Go Out and Get Wet Sailing

What to do During a Storm on a Sailboat

What to do during a storm while sailing...

Seven tips on what to do during a storm on a sailboatIn the wake of Hurricanes Harvey and Irma, I came across an article in my latest issue of Sail Magazine (Volume 48 Number 8  August 2017).    The article was titled, Lightening Strike Chaos by Jake Pitts. He gave some helpful tips when you are out sailing and a storm approaches. I thought they were particularly good and thought I would pass them along, in case you haven’t read this issue yet.  Here are his seven tips for what to do during a storm on a sailboat:

  1. “Have a plan in place for malfunctioning instruments and autopilots.  Know how to safely operate you craft without them and ensure all crew are able to man the helm in case of emergencies.
  2. Be wary of putting too much trust in weather forecasts in the Pacific.  Out satellite forecasts consistently showed good weather with strong wind, but we were hit by a string of small squalls and generally low wind.
  3. Take time to celebrate and rest after long passages especially when they contain large calamities such as a lightening strike.
  4. In addition to our phone and iPad with electronic charts, we should have ensured the boat had proper paper charts.
  5. For such a long crossing we should have had a redundant autopilot in a safe, electrically insulated place or installed a windvane.
  6. We should have ensured the boat was properly grounded for lightning strikes
  7. All crew should have been wearing life jackets while above decks at night.”

While many of us may not have a 43ft yacht to make a Pacific Ocean crossing, the warnings and precautions are ALWAYS heeded.  Even sailing on our local lakes, wind storms can come up quite suddenly and unexpectedly.  Every time we take our boats out we need to be prepared and thinking about a squall.

Twice I have been taken by surprise by what the locals here call micro-bursts.  They are sudden gusts of wind that can last up to an hour.  The first time I encountered this weather my son Tyler and I were participating in a regatta.  There were 27 boats total.  The micro-burst came roaring in and our Hobie 16 turtled and was sailing that way down the lake.  The short version of this story was our boat was the only one not to be significantly damaged.  Both of us were wearing our life jackets.  We alert enough to catch the storm cloud that came rolling in and got the sails down fast.  We were both glad that we knew this boat well, and that we had practiced getting the sails down fast. The picture above was taken just an hour after we had been rescued and waiting to see the fate of our Hobie (it survived too).

If you have any storm stories, we would like to hear from you.  Tell us about what kind of storm you came upon, how you handled your boat, what happened, and things you learned from your experience.

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