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VOL. 9 NO. 5
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Bad-weather boating

How to handle your boat in rough weather

Bad-weather boating

Being out on a boat in bad weather puts you farther from help than you might think. When a storm threatens, head for the nearest dock or sheltered water immediately. Don’t attempt to return to your original marina if a safe haven is nearby.

If you can’t make it to shore, follow these guidelines:

  • Get all passengers into their life jackets and foul weather gear immediately.
  • Secure all hatches and close all doors, ports and windows to keep water out.
  • Secure gear above and below decks. Stow small items and lash down bigger ones. Keep your load low and balanced.
  • Ready any emergency equipment you have on board, such as bailers, hand pumps, a first-aid kit and signaling devices.
  • Pump bilges dry and repeat as necessary to stop water from sloshing as the boat rolls, which can affect stability.
  • Get a fix on your position, and plot it on your chart. Note your heading, speed and the time. Chart your course to the nearest shore or dock.
  • Monitor Channel 16 on your marine VHF radio for Coast Guard weather updates, and listen for distress calls from other boaters. You may be the closest one that can lend assistance.
  • Ready your sea anchor or drogue, but do not anchor unless you are in a narrow body of water, have lost visibility completely or are in danger of washing ashore. Then, anchor your boat from the bow to keep it headed into the waves.
  • Turn on navigation lights.
  • Reduce speed and head your boat into the wind at a 45-degree angle to reduce stress and maintain better control.
  • If lightning occurs, keep everyone low in the boat and away from electrical and ungrounded components.
  • Switch to a full fuel tank if possible.
  • Look out for floating debris, obstacles and other boats.
  • If your vessel has a flybridge, operate the boat from below.
  • If you’ve lost visibility, maintain a slow headway until visibility improves.
  • On larger craft, rig jack lines or lifelines and require anyone who must go on deck to wear a safety harness.
  • If the incoming storm is extremely severe, review your procedures for abandoning ship, including sending a mayday to Coast Guard Search and Rescue.
  • If you have a life raft, stock it with emergency food and water and make sure it’s ready to deploy. Use a sharp knife to cut it free from the boat.
If you are in fear of losing the boat, get everyone on deck and send a mayday on your marine VHF-FM radio.
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