Severe weather while boating is a concern for all marine professionals and experienced sailors. Luckily, there are some precautions you can take to reduce the risk of casualties on your boat.
The main concern is flying objects such as sails and rigging equipment. These can cause serious injuries and even death if hit by them. The best place to seat passengers is in the cockpit with a lifeline attached.
Sitting people in the cabin or below deck is a false sense of security. If there is a severe weather incident, water will flow into the cabin or cockpit due to the design of boats. This will only make matters worse by trapping people in a vulnerable space with limited air supply.
Never take passengers off of the boat during a rescue operation unless directed to by an authorized personnel.
The cabin provides the best protection from wind and rain
Although the boat cabin provides the best protection from wind and rain, it is not always the best place to seat passengers.
If there is a threat of flooding, passengers should sit on the floor of the cabin to avoid getting wet. If there is no threat of flooding, then passengers can sit on benches or stand next to walls where they will not be moving around much.
Sitting on the floor of the boat may be more comfortable than benches at this point, and may help keep you steady. If you are sitting on the floor and there is water coming in, move to another spot on the floor or get up onto a bench.
Close all windows and doors
This includes sunroofs and port holes. If the boat has internal compartments, close all doors between compartments as well.
These precautions help keep the water out of the boat if it takes a wave or two over the deck. If the boat capsizes, people should stay in their seats until help arrives.
If you are able to, tie yourself into your seat with a rope or belt. This helps keep you stable and safe while the boat pitches and rolls.
It is very important to keep calm so that you can respond quickly if something happens. Tell everyone on board to do the same!
While it is not likely, if the boat catches on fire, trying to exit quickly is not a good idea.
Reduce your boat speed
Once you are in a safe location, it is important to lower your boat’s speed. Severe weather can create powerful wind and water currents, called waves.
If you are already at a slow speed, these waves will not push you forward and increase your speed. Rather, they may bounce you around in different directions, possibly injuring you and your passengers.
At the very least, if someone must remain aboard the boat while it is moored, they should stay near the anchor so that if there is a sudden change in wind or water current, they will not be thrown off of the boat.
Once the storm has passed, then you can return to normal boating activities. Avoid chasing after other boats or fish during storms—that only puts you at higher risk for injury or death.
Try to get to a dock or land
If that is not an option, you should get to the boat’s cabin as quickly as possible. If a storm is approaching, get to the cabin immediately!
The cabin is designed to protect passengers and crew from weather events. It has a roof, walls, and a door that all provide some protection.
If you are in a open boat or your cabin does not have a door, gather passengers near the center of the boat to provide some stability.
If you do not have a life jacket for each passenger, make sure they know how to swim and brace them for the water impact.
Stay put and try to wait it out
If you are caught in a storm while boating, try your best to stay put. Do not try to sail or boat yourself out of the storm. This is especially hard if you do not know how to sail, as you would be trying to counter the winds that push your boat.
The ocean is very large and even if you know where land is, it is hard to navigate out of a storm quickly without proper weather knowledge and gear.
Storms can last for several hours, so trying to wait it out is the safest option. If there are enough life jackets and safety boats, have everyone sit or lie down on those while staying dry.
If you must leave the boat, make sure to do it in pairs so you have someone else with you watching out for you.