weather is to get to shore immediately and avoid it completely. However, this may not be practical if you are on an extended cruise. In this case, you should prepare yourself, the vessel and your crew for what is to come.

As boats vary in design and size, and weather conditions vary in severity, so does the laundry list of precautionary items that need to be performed. The following list was accumulated from various resources and from input from those who answered last week’s question concerning “what to do if heavy weather is approaching.” Thanks to those who contributed. For novice boaters we have defined some of the, perhaps, unfamiliar terms such as jack line, sea anchor and drogue below.

What Every Skipper Should Know

  • Meet with the crew to explain the situation and reassure them. Make sure that they know what to do, and what not to do, when the extreme weather arrives. Explain such things as keeping low in the boat, not moving around excessively and not going out on deck unless necessary. Give them all an assignment to keep them occupied and keep their minds off the situation.
  • Determine position of storm, wind direction, speed and estimate time to your location.
  • Secure all hatches; close all ports and windows. (Keep the water on the outside.)
  • Pump bilges dry and repeat as required. This helps eliminate “free water affect.” (Sloshing of water in the bilge as the boat rolls which can effect stability.)
  • Secure all loose gear above decks and below. Put away small items and lash down larger ones. Anything you want to have when the storm passes must be secured.
  • Break out PFD’s and foul weather gear and exercise your authority as skipper by requiring them to be worn by everyone on board. Do this before the weather gets bad, don’t wait too long.
  • Ready emergency equipment that you may need such as hand pumps, bailers, first aide kit, sound signaling device, etc.
  • Get a good fix of your position and plot it on your chart. Make note of the time, your heading and speed.
  • Make plans to alter course to sheltered waters if possible.
  • Continue to monitor channel 16 on your VHF radio for updates to severe forecasts.
  • For extremely severe weather, break out your abandon ship procedures and review them.
  • Make sure the life raft is ready to be deployed.
  • Make sure emergency food and water are in the life raft.
  • Rig jack lines (see below for definitions) and/or life lines and require anyone who must go on deck to wear a safety harness.
  • Make ready your sea anchor or drogue if needed.
  • Turn on navigation lights.
  • Keep away from metal objects.
  • Change to a full fuel tank if possible.
  • Keep a sharp lookout for floating debris and other boats.
  • If you have a choice, do not operate the boat from the flybridge.

Prevent getting caught in heavy weather by developing a “weather eye,” listening to your radio, and heading for shore before it becomes an emergency.

Jack Lines – lines rigged along the outboard decks running from the bow aft. This allows you to attach the tether from your safety harness and move forward and back at will.

Life Lines – usually vinyl or plastic covered wire rope at the sides of the boat’s deck to keep the crew from falling overboard.

Safety Harness – a nylon web harness worn in rough seas or heavy weather. It has a tether with a clip. The clip is attached to the jack lines or lifelines so that if you are washed overboard in a storm you are still attached to the boat.

Sea Anchor – A floating canvas cone, held open by wire rings, with an opening in the smaller end, and a rope bridle at the larger end attached to a line leading to the bow of the boat. It is used in storm conditions to (a) keep the bow of the boat into the wind, and (b) slow the downwind drift of the boat.

Drogue – Any device steamed astern to check a boat’s speed and/or to help keep the stern perpendicular to the waves in a following sea.


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