Boating Tips: Weather the storm

Published 8:52 pm Thursday, February 13, 2014

By Biff Matthews

Weather is one of the biggest boating nemeses that can put both boat and boater in peril.

On the water nothing is scarier than to see an unexpected ominous sky approaching. Is it a brief squall or a major storm? That unknown is the danger.

On the water, prevention is always preferable to correction.

Rule No. 1 – Always check the weather BEFORE leaving the dock (prevention)

Rule No. 2 – Know the capabilities and limitations of your boat under adverse weather and sea conditions

Rule No. 3 – If you ignored rule one, prepare to deal with rule two (correction)

Have life jackets on or at ready.

Use your VHF radio to check the approaching weather conditions.

Depending on approaching conditions, consider your options. Can I make port or a harbor of safety or must I ride this out?

How does where I am affect my decision – land masses, reefs, obstructions and large boat traffic?

If you don’t have a plan if your boat fails, create one.

Lastly, get a ditch bag ready.

Smart thinking teamed with quick action are essential in adverse weather situations. Remember you and your crew can make simultaneous preparations like heading for port while the crew prepares a ditch bag.

If you did not enact rule 1, be observant of the weather conditions plus hyper vigilant during seasons of changeable weather.

To stop implementation of rule three, have an understanding of the environment. Observe cloud formations as well as changes in wind, wave and temperature in addition to smell.


For example, tall, anvil topped cumulus clouds can warn of an approaching thunderstorm.

Waves going one direction with the cap breaking backward can be an example of pending weather.

Changes in wind velocity or direction can predict changing weather as can a drop in temperature.

Remember as a child how you could smell a storm coming? The smell of ozone means lightning. A damp, musty smell means rain. You can smell the odor of the plants when bad weather comes over the land. Be aware!

On the water, listen for weather alerts to mariners on your marine radio, act to protect yourself and your boat. No radio? If you have a smart phone with coverage, check the local weather report. Or call someone located in the direction from which the weather is coming for a local weather report there. Use every resource at your disposal to remain safe,

Lastly, my wife and I have sighted our share of waterspouts. Bluntly, a waterspout is a tornado over water and equally dangerous. No matter how pretty or unique it looks, stay clear of waterspouts because like a tornado they can quickly change direction and speed.

Be weather safe by checking first. Second, be prepared for threatening weather. Your life depends on it. An advanced course on weather is being offered locally by the Pamlico Sail & Power Squadron. To learn more, email or we invite you to go to our website for more information on boating safety and education: