You should never leave the dock without first checking the local weather forecast and water conditions. Checking these conditions prior to leaving the dock is just as important in planning your trip as checking for fuel and required equipment. Special attention to weather and weather indicators can make the difference in a pleasant day on the water and potential disaster.
As Skipper, it is your sole responsibility to determine, from the conditions, your skill level, and the vessel's capabilities, when to cancel or alter your trip.
You can get weather and water condition information from TV, radio or from one of the weather channels on your VHF radio. At certain times of the year, weather can change rapidly and you should continually keep a "weather eye" out, especially to the west, in order to foresee changes which might be impending.
Certain signs you can look for indicate an approaching weather change:
Weather changes generally come from the west, so scan the sky with your weather eye, especially to the west.
Watch for a buildup of dark clouds, vertically rising clouds.
A sudden drop in temperature and change in the wind often mean that a storm is near.
If you have a barometer on your boat, check it every two to three hours. A rapid drop in pressure means a storm is approaching.
Watch for lightning and rough water. Remember that boats, particularly sailboats, are vulnerable to lightning if not grounded.
Watch the weather to the west, the direction from which most bad weather arrives. However, be observant of weather from all directions.
Fog can create problems in inlets and bays or open water. Fog typically forms during temperature changes in early morning or evening hours and can persist for long periods.
If your weather service has indicated that a hurricane is imminent you should not leave the dock - period. Approaching hurricanes can be identified by the "feeder bands" of rain that proceed them by 24-48 hours.
IF A STORM IS NEAR…
First, make sure all aboard are wearing USCG approved PFDs.
Reduce speed and proceed with caution.
Close all hatches and ports.
Head for the nearest shore that is safe.
Head into the waves at a slight angle
Pump out bilges and keep dry.
Change to a full fuel tank.
Secure loose items that could be tossed about.
Keep everyone low in the boat and near the centerline.
Minimize the danger of having your boat struck by lightning by seeking shelter in advance of a storm. If caught on open water during a thunderstorm, stay low in the middle of the boat.
If there is lightning, disconnect all electrical equipment. Stay as clear of metal objects as possible.
If caught in fog, sound the appropriate sound signals.