Weather…know before you go

Published 9:08 pm Sunday, July 10, 2016

Predicting the weather, as well as being observant, can mean the difference of whether or not you arrive safely from a boating trip.

I’ll preface that common sense is no longer common. Check the weather forecast before going out. This is especially true if you’ll be considerable distance from your homeport or a harbor of safe refuge. Whether a 16-foot john boat, 22-foot bass boat or 60-foot sport fisherman, as the captain, you are the one responsible! Always check the weather forecast for your boating area, and then err on the side of caution.

Is that fish or crab worth your life, the life of your spouse or friend, or worse, your child’s life? Don’t think it will never happen to you. It will when you tempt fate enough.

A weather forecast is just that, a prediction that may or may not be accurate. Plus, weather changes. You have no control over the weather. You do control your reaction to weather forecasts. You also control what happens when on the water and the weather deteriorates.

While we have technology like radios and radar that aid with weather, our body and senses are good weather indicators. Warm or hot wind that turns cool usually tells it is or has rained in that direction. It’s summer in North Carolina. Similar to the Tropics, eastern North Carolina’s hot, humid weather is ripe for thunderstorms, especially in the afternoon as temperatures cool and moisture condenses.

From what direction do thunderstorms and accompanying high winds come? Use your eyes. Are thunderclouds on the horizon in that direction? If they are anvil or flat topped, those usually predict severe thunderstorms. Learn to read the clouds either from a highly experienced, local boater or weather-related boating course.

While on the water, if you get a headache or your sinuses change, this could mean a front is quickly dropping air pressure. An air pressure drop may also affect your ears, and then equilibrium and balance. Be sensitive to those bodily changes and forewarning. Use your nose. Rain and lightning create ozone. The air simply smells different. Take heed.

From a technology standpoint, monitor the marine radio weather channel. If you have radar, check it periodically for storms if the forecast was questionable. Adjust the range to the longest distance, decrease rain clutter and increase the gain to display an approaching storm clearly. Be observant. Why are boats around you going in? Do they know something you don’t?

About every boating organization, including the United States Coast Guard, shuns cell or smartphones because of their many limitations. I do agree. I would never suggest eliminating a VHF radio or other marine specific technology on any vessel.

However, smart devices and app developers continually surprise me with apps with amazingly accurate navigation, even a marine radio plus weather radio and weather radar. Safety equipment redundancy and backup are always important in boating. If a smart device provides redundancy… OK, but they should not be used as your primary source of information.

Review the weather radio and weather radar apps appropriate for your device to serve as backup to primary marine devices. If you decide to download an app, be wary of the permissions required. Why does weather radar need access to your contacts and pictures? Also consider investing a few dollars for a comprehensive, top-reviewed app versus a less robust, free app.

Equally important is knowing your boat’s capabilities in relation to your boating environment. It takes longer to run against a current and wind compared to running with the elements. A severe storm is 30 miles away on a southeast course at 15 miles an hour. Do you have time to make the closest safe harbor 10 miles to the northwest if you can only run at 12 mph? Again, as the captain you are responsible. Forecast, observe, sense and then act. We want to see you and everyone aboard safely out on the water repeatedly.

Lastly, take advantage of additional education as it relates to weather. The Pamlico Sail & Power Squadron will offer the U.S. Power Basic Weather and Forecasting Seminar, a short three-hour presentation on Aug. 25. This is a great seminar for all boaters, regardless of the size of your vessel or where you boat. To register for this course, email or contact Kelly Adams at 252-561- 6995. For other educational opportunities, visit their website at

Biff Matthews is a member of the Pamlico Sail & Power Squadron.