Checking the weather conditions before every outing is vital in ensuring the safety of your boat and crew. While it’s out of your control, it’s definitely something that you can prepare for. Here’s a quick guide to the different channels and forecasts to watch before you sail out.
Marine Weather Warnings
The first and the most important information to look out for is the marine weather warning. This warning announces potential dangers that you might face and will help you decide whether to continue with your boating plans or not. Find out what warnings were issued that day on your boating area by checking the Marine Weather Warning System of the Bureau of Meteorology.
In conjunction with the weather warnings, the wind condition is another important deciding factor in your trip. Your boat can only handle a specific range of wind speed, depending on its size. You need to be aware of the areas where there will be strong winds, times of the day when it will occur, and the direction where it will come from.
Strong Wind Warnings are given to areas where wind speeds will reach 26 knots or more. Waves can reach 3 to 6 metres in height. Small vessels are advised not to operate in the area. At 34 to 47 knots, a Gale Warning is issued, and waves can go as high as 9 metres. Starting at this warning, any types of boat are no longer safe to operate. The two other wind warnings are Storm (48 to 63 knots) and Hurricane (64 or more).
Capsizing is one of the dangers related to boating and it happens when boats encounter large and forceful waves. The weather forecast will tell you the average wave height for the day, but you should expect to experience waves that are two times larger. Waves are created by wind. If strong winds are forecasted, you should expect large and forceful waves as well.
Generally, there are two types of waves that you should know about: Swell Waves and Sea Waves. Swell waves are long and flat but are powerful and unsafe near breakwaters. In contrast, sea waves are shorter and sharper but are less powerful. Boats sailing in enclosed waterways are more prone to experience sea waves. A combination of these two waves, especially in coastal waters, will result in larger and more dangerous waves. You need to be aware of the forecasted wave condition is something that your boat can handle.
Boats that are passing through entrances of rivers, lakes, harbour or creeks should be aware of the tide condition. These entrances have ocean bars that are dangerous to navigate if you’re not an expert, especially during low tide when the sea waves are much steeper.
Water during high tide can hide rock formations or reefs, increasing the chances of collision or grounding. If you are not aware of the change in tides, your boat may crash when the water level gets lower and these dangers are exposed. Familiarize yourself with the low tide and high tide schedules, so you know which marine areas are safe to explore during your trip.
The activities you can do on the water are largely dictated by the weather. Fog, rain, or thunderstorm can affect your visibility and hinder correct navigation. In any case, you should have a marine map and chart ready. If possible, don’t get too far from the shore to limit the possibility of getting lost. On the other hand, a sunny forecast will inform you to bring protection like sunscreen, shades, cap, or a visor. By knowing what’s ahead during the day, you’ll be able to prepare accordingly.
The weather condition greatly affects many important elements of marine navigation. That is why checking the weather when preparing for your trip is a must, no matter how experienced a boater you might be.