Beyond a certain age, nothing stops
fun on the water better than unexpected soakings, suddenly violent
waves, or any activity that can lead to a serious risk of falling
out of the boat. And few events can end a good time on the water
as precipitously as being hit by lightning.
These are all summertime risks, but
they can vary greatly in degree of probability depending on your
knowledge of - and respect for - the weather.
There may have been a time, way
back before Odysseus, when ignorance of the elements was an excuse
for mishap or disaster. But incredible modern-day refinements in
satellite-based forecasting and communications technology have
removed the last traces of an alibi for being caught on the water
unawares. These days, if you didn't know what to expect it was
because you didn't ask - or you just didn't take the time to
Ask where? Learn what?
The Weather Channel is a good place
to start. Along with its local forecasts, it provides good radar
tracking, notification of small craft advisories, and other
pertinent information that boater's can use. In most coastal
areas, VHF broadcasts provide accurate, timely, local marine data
on wind direction and speed, temperature, wave height, tides, and
special advisories of both long-term and sudden changes. In the
summertime, this service includes notification of current
thunderstorm activity along with estimates of its future
probability. In addition, with direct downloads from
weather-mapping satellites, along with your VHF radio, CBs,
ship-to-shore, portable AM-FM radios and cellular telephones, you're
only a moment away from everything you should ever need to know.
And that's not all. For the
technology-deficient, toy-deprived or electronically unprepared,
there is another reliable resource in the form of accumulated lore
and common sense. Since thunderstorms usually travel from west to
east, boaters should keep an eye on the western sky. Calm usually
does precede a storm, so can a mackerel sky. And yes, red skies at
morning are a sailor's warning.
If you don't have a phone, can't
hear the crackling on the AM radio and there is haze in the path
of the roiling clouds, one of the best indicators of increased
electrical activity in the area is still the hair on your forearms
or on the back of your neck: when it starts to rise, it's well
past time to get moving.
You say you shave your arms and
there isn't enough hair left on your head to throw a shadow?
Well, when caught in foul weather, you should immediately put on
your life jacket, reduce the speed of the boat and head for the
nearest lee shore or safe harbor. Point the bow at a slight angle
into the waves, keeping your passengers low and near the midship
point to reduce the risk of battering from the seesaw motion of
If the engine fails, anchor by the
bow or, in deep water, deploy a sea anchor (anything that will
slow your drift with underwater drag, such as a bucket or an empty
bait box) from the stern.
Prayer is permitted. Learn from the
The American Boating Association
PO Box 690
New Market, MD 21774