Some days you will be out on the water and your sails will be full but not strained, you will be heeling gently but you will not feel like you are going to fall off windward rail, and the sun will shine on water that is as blue as crystal. 

And then there are the days when the decks are swamped with water, the wind is blowing cold rain directly into your eyes, and the sun is nowhere to be seen. Storms and heavy weather are something that all mariners will have to deal with not just some time, but many times over. Knowing how to deal with conditions that are far less than ideal is an essential part of being on the water, and it is a good idea to read a guide instead of having to find out the hard way. Below are some methods to get you ready for storms, from before you head out of the harbor to when you are in the midst of the storm. 

Check Your Boat Before Sailing

Before we even get to what you will be doing on the water, you should make sure that your boat is well cared for. This means ensuring that your lines are sturdy and unworn, that your lifelines are secure, and that you have all the emergency gear on board and up to date. In addition, check the weather on days that you are planning to go out, but realize that this may not be accurate. Your VHF radio should also have a weather station.

One of the key parts of controlling your boat and crew in heavy weather is to be prepared for anything. This means having your boat rigged so that you can access anything you need in short order. Sometimes you can see a storm coming from miles away, and sometimes it is on top of you in a second.

What to Do While Sailing in Bad Weather

When you and your crew are ready to face the storm or period of heavy air, do as follows:

  • Reef your sails. If you do not know how to do this, check out our guide on the subject.
  • Pump your bilges dry. You may have to repeat this process several times over the course of the storm, depending on its severity.
  • Close all hatches, ports, and windows. This protects the cabin from both rain and high seas.
  • Secure all loose gear — everything on board your boat should have its own place — and ensure that your emergency gear (such as pumps or sea anchors) is close at hand so that you can reach it with ease.
  • If you have time or the possibility, consider altering your course to make your way to sheltered waters. However, if an entrance to a harbor is difficult it will only be more so under stormy conditions and it can be safer to stay out in open waters.

Once you have taken all these steps, you have done all you can do before you meet the storm. The job is far from over, however; once the wind and waves catch up to you, there is plenty that you will have to do to weather the storm. 

How to Take Control When Sailing in Bad WeatherHow to Take Control of Your Boat

Most heavy air is accompanied by heavy seas, so be prepared to deal with waves that may approach alarming heights. Take on the waves at a 45-degree angle. This will make the least possible impact, which will not only reduce the chances of you and your crew becoming seasick but will make the boat more stable and safer to operate.

Most heavy air is accompanied by heavy seas, so be prepared to deal with waves that may approach alarming heights. Take on the waves at a 45-degree angle. This will make the least possible impact, which will not only reduce the chances of you and your crew becoming seasick but will make the boat more stable and safer to operate.

If conditions become drastic, with the wind too powerful for even a reefed sail and a close heading, it is time to take down all sails and secure them. This is only for dire weather, so do not take this step unless you have to.

In addition, if there is someone more experienced than you aboard, do not hesitate to cede control of the helm to that person. Stormy conditions are no place for pride; the best thing you can do for yourself and anyone on board with you is to have the person with the most experience guide you through to safety.

In an ideal world, not one of us would ever have to face these sorts of conditions, but the reality is that if you want to be out on the water you will run into some miserable weather. It may be awful at the time, but after you are back on shore you will have some great battle stories to tell.