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What to do in bad weather while boating?

on August 15, 2021

Weather conditions are unpredictable, weather can change at any second! What do you do when stormy weather approaches while you are out on the ocean?

severe weather ocean


Strong winds, rough seas, a sudden storm! This is not the weather information you received, an unexpected storm can arise at any moment, that is mother nature! You never know, but you can always prepare yourself to deal with storms and have the proper equipment aboard.

Bad weather while boating

Rough weather during a boating trip can spoil a trip at the very least; however, at the very worst, it can cause an emergency. As a safety precaution, it is best to check the Marine forecast before heading out. Keep in mind weather can change at any time. We will be covering the following in this blog; Warning signs of bad weather, what to do when a storm approaches, what to do when a storm hits, understanding marine forecasts.


rough seas, heavy seas

Warning signs of bad weather approaching: while out on the water keeping on top of the weather changes is vital.

Cloud formations, rough seas, floating debris, are all signs of stormy weather, for many boaters who spend their time daily on the oceans, have the knowledge of all the signs to look for, they can even tell the direction the storm is moving when it is still far far away, and sometimes what seems like a great danger to us might be nothing for them because they deal with the type of weather on a daily basis, they know what to expect, how to handle the situation, and most importantly how to prepare prior departure (safety equipment), for us who don't know it all, here are some signs to look out for:

  • Keep an eye on the sky; Dark clouds, fog, and lightning are clear signs of severe weather.
  • Signs of weather changing: change in wind direction, high winds, and temperature drop.
  • Sea is becoming heavy, water conditions change, wave conditions change.
  • Monitor your radio and weather channels.  Stay on top of weather information by  tuning into your VHF FM radio

Communication - VHF - Fixed Mount - Marine Supplies US

Communication - Single Side Band - Marine Supplies US

Communication Collection List – Marine Supplies US

 boating safety, weather radio

Having the proper equipment aboard, can help you a lot, with the rough seas you can easily get wet, keep dry with an immersion suit, protect your body heat, in some cases weather conditions like a strong wind, and rough waves can cause a smaller boat to capsize, or you might find your self in a man overboard situation, having the right equipment on board can protect you. What safety equipment do you need on your boat in case of emergencies? – Marine Supplies US All boats, must be equipped with the necessary safety equipment, from small boats to large boats.

What to do if a storm approaches while boating:

If a storm is heading your way, prepare yourself and the passengers by following these steps:

  • Avoid panic! Stay focused.
  • Inform the coast guard of your route and personal information.
  • Ensure that everyone on board is wearing a life jacket, life jackets are extremely important!
  • Everyone on board should know where the safety gear/ equipment is: first aid kit, life jackets, signaling devices, etc.
  • Reduce your speed and continue to proceed with caution.
  • Keep an eye on other boats close to you.
  • To avoid your boat from getting flood with water, close all hatches and ports 
  • For stability and safety, move your passengers near the boat's centreline and advise passengers to stay low and away from metal objects to avoid getting struck by lightning. (Seek shelter)
  • Secure any loose items to prevent them from going overboard
  • Turn on navigation lights in the case of Poor Visibility, make sure other boats can see you by, with heavy fog you can expect limited visibility, for smaller boats poor visibility and boating in water conditions can be scary.
  • Close all windows to prevent water from entering caused by high waves.
  • Change to a full fuel tank
  • Unplug electrical equipment in case of lighting.
  • Pump out the bilges to keep them free of water.
  • Check marine charts to find the nearest shelter area;
  • Remain calm and proceed with caution and continue to the nearest safe shoreline.


What to do when a storm hits?

  • Reduce boat speed
  • Keep bilges free of water.
  • Keep the boat in a stable position, head the boat's bow into waves at a 45-degree angle.
  • Proceed with caution and continue to the nearest safe shoreline, the main objective is to get to shore safely.
  • If your engine fails, drop anchor from the bow.
  • Sound the appropriate sound signals in case of fog/poor visibility (boating accidents occur, due to poor visibility)
  • If the storm is severe and you are in an emergency, call for rescue over the radio "mayday call."
  • Inform other boaters of your location and weather conditions, notify the coast guard of your position and the status of the storm.

lightning on the ocean

How to avoid getting hit by lighting?

We all know that when lightning strikes, it seeks the highest point, and in open water, the highest point would be the boat and yourself.

  • Stay low at all times during lightning, and stay away from metal objects. If you have a cabin available on your boat, direct passengers, to the cabin
  • You can measure the distance in miles by counting between the seconds of the lightning flash and the bang/clap of thunder; divide it by five, and you will get the result. 



Understanding Marine weather forecasts

Always check weather conditions, don't plan a trip without looking at the national weather service report, never go out boating if there is a hurricane warning! Even if you look outside and the weather seems perfect, don't do it!

Marine weather forecast

The weather forecast, can be confusing if there is no person to explain it, that is why understanding the forecast is so important, what do most of the words even mean? Below is information that will help us to understand marine forecasts! Drop a comment if you find this information helpful.

Visibility: level indicates a certain distance.

Very Poor = Visibility less than 1000 meters

Poor      = Visibility between 1000 meters and two nautical miles

Moderate  = Visibility between two and five nautical miles 

(3.704 km to 9.26km)

Good     = Visibility more than five nautical miles

A nautical mile measures distance, nautical miles are used for charting and navigation; one nautical mile is equal to 1.1508 statute miles. One nautical mile is equal to 1.852 kilometers.


Sea State: is the range used by weather forecasts that indicate waves between smooth and phenomenal. 

Smooth = Wave height less than 0.5m

Slight = Wave height of 0.5 to 1.25m

Moderate = Wave height of 1.25 to 2.5m

Rough = Wave height of 2.5 to 4.0m

Very Rough = Wave height of 4.0 to 6.0m

High = Wave height of 6.0 to 9.0m 

Very High = Wave height of 9.0 to 14.0m

Phenomenal = Wave height of more than 14.0m


Gale: indicate powerful wind

Gale: Winds of at least Beaufort force 8 (34-40 knots) or gusts reaching 43-51 knots

Severe gale: Winds of force 9 (41-47 knots) or gusts reaching 52-60 knots.

Storm: Winds of force 10 (48-55 knots) or gusts reaching 61-68 knots

Violent storm: Winds of force 11 (56-63 knots) or gusts of 69 knots or more

Hurricane-force: Winds of force 12 (64 knots or more)


Beaufort Force: is an empirical measure that relates wind speed to observed conditions at sea or land.

Gust reaching: a sudden intense rush of wind

Knot (kn or kt): is a term used to indicate wind speed; a knot is equal to one nautical mile per hour. 1 knot is equivalent to 1.852 km/h.


Gale warning timing term used to indicate expected times.

Imminent: Expected within six hours of the time of issue

Soon: Expected within six to 12 hours of the time of issue.

Later: Expected more than 12 hours from the time of issue.

Perhaps Later: Used when a gale is considered possible in the "later" period, but the forecaster is not sufficiently sure to issue a warning.


Movement of pressure systems is a term used to describe the speed of weather patterns.

Slowly: Moving at less than 15 knots

Steadily: Moving at 15 to 25 knots

Rather quickly: Moving at 25 to 35 knots

Rapidly: Moving at 35 to 45 knots

Very rapidly: Moving at more than 45 knots


Wind directions change

Wind directions: Indicates the direction from which the wind is blowing

Becoming cyclonic: Indicates that there will be a considerable change in wind direction across the path of depression (low pressure, which moves from west to east) within the forecast area.

Veering: The changing of the wind direction clockwise, e.g., SW to W

Backing: The changing of the wind in the opposite direction to veering (anticlockwise), e.g., SE to E


Storms are unpredictable, and it’s not a question of if you will experience rough weather while boating but when. The best thing you can do is be prepared for any eventuality by knowing what to do in the event of a storm, If you do find yourself in a sudden storm, the best thing you can do is prepare by understanding how weather works and knowing when storms might hit your area and know what the signs look like. Do you find this blog helpful? I hope this blog has provided some helpful information about preventing or surviving bad weather while boating. Have you ever experienced bad weather while boating? Please share your story with us by commenting below or write a blog about it and we will add your story to this blog.

Prepare, prevent, and practice. Knowing what to do if a storm approaches while boating and understanding the weather forecast is a step in the right direction. 


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Marine safety is the number one concern, at  Marine Supplies US we offer boat products and boat accessories to ensure your safety and we provide you with educational blogs that can be of great assistance in any emergency situation.



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