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"When in doubt, don't go out."
When it comes to weather, that is the saying your recreational boaters should live by. No matter how much you were anticipating spending a day on the water, if the forecast is for high winds or thunderstorms, it's wiser to stay in port and wait for a better day. As you gain experience with boatinf in your area, you will develop the skill and confidence to handle a wider variety of conditions, particulary where wind is concerned. But no matter how much time you've put in at the helm of a boat, it's important to listen to the weather forecast and stay home if the conditions may be dangerous.
Start checking the weather forecast the day before you plan to go boating, as well as that morning before you head out. In many communities, the radio and tv stations will broadcast a boating forecast in addition to the normal weather updates. When you are out on your boat, continue to monitor the marine forecast as well as the horizion so you are aware of gathering clouds, rain and other changes.
Bad weather does not always mean you have to cancel boating plans entirely, however. For example, if you wake up to dense morning fog, you may only need to wait a few hours for it to clear up. While it’s important to stay off the water during lightning storms, they also may dissipate after an hour or two. Staying on top of the forecast and knowing the weather patterns for your area can help you to make a good judgment call about whether to set out. Don’t forget, “When in doubt, don’t go out.”
As you accumulate more time and experience in boating, you will gain the skill and experience to handle less-than-ideal conditions on the water. However, if you decide to wait for a better day, you will ensure you have the best possible time on the water and make memories that will last forever.
Just because the sun is out doesn’t mean boating conditions will be optimal. Strong winds also have a significant impact on the water. In weather reports and marine forecasts, wind typically is described by the direction it is coming from. For example, a north wind comes from the north and blows southward, etc. If you are cruising within sight of land, you often can avoid the worst effects of high winds by staying close to the “leeward” shore. When the wind blows across a land mass, the land will block most of the breeze and shelter the waters nearest to the shoreline. This is referred to as the leeward shore, where you will find the calmest, smoothest water for boating. Since the breeze is blowing away from the shoreline, it often is described as an “offshore” wind. By contrast, the shoreline that is receiving the full brunt of the wind is called the “windward” shore, and the wind itself that is blowing toward the land is an “onshore” breeze. The windward shore will have the roughest water conditions, especially in a large body of water where the wind has a long distance, or “fetch,” to blow without obstruction, building water up into the largest waves. In narrow channels and rivers, if the wind is blowing across the waterway, there usually is not enough fetch for it to have an impact. But if the wind is blowing straight down the waterway, it can create rough conditions. If the wind is blowing against the current, it can cause even larger waves to build up, potentially creating a dangerous situation for boaters.
As we mentioned earlier, the best course of action is to check the local boating forecast before heading out on the water. If there is a “small craft advisory,” which is issued by the National Weather Service, or a “lake wind advisory” issued by local authorities for inland lakes, the best course of action is to stay home and wait for a better day to go boating.
If you do find yourself in a situation where you have to deal with heavy waves and can’t avoid them, keep your hand on the throttle, and change your speed to keep your boat as secure and comfortable as possible. Though it may seem safest to tackle waves head on, it often results in a rougher ride, and may risk dipping your bow into the following waves. In tougher conditions, consider aligning your boat to the waves at more of a 45-degree angle off the bow or stern. You’ll rock and roll a little more from side to side, but you’ll alleviate much of the jarring and impact.