When the weather turns foul, getting home safely requires a combination of the captain recognizing and properly dealing with what’s around him/her coupled with a boat and crew which are prepared to face the conditions.

Two of the main determining factors for boater safety in rough or foul weather are the captain’s skills and the boat’s capabilities. Proper planning and communication with your crew will also go a long way towards ensuring that both you and your boat are prepared to weather rough seas.

Know Your Skills & Your Limitationsrough weather boating

As skippers, recognizing and operating within our skillsets and experience levels is the first step in being safe.

Know what you know and understand what you don’t know. Do not put yourself in a position which requires you to perform beyond your existing skill level.

Know Your Boat’s Capabilities & Limitations

A captain should know the operational limits of his vessel before ever venturing out to sea. As far as boat designs go, many are simply unsuitable for offshore and rough water use. If the design emphasis revolves around on-board comfort and stylish lines, thus getting away from that “shippy,” albeit seaworthy look, recognize the potential impact this could have on safety in rough seas.

For example, a new boater with a low freeboard lake style boat has no business offshore.  Any seasoned skipper will tell you that being caught in rough seas in a small craft is inherently dangerous. Capsizing and swamping are real possibilities that occur often. Stay in controlled and inland waters which are meant for that style of boat. The same can be said for some out-board designs during a following sea. The freeboard at the transom may be so low the boat can be easily swamped.

Let’s take a look at two popular hull designs – displacement hulls and deep vee planing hulls – as examples and see how they compare in rough seas.

Displacement Hulls

Displacement hull vessels are great for crossing oceans but may not be the best for offshore during bad weather. The biggest limitation is their speed which is set by their theoretical hull speed. Theoretical hull speed is calculated by the square root of the boat’s waterline length (LWL) multiplied by 1.34. This number tells you in knots how fast a displacement hull boat can travel.

Based on this calculation, you will notice that a displacement hull boat travels at a relatively slow sped. This slow speed reduces a skipper’s options during bad weather. A displacement hull may be incapable of outrunning a storm and unable to run down or surf waves. The stern may also have a tendency to get tossed around at times because waves may follow faster than the speed of the boat.

Another factor that negatively impacts displacement hulls’ performance in bad weather is limited agility which prevents zig-zagging in swells. The deeper draft may also prevent you from taking a short cut across shallow water.

Deep Vee Planing Hulls

On the other hand, a well-designed deep-vee planing hull with a moderately proportioned superstructure, a responsive steering system, plenty of freeboard forward, deck drainage aft, a reliable and powerful propulsion system and predictable handling, would be a very good offshore boat in almost any weather but would not be advisable for crossing oceans.

Have a Plan in Place for Foul Weather

It is very important to rig your boat for the worst weather possible when preparing to venture offshore. One of the most important things you can do is to have a plan in place for foul weather. Hatches, ports and companionway doors should all be operational and closed to keep water out when the seas turn. Remember the adage, “Gear adrift sinks ships.” Stow loose gear items and tie down heavy objects like coolers or dive equipment to keep them from crashing around.

Remove anything that might prevent water from draining out of the scuppers and pump the bilge dry to get rid of the extra water weight there. Be vigilant for any change in the trim or “feel” of the boat that might indicate water is flooding the bilge or engine space.

Distribute weight as evenly as possible, even if it means assigning positions to crew members or guests. If you are caught in foul weather, ensure that everyone, including you, has a properly fitted PFD on and not just accessible.

Questions to Ask Yourself

Do you conduct a crew brief before putting out? Does everyone know where PFDs (lifejackets) are located? Do persons on board, other than you, know how to hail the Coast Guard on Channel 16? These are the questions that should be answered prior to leaving the dock every day.

In Summary

  1. Know your skills and know your limitations.
  2. Know the capabilities and limitations of your boat.
  3. Have your boat properly rigged for foul weather.
  4. Properly brief and train your crew.

Doing these 4 things will allow you to concentrate on the task at hand, mitigate inherent risk and ensure the safety of you and your crew during a foul weather situation.

*Yachts360 strongly advises against boating during adverse weather conditions and this post is for general information only, not a guide and therefore Yachts360 holds no liability. Use extreme caution and good judgement before each and every boating session.