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What are some tactics for coping with strong winds when saving you and your crew’s life is more important?

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The first thing you want to do is avoid a lee shore.  You don’t want any shallow water downwind of you. You don’t want to run aground with the wind blowing you onto the shallower ground or rocks. Now you’re at the mercy of the winds and the waves, so you’re just going to get battered. It’s dangerous for the boat; that’s when capsizing occurs. It’s not safe to have a boat turn over on top of you with the land underneath you. Nor is it any safer to have the boat turn over on top of you while you’re in the water. This is one way people go overboard.  Sailboats tend to draw less water when heeled over. With most sailboats, as soon as they run aground, they pivot—they don’t have any choice. 

If you’ve got a little bit of a weather helm, you’re going to pivot into the wind. If you’ve got lee helm, you’re going to pivot downwind and show your stern to the waves. If you’re aground, you’re going to stay heeled over and pivot.   Now you may have your deck and bottom presented to the waves and you can’t maneuver. You’re completely at the mercy of the weather and there’s a good chance someone’s going to get hurt.

Avoiding lee shores boils down to situational awareness. Making sure you know what’s around you and trying not to get into that situation in the first place. You can look for an area of protected water. For example, on a river, usually there’s a bend you can go around and get away from the weather. Or, you can head closer to the shore where the trees are cutting off some of the wind. If you’re in open water, head into a more protected area. i.e. up in a creek, into a bay that’s got some shelter, in the lee of an island. If your anchor drags or your engine quits, with a bit of luck, you’ll find plenty of deep water downwind; avoiding a lee shore.  If that sort of thing is not available, the best thing you can do when you’re dealing with strong winds is get in open waters. It seems like the wrong thing to do, but you want room to maneuver and to put the boat on a heading where it rides to the wind and waves.  This is the safest course of action.

Bottom line is if you got a storm coming, try to get some shelter if you can, whether it’s behind an island or behind some trees if you’re on a small lake. Keep deep water downwind from you, otherwise stay in open water.

If you have some time and you know the weather is coming because:
• your situational awareness has told you there’s a thunderstorm coming
• you see the clouds
• you hear it on the radio
Then you can prepare for it.




Robin G. Coles is a passionate marine enthusiast and sailor who has interviewed countless industry experts as well as visited, interviewed personnel at, written about, and photographed hundreds of marine ports in the US and abroad. She is also an author, columnist in her local paper and owner of For more information on her book: Boating Secrets: 127 Top Tips to Help You Buy and/or Enjoy Your Boat, go to


Print | posted on Wednesday, November 28, 2012 9:40 AM