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How to Handle your Boat in Rough Water

While every boater hopes for calm waters and sunny skies, Mother Nature can be unpredictable – especially in Canada. Storms are inevitable and can spell danger for boaters, especially those inexperienced in boating safety.

That’s why it’s extra important to brush up on the rules of boating safety before getting on the water – and that includes informing ourselves on emergency boating procedures.

If you find yourself stuck on the boat in a storm this summer, remember these important tips on how to handle your boat in rough water:

Necessary Knowledge

Check the Forecast

No matter how excited you may be to get out on the water, you should never skip the important step of checking the weather forecast beforehand.

The best way to navigate rough water is by avoiding it in the first place – always check forecasts and water conditions before you head out on the boat, and that includes listening to warnings and advisories from the Government of Canada, including their marine forecasts and alerts.

If the weather calls for rough waters ahead, it’s up to you to make a judgment call as to whether it’s worth it for you to get on the water that day – in this situation, however, it’s always best to err on the side of caution and stay off the water if possible.

Have the Right Supplies

The right boating equipment can make the difference between a boating crisis averted, and a dangerous on-the-water emergency. That’s why the right boating safety supplies are crucial in every boating situation. If your boat is up to six metres (19 feet eight inches) in length, be sure to pack the following:

  • Life jackets
  • Fuel
  • An emergency kit
  • A flashlight or flares
  • A bailer or hand pump
  • A manual propelling device
  • A buoyant heaving line
  • A class 5BC fire extinguisher
  • A sound-signaling device
  • Navigation lights

Of course, this also means wearing a life jacket when out on the water, no matter your level of experience, and carrying your boat license on you at all times.

Boating Techniques

Batten Down

No matter the amount of preparation and the years of experience, every boater may come across rough waters every now and again – and when that happens, it’s best to make sure there’s no loose equipment flying around during a storm, for both safety and monetary purposes.

That’s why you’ll want to batten down before you set sail, to avoid debris, loose equipment and other supplies flying free during an emergency – a potential safety hazard for everyone on board.

Stow away your belongings into compartments, including personal items and emergency gear. You may want to use a few old towels as stuffing material to ensure things stay in place. Use Velcro fasteners to secure items that you need at hand, like binoculars.

Reduce Your Speed

Just as you would when driving your car in adverse weather, if you find yourself on a body of water with the weather turning bad and the waves getting rough, the best thing you can do is slow down your speed.

Fight the urge to speed up to outrun a storm – this rarely works and is a quick way to get yourself into an even more dangerous situation. Slow your speed and keep an eye out for other boats, pleasure crafts, Sea-Doos, or floating debris. Slower speeds enable you to navigate more safely and allow for a better reaction time to any objects in your way.

Change Your Course to Find Calmer Conditions

If you’re able to, now is your chance to attempt to adjust your course to find calmer waters. This is where a doppler radar app on your smartphone can be a crucial tool for helping you keep out of a storm’s path.

The Government of Canada’s website also has a useful Weather Radar page and a weather app for your smartphone. There are also many other apps you can use on your Android or iPhone to help you track and avoid a storm on the water.

If you can’t navigate away from a storm’s path, attempt to seek shelter in a safe place such as a bridge, cove, or another boater’s dock. These can help keep you safe by acting as a wind barrier, like a large umbrella.

Ride Out the Storm

As the great American poet Robert Frost wrote – “The best way out is always through.” The same can be said for navigating your boat in rough waters – often times, it’s better to ride out the storm than to automatically try to navigate your way out of it.

As Frank Crescitelli, New York charter captain explains, “one of the biggest mistakes people make is running directly for the dock whenever a storm blows up.” According to Crescitelli, “sometimes it’s better just to ride it out.”

Most summer storms move quickly, he adds; “if you make slow forward headway keeping the bow into the wind, it’ll often blow right by.”

As your riding out the storm, be sure to approach waves at an angle to lessen their impact on your boat. Large waves should be approached at a 45-degree angle, and instead of driving in a straight line, you should zig-zag with the waves toward the dock.

Protect Your Investment from the Unexpected

We can’t keep a storm from happening, but we can protect ourselves and our boats from the damage it may incur. That’s why it’s important to have the proper boat insurance for your beloved vessel. At Desjardins, we offer comprehensive watercraft insurance to help protect your investment so that you can get back to what’s important – enjoying your boat with your loved ones. Contact us to get a quote from one of our licensed insurance advisors.

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Summer is well on its way, and Canadians and their families are enjoying the sunny summer days at the cottage and lake – and what better way to enjoy the pristine blue waters than from your beloved boat?

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