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Safe boat handling in bad weather.

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BY WAYNE STACEY, BOATING SAFETY DIVISION, USCG

Recreational boaters should always check the marine forecast before heading out on the water and postpone their cruise if foul weather is on the way. Out on the water, however, severe thunderstorms can still materialize without warning. That's when having sound knowledge of your vessel, as well as wind, water and geography, comes into play. You and your boat need to be prepared at all times. Anchors and lines should always be readily accessible, along with life jackets and other safety equipment.

In a sudden storm, your most immediate problems are limited visibility, high winds and, depending on your location, rapidly building seas. Have passengers dress as warmly as possible, put on their life jackets and, if possible, go below. Close all hatches, doors, watertight compartments and windows. In an open boat, passengers should sit low in the bottom of the boat along the center line.

Although you need to get to the dock quickly, once waves reach a certain height, safety dictates that you match the speed of the vessel to the speed of the waves. That means slowing down a lot. The more you reduce speed, the less strain will be put on the hull and the less risk that port holes and windows will pop out or break. Keep your vessel at a 45-degree angle to the wind, and make slow but steady progress to the nearest port.

Stay away from rocky shorelines. If you're far from port but have shelter available such as islands and peninsulas, sheltering may be a good idea depending on the depth of the water and the condition of the shoreline. Just bear in mind that in most thunderstorms the wind direction will probably change. In a thunderstorm, winds generally blow outward from the area of heaviest rain. As the storm approaches, winds come straight at you. As it passes overhead, the winds ease off, then reverse direction. Understanding this pattern can give you a reasonable idea of how long you'll be fighting the storm. In a smaller boat, putting up on a sandy beach may be a good idea. If the situation is life threatening, it's better to sacrifice the boat to save yourself, your family and friends.

Toughing It Out

Being out on a boat in bad weather, even within sight of shore, puts you farther from help than you might think. When a storm threatens, head for the nearest dock or sheltered water immediately. If you can't make it to shore, follow the guidelines below:

* Pump bilges dry to eliminate any sloshing of water as the boat rolls.

* Monitor Channel 16 on your marine VHF radio for updates on the weather. Also, listen for distress calls from other boaters. You may be the closest one that can lend assistance.

* Do not anchor the boat unless you're in a narrow body of water or you've lost visibility completely and are in danger of washing ashore. Under those conditions, anchor your boat from the bow to keep the boat headed into the waves.

* If there is lightning, keep everyone away from electrical and ungrounded components, and as low in the boat as possible.

* If you must abandon ship, get everyone on deck and send a mayday on your marine VHF-FM radio.

That Other Weather Hazard: Fog

It is rare to encounter heavy seas with fog, but it can happen. When it does, the rolling of the vessel combined with reduced visibility can cause the driver to become disoriented. Fog brings the greatest risk of collision with an obstacle or another boat, so do the following before your visibility becomes seriously reduced:

* Fix your position on a chart or mark it on an electronic plotter.

* Reduce your speed to the point where you can stop your vessel in half the visible distance.

* Turn on your navigation lights.

* Instruct any passengers to help you keep watch.

* Begin sounding one long blast on your horn (four to six seconds) every two minutes while under way and two long blasts every two minutes when stopped.
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Title Annotation:coast guard handling
Author:Stacey, Wayne
Publication:Boating World
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jan 1, 2011
Words:679
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