Stay alert to approaching storm fronts
Lightning, torrential rain and rough seas can turn a pleasurable outing into a life-threatening ordeal in a heartbeat. Yet unwary boaters are too often taken by surprise, largely because they don’t realize just how fast a storm can come up or the danger it presents.
Some thunderstorms create microbursts—intense downdrafts over an area a half-mile to 3 miles wide capable of producing wind gusts from 60 mph to more than 100 mph. Microbursts can capsize a small boat or blow a passenger overboard.
The risks of swamping, capsizing, falling overboard or hitting a floating object all increase in stormy weather, so out on the water the most important equipment on board is always a Coast Guard-approved life jacket for each passenger. And plan to err on the side of caution.
- Flat clouds getting lower and thicker
- Puffy, vertically rising clouds getting higher
- Dark, threatening clouds, especially to the west/southwest
- A sudden drop in temperature
- A halo around the sun or moon
- Increasing wind or a sudden change in wind direction
- Flashes on the horizon
- Seas becoming heavy
- Heavy AM radio static, indicating nearby thunderstorm activity
What to do in severe weather
Bottom line: Weather can be both friend and foe. Boaters who stay alert to weather changes and take appropriate action help safeguard their property and the lives of everyone on board.
- Reduce speed, keeping just enough power to maintain headway.
- Make sure everyone on board is wearing a life jacket.
- Turn on your running lights.
- If possible, head for the nearest shore that is safe to approach.
- Head the boat into the waves at a 45-degree angle.
- Keep the bilges free of water.
- Seat any passengers on the bottom of the boat, near the centerline.
- If the engine fails, trail a sea anchor from the bow of the boat to keep it headed into the waves. (A bucket can work as a sea anchor in an emergency.)
- Anchor the boat if necessary.