By Rachida Attar
For any sailor, a storm is the most common and dreaded adventure. The best thing boaters can do is prepare in advance to face it! Here are our recommendations for anticipating severe weather to protect you and your boat.
1. Check the weather
– Nothing is better than avoiding storms in the first place. If there is even the slightest possibility of a storm on the water, wait before you leave.
– Monitor forecast and current weather and sea level conditions from reliable sources such as the government website weather.gc.ca.
2. Prepare your boat
– Before heading out, take the time to maintain your boat to ensure that it’s properly functioning. Your life and your boat depend on it in case of extreme weather.
– Take on board and carry the necessary safety equipment: life jackets, VHF radio, lighting devices, marine charts, GPS tablets, navigation light equipment…
– Even if you can handle a storm with the basics, having additional equipment on board will give you more options and possibilities when sailing in rough seas. These include: storm sails, EPIRB (Emergency Position Indicating Radio Beacons), tie downs, additional cabins and deck tie downs, etc.
– Don’t stop there: once you’ve installed additional equip-ment on your boat, as a precaution, practice using it.
– Stow and secure accessories and items in your boat so they don’t hurt passengers or damage the boat during a storm. Also, remember to always keep unnecessary items off your boat.
– Make sure your insurance policy includes coverage for potential storm damage.
3. Adopt the right reflexes
– During a storm, alert emergency services via your VHF radio in case things go wrong. If the GPS is connected to your VHF radio, a real-time report of your position is transmitted.
– Look for an accessible harbour or mooring nearby and head for it. Depending on the size of the impending storm, it may even be worthwhile to try to steer your boat to the area of the water with the shallowest waves and lightest winds which should be counterclockwise from the storm’s leading edge.
– If you are close to the shore, move away and make sure the boat is not pushed ashore.
– Move your boat a little away from the dock, and if possible also from neighbouring boats.
– If you can’t move to a safe location, anchor your boat. Use the sea anchor also to move slowly, the slower your boat moves, the easier it is to maneuver.
– Reduce the wind by taking down the sails and setting the storm sails. This approach offers the best control.
– As best you can, turn your boat into the wind and the bow into the waves, since you’ll need forward momen-tum to overcome this. Maintain a 45-degree angle, just fast enough to maintain control.
– Keep the bilges free of water.
4. Be alert
– Make sure you wear your life jacket and that the rest of the passengers do the same.
– Lightning can also strike. To protect yourself, make sure all passengers stay in the cabin and store any valuable electronic items in the microwave, which acts as a Faraday cage since it is made of steel and allows the electric current to pass through the conductive material without reaching what is inside.
– If you are at the helm, it is recommended that you wear gloves and waterproof (rubber) shoes.
5. Damage control
– Once the storm has passed, wait a while before resuming your normal activities.
– Evaluate the damage with a professional inspection to ensure that your boat is safe to return to the water. Even minor damage can lead to leaks, so it’s best to repair them before the damage spreads.