Today’s sailor has a wealth of weather data and forecasting tools at his fingertips to help prepare for a sailing trip. That’s no cause for complacency, however. The United States Coast Guard performs almost 20,000 rescues a year, a large proportion of which are due to bad weather. Because of the unpredictability and potential for forceful storms, your safety on the water is never guaranteed. Follow these tips and use these gadgets to tip the odds in your favor, whether you’re preparing to go out or you’re already on the water.
The Sailor’s Duty to Check Boating Weather
Checking the weather forecast before heading out onto the water is an obligation, not an option, even if you plan to stay in an area close to the dock. Wind and weather conditions are as important to know as tide and current timetables. If strong winds or choppy waves are expected, the National Weather Service may issue a Small Craft Advisory, Gale or Storm Warning. These warnings are a clear indication that challenging weather conditions are likely in the next 24 hours.
Get an Accurate Boating Forecast
That said, even if you live close to where you plan to launch your boat, checking the weather forecast for your location will not give you the most accurate picture of the day’s conditions. To take a proactive approach in forecast information, make sure to outfit the marina where you keep your boat docked with a powerful weather station for up-to-date forecasts specific to your local waters.
Before You Go Boating
Services such as the National Weather Service produce an abundance of weather data around the clock that provide any sailor, at the touch of a button, with forecasts of air pressure, wind speed and direction, wave conditions, and temperature. You can either consult these forecasts or access them in more user-friendly formats on a range of associated weather apps and websites. You don’t have to be a meteorologist to understand the weather ‒ a Weather Station with remote access like AcuRite Atlas™ crunches the numbers and presents it in a quick-reference format that allows you to drill down in detail if necessary.
When You’re Out on the Water
As long as you have mobile data or a Wi-Fi signal, you can stay on top of the weather with rolling updates through the apps mentioned above and the weather station back at the dock. Having this monitor onboard provides peace of mind on a longer passage or extended trip offshore when you might want more information than the scheduled forecasts you consulted before leaving. Thanks to GPS tracking, it’s easy to overlay weather conditions onto your current position and heading, which are visible through an intuitive dashboard. It is also a good idea to hav a portable anemometer and lighting detector on board so you can stay alert to dangerous conditions that may be headed your way even if you are outside of cell range.
If You’re Caught in Heavy Weather Sailing
It goes without saying that any skipper, even on a small craft or dinghy, should have a VHF radio or a means of calling for help to hand. If you’re heading more than 25 nautical miles from shore, the National Weather Service recommends you have a satellite phone or high-frequency transceiver onboard. These pieces of equipment are largely for taking reactive measures, however, such as checking in or calling for help.
Weather, by its very nature, is unpredictable, and just a few extra knots of wind or a passing squall can whip up the waves and quickly create some heavy sailing conditions. Low, flat, and heavy clouds and a sudden drop in temperature are some natural signs of approaching bad weather. If you are caught out, reduce your speed, reef in the sails, and head to shore. The Coast Guard recommends turning on running lights and deploying a sea anchor if you lose your engine power.
Weather is an integral part of sailing, not just when conditions are perfect for a bracing downwind run in clear skies. Developing an affinity for weather conditions is the mark of an experienced skipper, whether on a lake, on a coastal sail, or on an offshore passage. Adding the latest weather tracking equipment to your onboard resources is key to an enjoyable day’s sail and a safe return.