During the summer months, you can be sure of occasional storms. The only questions are at what time, how severe and for how long. They can sometimes come up quickly; can have sudden high winds and a lot of lightning.
You should always check the weather forecast before going out as sometimes these storms will trick us. Do not rely on the TV weather or TV weather channels alone. Check with NOAA and the National Weather Service on the internet or your boat’s VHF radio.
Sometimes you find you just can’t make it to home port and are faced with a choice of finding a friendly port, trying to outrun the front or hunkering down and riding it out. Sometimes a quick tie-up at a nearby marina or a stranger’s dock may not be possible. Under these circumstances, you might consider heading for a windward shore and riding the storm out until it passes.
A windward shore is the one in the direction from which the storm is approaching. The land mass and shoreline prevent the winds from building up and provides some protection. The opposite lee shore should be avoided at all costs. The wave action and heights will be at maximum towards the windward shoreline and you risk the possibility of being blown aground.
If you decide to hunker down, make sure you let out plenty of rode (anchor line). In storm conditions, you should have a minimum of ten feet of line out for every foot from the top of your deck to the water bottom. If it is ten feet deep and your deckis three feet high, this totals 13 feet. At a ten to one ratio, you will need 130 feet of anchor line for some assurance your anchor will hold. Under no circumstances should you anchor only from the stern or with the stern into the wind. This increases resistance to the wind and leaves you vulnerable to swamping over the transom.
If you can’t get to safety, put your bow at an angle of 25 to 45 degrees into the wind and to control your engine speed to the minimum amount needed to hold your position or to barely move forward. You may feel the boat slip sideways or back as you do this. Just keep gently working the controls.
Remember to be wary of lightning at all times. A bolt can reach five miles ahead of a front. You should avoid touching metal parts of the boat whether topside or in the cabin. An anchor chain suspended from the railing overboard into the water may be used for a temporary grounding system.
Sooner or later all of us will get caught in a storm. Hopefully, these hints will help you get through it. Plan ahead, leave a float plan, check the weather forecast before and during your trip, stay alert to weather changes around you, put on the life jackets at the first sign of trouble and err on the side of caution by heading home early.
To learn more about storm handling and any boating information, contact the Marco Island Sail and Power Squadron which offers teaching courses and Seminars on boating safety. Call Chuck Wilson, squadron education officer, at 239-389-9587 or visit marcoislandsailandpowersquadron.org