Boating Safety Blog
Disclaimer:   I am not a spokesperson for the US Coast Guard. For an official interpretation of regulations you must contact the US Coast Guard or other organization referenced..   More..... 

Boating Safety

Seamanship:  Page 3

1. Navigation

2. Boat Handling

3. Weather

4.  Communications

5.  Sailing

6.  Emergencies

7.  Courtesy On the Water


"Climate is what we expect. Weather is what we get." (Usually atributed to Mark Twain)

The ability to predict weather has become more of a science than an art over the last fifty years or so, especially since the advent of weather satellites and computer modeling.  However, most of the forecasts you hear on the radio, TV, on-line or even on your phone, are general forecasts for a large area, and are not necessarily going to reflect what is going on at the moment in your location.  Local predictions are still not very reliable except for catastrophic events like tornados and hurricanes.  It is up to you to keep an eye on changing conditions and predict what is going to happen, and take appropriate action to avoid being caught out in bad circumstances.  Over centuries mariners have learned how to do this by watching the sky, clouds, winds, waves and other phenomenon to predict what is going to happen.

National Weather Service:

Weather Forecasts:

For the small boat operator it is essential to have a radio that is tuned to the marine weather forecasts, especially if you do most of your boating on salt water. Most of these forecasts are for coastal areas and large bodies of water such as Puget Sound, San Francisco Bay, the Great lakes, Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, and the Florida Keys.  Unfortunately they are rarely given for small lakes and rivers, where many people do most of their boating.  But if there is a local radio station, often they give short range forecasts of approaching weather on standard AM/FM radios.  Some, in areas where boating is popular, give specific marine forecasts.  So even a standard broadcast radio is essential.

If you have a smart phone you can get an app that displays the local weather and the nearest weather radar.  This will do you no good if you are in an area with no cell phone coverage, but is an excellent source if you have coverage.

But it is even more important for you, the boat operator, to keep a watch on the weather and recognize the signs of changing weather.  The most obvious is watching the clouds and prevailing wind direction.  If the clouds suddenly change , such as from high wispy clouds on a sunny day to large dark thunderclouds you know that thunder and lightning and local showers are approaching. Sudden changes in wind speed and direction also mean a change in the weather, usually for the worse.  A sudden increase in humidity or a sudden drop in temperature are also good indicators of a change. 

Marine Weather Predictions:

Storm Warning Flags:

For generations the National Weather Service and the U. S. Coast Guard would give mariners warnings by the use of flags, usually displayed at Coast Guard Stations, marinas, yacht clubs, lighthouses and other prominent places easily visible to boaters.  In 1989, because of advances in technology, the National Weather Service discontinued this practice.  However,  in 2007 the U. S Coast Guard decided to re-activate the display of these flags at selected coastal Coast Guard stations around the country. If you use your boat in a coastal area with lots of marine traffic you may see these flags. If you do your boating on inland lakes and rivers where there is no Coast Guard presence you will most likely not see them. But all boat operators should be aware of these flags and their meaning.  The below illustration is what they look like. 

Storm Warning Flags

See more at NOAA's National Weather Service:

Micro Climates:

Some local conditions are unique to a specific body of water.  A reservoir that I used in Utah had a high mountain range on it's western edge. If clouds began to pile up over the tops of the mountains it meant a thunder storm was approaching.  On the lake where I now do most of my boating, the prevailing wind is from the southwest. If it changes to northwest it means the wind will pick up and the water will get very choppy, and the temperature will drop.  In the winter if the wind suddenly increases it means a storm is coming through. Learning local conditions unique to your area can help you know when to take shelter or return to shore.

What To Do:

Knowing what appropriate action to take when the weather changes is essential.  If you are caught out in bad weather the first thing you should do is put on your lifejacket.  Have everyone in your boat put on theirs. If you wait, it may be too late.  Do it first!  If thunder approaches, and lightning is imminent,  getting off the water is critical.  But, what do you do if you can't get off the water?  Stay as low in the boat as possible and run for shelter.  Do not touch metal objects if at all possible.

 If it starts raining, but is not windy, you may be able to stay out if you don't mind getting wet  or you have some kind of cover you can get under.  But if the rain also brings wind it is time to find shelter.  Maybe your area has a bay, a point of land,  or an island that you can use to take shelter until the storm passes.  If you need to run for it, you need to know how far it is to a safe harbor, and is it up wind or down wind? All of this is important information you need to know about the area where you use your boat.

Some very old mariner's ditties about weather:

"Red sky at night a sailor's delight. Red sky in the morning a sailor take warning!"   (If there is a beautiful sunset good weather is moving in.  If there is a beautiful sunrise, bad weather is moving in)

"Mackeral Skies and Mares Tails make sailors take in their sails"  (High winds are coming)

"When halo rings the moon or sun, Rain's approaching on the run."  ( A ring around the sun or moon indicates ice crystals in the air. It will probably rain. )

Tides:  Tides are the daily rise and fall of the oceans and coastal waters due to the combined gravitational affects of the Sun and Moon, and the rotation of the earth.  This is discussed more at

Tides can be affected by weather, particularly large storms and hurricanes can significantly raise high tides.  This is called storm surge.  If your boat is anchored or at a marina storm surge can increase the high tide to point of breaking your boat loose, and can result in damage or sink to your boat.

Obtaining a tide table or chart for your area is important.  Tide tables can be purchased at most marine stores, marinas, and even book stores.  There are also many online tide tables available and apps for your phone.  Most Marine GPS units also show tides where you are located.

See:  Tides around the world:

There are many on-line and book resources that teach weather.  These a just a few.

NOAA Weather  Educational Videos
US Power Squadron: Boating Course: Weather
Boat Ed: Weather Emergencies:
Marine weather Forecasts:
BOATUS Marine Weather Forecasts:

Chapmans Piloting and Seamanship.  Maloney,
Marine Weather Center:     Weather Books:
Bad Storms Heavy Weather Boating Secrets (For Kindle)


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