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Safe Boat Operations – Heavy Weather Operations

Source: Mariners Learning System, By Captain Bob Figular

Heavy weather can generally be defined as seas, swell, and wind conditions combining to exceed 8 feet and/or winds exceeding 30 knots. If heavy weather is forecasted, it should be considered when planning a day out on the water. Reliable and up to the minute information is critical for planning and having a safe trip. There are many sources of information available to the boat operators, ensuring that the information is found and used is the responsibility of every one involved. This definition of heavy weather is not intended to define a heavy weather situation for a specific boat type. The boat operator may determine what heavy weather is for their specific boat type at any time.

The weather is the primary deciding factor that makes operating in heavy weather dangerous or impossible. Knowing what conditions your boat and crew will be challenged is extremely important to identify. Some sources of information are:

  • Message traffic from the National Weather Service.
  • First-hand observations from shore prior to getting underway.
  • The Internet – There are many websites available with information ranging from weather buoy and ship observations to satellite photos.
  • Other mariners that can be trusted to give accurate weather conditions. While most mariners are as accurate as they can be, comparing observations from the mariner with other information available is always prudent. The stress of being in heavy weather can often make large waves appear to be giants.

In heavy weather, the safety of the boat depends on the Skipper as much as the boat’s design. The boat operator has a job, which requires a high degree of concentration if it is to be done well. Their job is to assess the many factors affecting the boat and take appropriate action on the wheel, throttle, and other controls to ensure its safe transit. A larger than normal wave or one with a breaking crest can arrive with little warning and a critical situation can develop rapidly. At night, the situation is worse due to the very restricted visibility.

Heavy weather is demanding on both the Captain and the crew and they must do all in their power to remain mentally and physically alert. Proper hypothermia protection and taking every opportunity to rest will reduce the strain on the boat crew.

It is important to remember that operating in these conditions increases the level of risk, the possibility of causing injury to personnel, and damage to property. Prior to leaving the dock ensure all precautions have been taken to be aware of any Heavy weather conditions that may be in your area.