Weather On the Water

Checking Local Weather and Water Conditions

In order to avoid potentially hazardous weather such as strong wind, heavy fog, or hurricane warnings, you’ll want to check weather forecasts prior to going out on your boat.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) provides up-to-date weather information. NOAA Weather Radio covers the continental United States, Alaska, Hawaii, and the Mariana Islands and can be found at the following channels.

162.550 MHz162.400 MHz162.475 MHz

Use NOAA broadcasts for information on temperature, humidity, wave conditions, barometric pressure, wind speed, and wind direction to help you plan your day on the water.

To stay safe on the water, it is important to stay on top of the weather by:

  • Watching the sky. Signs like fog, dark clouds, and lightning are a clear indication that bad weather is approaching.
  • Monitoring barometric readings. A rise in the barometer is a good sign that the weather will be nice, while a falling barometer indicates bad weather is likely.
  • Watching for shifting wind. When the wind changes direction or temperature, it can be a sign that the weather is changing.
  • Looking to the east and to the west. Bad weather generally approaches from the west, but storms approaching from the east typically are more severe.
  • Monitoring your radio and weather channels. Check local weather patterns, especially if you are not familiar with the waters you are boating in.
  • Watching other boaters. If they are heading to shore, there is usually a reason.

Boating in Rough Water

If you are out on a boat and storms do approach, you should always be prepared.

  • Make sure everyone on the boat is wearing a life jacket.
  • Always reduce your speed. Watch for other boats and floating debris.
  • Avoid swamping. Close all hatches and ports to make sure the boat is not taking on water.
  • Stabilize the boat. Move all passengers to the centerline and have them stay low.
  • Secure all loose items so that nothing is lost overboard.
  • Ensure that the boat sits as high as possible by pumping out the bilges.
  • Locate the nearest sheltered areas by checking your marine charts.
  • Always proceed as cautiously as possible to the nearest shoreline that is safe to reach.

Once a storm does start, it is important to:

  • Unplug all electrical equipment, stay low on the boat, and keep away from metal objects in the event of lightning.
  • Keep the boat in the most stable position by heading its bow into the waves at a 45-degree angle.
  • In the event of an engine stall, drop an anchor from the bow to prevent drifting or swamping. Never drop anchor from the boat’s stern! 

Checking Local Hazards

It is important that you are always aware of local hazards. These can be found on local marine charts and by checking with local boaters and marinas; both are usually happy to share their knowledge.

It’s important to know if there are local rules that should also be adhered to, such as horsepower restrictions, hours of operation, or access to locking operations, that could impact your day on the water.

You should be wary of the following local hazards:

Whitewater areas can be very dangerous. These strong, rushing currents can easily drag a boat or person downstream into rocks and debris.

Shoaling areas are those that slowly become shallow. They can be difficult to find without local charts.

Hazardous inlets tend to produce abnormal currents and changes in water levels.

Abnormal tides or currents can be a danger to boats and passengers as they may impact the ability to steer and navigate.

 Low-head dams pose a hazard due to the hydraulic hole at the base of the dams. These dams are particularly dangerous to paddle boats. Always watch for warning signs and buoys and maneuver around them when possible. Getting trapped in these dams can be fatal.

Power lines can be very dangerous to sailing vessels; all vessels with a mast are at risk. Never take the chance of passing below a power line unless it is clear that your boat has plenty of clearance.

Low seasonal waters occur because water levels tend to be higher in the spring and lower in the summer. Always remember to make adjustments for seasonal waters because they do not appear on local charts, which only reflect average water levels.

Obstructions such as bridges, channel openings, and commercial fishing nets can all pose a risk to your boat and safety. Always be aware of your surroundings and any obstructions that may be in your path.

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Cold Water Immersion