If You Are Caught In A Storm In Your Boat, What Should You Do?

Boating is all fun and games until you’re caught off guard by bad weather. And as a storm brews, it might be challenging even for the most experienced of mariners to navigate safely. To help you out, we take a look at what to do when caught in a storm in your boat. 

When caught in a storm in your boat, the first thing you should do is keep calm and assess its intensity. Next is to ensure you’ve put on life jackets before stowing unneeded equipment and accessories. You should also close windows (and openings), stay away from metal and disconnect power cords.

In this article, we’ll examine what to do when caught in a storm in your boat. I’ll also share proven tips on how to prepare your boat for a storm. Let’s dive in. 

What To Do When Caught In A Severe Storm

If you’re caught in a severe storm, the following tips will help you stay safe and reduce the chances of injury and lightning strikes. 

1. Assess The Storm’s Intensity

As hard (or impossible) as it may seem, the first thing you should do when caught in a storm is to examine its intensity. This means determining the direction of the winds, the size of waves, and the appearance of clouds.

Ideally, it should take you a minute or two to examine the storm’s severity. Knowing exactly what you’re dealing with will help ensure you take the right steps toward damage control. 

Understanding wind direction allows you to determine your escape routes (if any) and whether or not you should anchor the boat. 

Try as much as possible to assess the storm as you get closer to it and not when you’re already caught in it. 

2. Ensure Everyone Puts On Life Jackets 

As a good rule, everyone aboard a boat should always wear life jackets immediately when a storm is suspected to brew. The same applies to safety harnesses, which are vital to keeping all crew members and passengers safe during a storm. 

Therefore, before you get to other safety measures, the first thing you should do is ensure that everyone has their life jackets on, or any foul-weather gear you may have on board. Doing so prepares you adequately for the storm, reducing the risks of drowning or falling overboard.

While some life jackets come with harnesses attached, others don’t. As such, it is highly advisable to have your harnesses attached to your boat’s cleats or tie off to ensure they’re readily available when needed. 

3. Have Your Emergency Equipment On Standby

Reaction is everything when caught in a severe storm. And the best way to respond to the threat of an imminent storm is to have all your safety and emergency equipment on standby. 

Therefore, as you’re issuing out life jackets and having crew members and passengers wear harnesses, it’s best to assemble all the essential safety equipment before moving on to other steps. 

Some of the vital emergency equipment to assemble during a storm include first aid kits, bailers, bilge pumps, throwable floatation devices, and signaling devices. 

It’s also a good idea to prepare a life raft (if you have one) and perhaps stock up on some emergency supplies like food and water.

4. Stow Unneeded Accessories or Gear 

Things can get pretty rough during a storm, and the best way to reduce the risk of object/accessory-induced injury is to store them safely. 

Tumbling objects, whether heavy or light, can have a massive impact on the survival rates of people aboard a boat. As such, you should store them somewhere safe where they won’t be thrown around by fast-paced winds. 

Be sure to secure accessories below or above your boat’s decks, depending on its design. While you can stow small items and gear like fishing rods and grills, it’s usually best to latch down the heavy ones, as moving them around can affect your boat’s balance. 

5. Close All Windows and Batten Down Hatches

Another vital point to remember when caught in a storm is to secure your boat by closing down all doors, windows, and ports to keep the water out. 

Failure to close windows, latches and hatches increases the chances of flooded cabins – and you don’t want that, as a flooded cabin means your boat will be at a heightened risk of flooding. 

It’s also at this time that you should remove all canvas like awnings, dodgers, biminis, and mainsails to reduce windage. You should also take down items like flags and cushions to ensure the wind doesn’t have any surface to blow and destabilize the boat. 

6. Disconnect Power Cords and Avoid Metallic Items 

With storms also comes the increased risk of lightning strikes. To be on the safe side, you should disconnect power cords to protect your electrical equipment and, even more importantly, eliminate the risk of electric shock while navigating past the waters.

You should also steer clear of VHF radios and keep away from metallic parts of the boat, including the railing and even metallic steering wheels. Rubber gloves will come in handy if your boat uses metal steering wheels, as they’re non-conductors. 

And since the risk of lightning strikes will be higher when using open boats, everyone on board must remove jewelry or any metallic items that might increase the risk of strikes. For open boats, crew members and passengers will need to lie as low as possible to reduce the chances of lightning strikes. 

7. Drive Slow 

Broaching is a common issue that occurs during storms, and the best way to avoid it is to drive slowly. The trick when navigating past strong tides is to slow down such that the water outruns your boat. 

Therefore, when caught in a storm, try to slow down gradually to avoid destabilizing the boat. Driving slowly allows you to have better control of your vessel while cruising past stormy waters. 

Additionally, you should also try to hit the waves at a 45-degree angle when sailing during a storm. Maintaining the 45-degree angle of attack ensures your boat’s propellers stay below the water, allowing for a less turbulent ride. 

Take a look at our article on: What Should You Do To Avoid Colliding With Another Boat? (Safety Tips)

8. Head Toward Safety

Maintain a slow pace as you move towards the shores. While it might be tempting to speed up to outrun the waves, maintaining a slow speed is your best bet to reaching back to land safely. 

At times, waiting out the thunderstorm might be your best bet, especially when dealing with tons of lightning strikes. Staying inside the cabin is highly recommended (avoid touching electrical or metal items), but staying low to the deck might be your only option when dealing with open boats. 

Should you choose to ride the storm out, move towards a local dock or port with your navigation lights turned on. Remember to maintain a 45-degree angle when approaching waves to keep the vessel stable. 

Finally, be sure to keep a close eye on floating debris, other boats, and obstacles that might be on your route. 

How To Prepare Adequately For A Storm

Check The Marine Weather Updates

The best way to prepare for a storm is to avoid it, and what better way to stay safe than checking the weather forecast (marine)? The National Weather Service usually provides useful information about inclement weather and potentially useful general warnings. 

The weather service usually provides vital details, from hurricane warnings to tropical storm warnings, special marine warnings, and gale warnings. You can also benefit from regular small craft advisories that provide warnings for people with small vessels. 

Invest in Lightning Protection Systems

Although not all boat owners prefer investing in lightning protection systems, doing so might help you save thousands of dollars in repairs and medical attention. 

A good lightning grounding system will help eliminate the risk of electrical surges and shocks caused by lightning strikes. These systems work by dissipating the volts resulting from lightning strikes into the water as opposed to your boat, effectively neutralizing the effects of electrical surges. 

Always Pack Up Your Emergency Equipment Or Supplies

Another effective way to prepare for storms is to prepare emergency supplies. This rule applies to all mariners, regardless of skill level, as you never know when tragedy will strike. 

Have enough supplies, from life jackets to floaters, manual hand pumps, fire extinguishers, tool kits, and raincoats. A well-stocked first aid kit is also crucial regardless of how long you intend to sail. 

Life preservers, safety harnesses, a functional radio, and approved United States Coast Guard (USCG) supplies should always be on board before sailing. 

Wrapping Up

Staying safe when boating should always be your top priority, no matter your level of experience. 

And since storms are highly unpredictable, it’s always best to plan adequately for in-storm scenarios. 

Below are important things to keep in mind when navigating past a storm in your boat:

  • Assess the intensity
  • Ensure every crew member or passenger have their life jackets on
  • Have your emergency equipment on standby
  • Stow unneeded accessories or gear 
  • Close all windows, latches, and hatches 
  • Disconnect power cords 
  • Drive slow

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Check out our article on: What Determines If A Speed Is Safe For Your Boat?

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Project Boating Editorial Staff

My name is Brad Visser the chief editor and owner of Projectboaing.com. We have an amazing team of writers that contribute to our website. This team is passionate about boating and have years of experience not only in boats, but in writing helpful, informative articles to answer questions you may have.

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