April 07, 2022
You can’t control the weather, but you can control how you’ll interact with it. Knowing when to sail or when to pull the plug while you’re at sea are decisions you can control—with the right knowledge.
They say “bad things come in threes;” whether or not you believe in superstitions, these three factors should be examined before you cast off dock lines.
Rain will make a day less enjoyable for obvious reasons: Nobody likes to be wet all day. A glance at local radar will tell you when rain is on the way and when monitored closely enough, it’s easy to avoid.
Some days it’s a passing shower but on others, a prolonged weather event will send you back home if you don’t enjoy being wet or wearing a rubber suit all day.
In addition to the unpleasantness of standing in a rainstorm, another factor usually comes in conjunction with a rain event...
Wind is the force multiplier that will alone create enough havoc to send you to the hill. Along with rain there’s usually some wind but with or without rain, if the wind picks up, the waves follow suit. Keeping an eye on this factor (its current velocity, path and trending intensity) is critical if you want to avoid getting into a jam. The byproduct of sustained high winds is wave heights and they never take the size of your boat into consideration.
Typically, the thing most people ask first about potential nasty weather is, “How big are the seas?” Wave height and period interval may act in conjunction with all of the above listed factors, but it’s waves alone that will turn your boat over if they exceed your vessel’s seaworthiness. The difference between what the seas are “forecast” to be and what they actually are in real time often don’t match up. For this reason, you need to base your decisions on a few variables.
Considering rain, wind and waves, you should compare the forecast with the current conditions based on the weather services (TV news, NOAA VHF weather radio, phone apps, etc.). Look outside while consulting real time weather monitoring stations to determine the discrepancies between a forecast and the actual conditions. These weather services can also provide you with the most important factor to consider: trending conditions.
Trending conditions will inform you whether the conditions are improving or deteriorating. This is good knowledge to have on hand when making a decision to leave the dock or whether to stay out or head home if you’re already offshore.
Obtaining this data is simple. There are hosts of weather sites on the internet that you can check from your home computer or your phone. Consolidating all of the information in a single location adds convenience and finding an app that combines each of these factors is a time saver.
Buoycast NOAA Marine Forecast and NOAA NDBC Buoy Line Marine are both highly rated free services that provide you with the above-outlined weather conditions. Radar, wind, wave height/trends and more can each be examined by pulling up the app on your phone. Of course, you’ll need to be within cellular range to access this data; otherwise you’ll have to settle for the last available data when you lost signal. For that reason, you should always consult these or any apps before you leave a cell service area. Each of these is free with available in-app purchases.
If it’s real-time info you want regardless of your proximity to shore, you should consider a paid satellite service that provides live streaming data. The SiriusXM Marine subscription service is a monthly subscription that interfaces with your MFD electronics unit (chartplotter) and is available nationwide within 100 miles of shore. Live radar, storm cells, lightning strikes, wind fields and wave data are all viewable. The subscription plans vary and can be upgraded from the basic $14.99 monthly plan to include more detailed analysis and fishing related conditions such as sea surface temps and weedlines or plankton contours.
With the technology and information at our disposal, the modern mariner has few excuses to get caught off guard in rough weather. Leaving the dock with timely information and monitoring the conditions as the day wears on will ensure the safety and comfort of both you and your passengers. FS
Florida Sportsman Magazine April 2022
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