want to don swim goggles to take the
sting out and wear rubber gloves when
touching the wheel. Remember, lightning is still a danger for at least half an
hour after a squall passes.
OPTION Hold Station
If anchoring isn’t possible, motoring
slowly into the wind and waves permits
most boats (power and sail) to make a
bit of headway, maintain control, and
take waves over the bow, minimizing the
chance of swamping. The size and design
of a boat, the propulsion power available,
the experience level of the crew, and the
severity of the squall all have their part to
play in how a squall is best handled.
Powerboats with open bows, such as
bowriders and center-consoles, are vulnerable to swamping, so take the waves at a
20- to 30-degree angle; make sure to keep
the boat moving fast enough so that the
bow lifts over the waves, but not so fast
that it buries on the other side. To maintain control, you may need to throttle up
on the wave face, then throttle back as the
wave passes under you. In this way, you can
jog slowly to windward, making minimal
headway, until the squall has passed.
Many sailboat mainsails have only
two reef points and, in many cases, even
pulling down to the second reef still may
prove too much sail in a strong squall. In
this case, it may be best to take all the sail
down and motor slowly to windward. If
you’re confident in the boat, then leaving
a patch of sail up on a larger, well-ballast-ed sailboat and motorsailing at a 20- to
30-degree angle to the wind can steady
the boat and minimize the amount of
water coming aboard. In smaller, lighter
sailboats, it’s often best to drop all sail
before the squall hits and motor slowly
to windward; if the boat gets even a little
sideways to the wind, you risk loss of
control or even capsize.
OPTION Heave To
Sailboats can heave to, which will all
but stop the boat in a controlled way, an
invaluable technique – like engaging a
handbrake on a car – that can be used
in a short squall so long as you have
room around you. Reef and sheet in the
mainsail and partially furl the headsail.
Then tack the boat without releasing
MORE SMART TIPS FOR WHEN IT BLOWS
the jib sheet (which backwinds the jib),
and secure the helm; this holds the boat
with the bow 20 or 30 degrees off the
wind. With the sails and rudder balanced
against one another, the boat will steady
itself and drift slowly downwind, usually
at no more than 1 knot. Heaving to takes
practice, and its effectiveness and the
precise tactics depend upon your boat’s
design. To make sure you’re ready to
employ it when you need it, head out on
a day with strong but steady winds and
practice. Your maneuverability will be
limited when hove to, so don’t try it in a
ship channel in poor visibility.
■ Know your boat’s cruising speed in different conditions, especially in an active
seaway. Combining that with the approximate distance to the nearest harbor means
you can quickly weigh your options at a moment’s notice.
■ Good onboard weather information is second only to good navigation equipment.
Check with NOAA weather radio periodically when you see unsettled weather in the
forecast. Know your locale, and make sure you understand the locations and local
landmarks used in the forecast. Be sure you have a DSC-enabled, VHF on your boat.
A backup handheld waterproof VHF is also a smart idea.
■ When you’re in cellphone range, a weather app that shows weather radar is helpful. If you’re often out of cell range, consider adding satellite weather service to your
boat. Cellphone apps that show the location and frequency of lightning strikes can
give you additional useful information.
■ While it’s not mandatory, it’s an excellent idea to have radar on your boat if you
operate in the dark or in areas prone to fog.
■ Be sure you have a working bilge pump, as well as a manual backup pump.
■ Before a squall is upon you, if you’re towing a dinghy, remove the outboard, secure
it on its mount on the main boat, and, if possible, bring your dinghy aboard and tie it
securely it on deck. Towed dinghies easily flip in heavy weather.
■ If you can’t make it to port before heavy weather hits, heading into deeper water
may be a safer option than trying to run for shelter at the last minute, which can put
you in shallow, choppy water, or exposed to a dangerous lee shore. Trying to dock in
a squall can be more dangerous than simply riding it out in deep water.
■ If you feel at risk, put out a call on the VHF so that the U.S. Coast Guard can capture your position. Once everything is well again, notify that agency that you’re fine.
On VHF Channel 16, call “Pan-pan, pan-pan, pan-pan. This is the XX-foot (sailing/
motor/fishing) vessel (your boat name). Our position is (lat/long). Our engine is not
working. We’re anchored in 25 knots (describe whatever is happening).”
■ If you end up in a jam — without an engine, say, or aground, call TowBoatU.S.