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How to Handle Stormy Weather

By: Jeff Durham - Updated: 29 Jul 2010 | comments*Discuss
Surviving Storm At Sea Boat Storm

No matter how well you’ve planned your boating trip or have analysed weather charts, you can never be completely guaranteed that you won’t suddenly find yourself facing a sudden storm out on the ocean or sea. There can be no safety guarantees if you find yourself in this predicament.

A lot will ride on the type of craft you’re in, the severity of the storm, your proximity to land, your own seamanship and several other factors but at least if you are prepared and have some know-how about how to handle things, you stand a much better chance of survival.

Equipment To Carry Onboard

Equipment that should be carried as part of your everyday sailing routine should include items like a lightning rod, a working radio, some kind of compressed air horn or foghorn and whistle and personal flotation devices. You might also carry a backup generator for things like lighting systems and a rain shield which can be attached your cockpit’s windscreen and which will improve your visibility during a storm.

As The Storm Approaches

Obviously, if you’ve got a chance to get back to shore before the storm hits, you should make every effort to do so but if that’s not possible, you need to ensure that you and the crew batten down the hatches and close all windows and portholes to keep as much water out of the interior of the vessel as possible. Then pump the bilge dry and stow all of your gear in secure places where it won’t be tossed around during the storm.

All people onboard should by now have put on their lifejackets or some other kind of personal flotation device and you should have readied all of your emergency equipment such as any horns or sounding devices, flares and first aid kits as well as informing the coastguard of your current position if you still have radio contact and try to establish if it’s still possible to chart a course towards any sheltered waters.

If work still needs to be carried out on deck and the seas are already rough, ensure that anybody who’s out on deck is tethered in some way so that they cannot be thrown overboard and make sure all navigation lights are turned on providing, of course, that the storm is not a lightning storm.

Handling The Boat

Oceans and seas, by their very nature, are often unpredictable and no matter how good a sailor you think you are, always expect the unexpected to happen. As a general rule of thumb though, try to manoeuvre the boat so that the heaviest winds are taken on the bow and the smaller the craft, the more important it is that you try to head into the wind.

Slow your speed in moderate seas so that you can ride atop and over a wave. If you drive the bow into the wave with too much force, you could end up on top of the wave and then falling off the back which would bury the bow and if the seas get really heavy, slow down your speed even further as this will enable you to maximise the control over your steering whilst simultaneously creating less stress on the boat itself.

Someone should also be working continuously on keeping the bilge water-free as the less water there is sloshing around down below, the less chance of encountering a rolling effect.


If lightning is about to strike overhead, make sure that you’ve lowered and/or removed all items that are obvious conductors for lightning, e.g. any metal rod objects and radio antennas unless the rods are designed specifically as part of a lightning protection system. Also make sure that you disconnect and keep clear of all electronic equipment, including the radio if lightning is directly overhead.

As for you and the people on board, if you’re facing a lightning storm, try to keep a low centre of gravity by getting down on your knees whilst remembering at the same time not to secure yourself by holding onto anything that’s connected to the electrical system which should all be turned off by now, including radio and lighting systems.

Be sure to give it a good 10 or 15 minutes after a storm has passed, particularly where lightning has been involved, before you turn any radio or electrical system back on. Then check for any damage to the craft and make any necessary repairs that might be needed if the damage will further hamper your ability to make it back to shore and safety under your own steam.

If your boat has been badly damaged to the extent that it’s inoperable, then use the radio to summon help and if that’s not working, then you’re going to need to use other signalling devices such as flares and horns and wait it out until help arrives.

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