At the core of all we do as sailors is one thing – weather. It’s is our engine, our bliss or our most frightening adversary. Because of this, we need to know more about it than the average Joe. The subject of weather is vast and can be complicated, but let’s start with the basic ideas surrounding weather. Here’s a little list of five things to think about as it pertains to weather.
- Check the Weather
The first thing to always remember is to simply check the marine weather forecast before leaving the dock. Of course, this is obvious, but so many sailors look out the window, see the sun, raise the main and off they go. The VHF has a dedicated channel that continually plays the weather forecast in a weird half man, half robot voice – while you’re straightening out the boat for the trip, listen and make sure there are no extreme conditions coming down the pike. More than one over-anxious sailor has been caught with their pants down in this way.
- Watch the Waves
The behavior of the waves will tell a sailor quite a bit. Not all of us have anemometers but we all can keep our eyes on what’s happening with wave action and understand how much wind is present. Knowing the speed of the wind is important in determining the proper amount of sail to have up. Here’s what to look for:
- 5-knots of wind creates small wavelets in the water.
- 10-knots of wind scattered whitecaps appear.
- 15-knots the wind is forming waves – many of them with breaking tops.
- 20-knots the wind begins to kick up spray and life on the water can get a bit more intense.
- Know How to Reef.
Sailing upwind at 15-knots under full sail is, most likely, too much canvas and things can get squirrely. It’s time to think about reefing. And you know what they say about reefing – if you’re thinking about it, it’s already too late. So many sailors don’t know how their reefing systems work – be one that does. Sailing in a breeze doesn’t have to be scary. Reefing is part of sailing, not some seldom used concept for the more advanced.
- Consider the Lee Shore
When the wind is up, always be mindful of the lee shore, which is a shoreline that you could end up on if something were to break during an unforeseen problem. Like a pilot is hardwired to keep track of places where he could land his plane, a sailor is mindful of the lee shore.
- Dress for Success
For a long day sail, always keep or bring clothing that accommodates a change in weather. Being appropriately dressed for the weather is another no-brainer, but it’s easy to look outside, see a burning sun and forget that things can change out on the water. Being underdressed can compromise the mission. Buy the right clothes and have them on hand so your day on the water is as fun as you hoped it would be!
Interested in learning more about weather?
ASA 119, Weather Endorsement
ASA offers the ASA 119, Weather Endorsement a course that teaches you how to observe and forecast weather conditions using traditional maritime skills and modern technology.
ASA also offers some great online weather related webinars including Marine Weather Forecasting 101 and Marine Weather in the Smartphone Era.
Marine Weather University
Take your learning to the next with our partner Marine Weather University. Created by ASA co-founder Peter Isler and veteran meteorologist Chris Bedford from sailwx.com, Marine Weather University (MWU) helps sailors of all levels build that crucial foundation and hone their weather skills.