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Boating Basics

Weather Emergencies

Weather can change very rapidly and create unexpected situations for boat operators. Even meteorologists have trouble predicting rapid weather changes. You should always monitor weather developments. One way is to tune a VHF radio to the frequencies listed below.

VHF Channels Broadcasting NOAA Weather Reports

Channel Frequency(MHz)
WX1 162.550
WX2 162.400
WX3 162.475
WX4 162.425
WX5 162.450
WX6 162.500
WX7 162.525

Recreational boaters are given access to these VHF channels:

6 Intership safety communications only
9 Communications between vessels (commercial and recreational), and ship to coast
13 Strictly for navigational purposes by vessels at bridges, locks, and harbors
16 Distress and safety calls to USCG and others, and to initiate calls to other vessels
22 USCG broadcasts of severe weather warnings and other safety warnings
24–28 Public telephone calls (to marine operator)
68, 69, 71 Recreational vessel radio channels and ship to coast

What to Do if Caught in Severe Weather

Prepare the boat to handle severe weather.

  • Slow down, but keep enough power to maintain headway and steering.
  • Close all hatches, windows, and doors to reduce the chance of swamping.
  • Stow any unnecessary gear.
  • Turn on your boat’s navigation lights. If there is fog, sound your fog horn.
  • Keep bilges free of water. Be prepared to remove water by bailing.
  • If there is lightning, disconnect all electrical equipment. Stay as clear of metal objects as possible.

Prepare your passengers for severe weather.

  • Have everyone put on a U.S. Coast Guard (USCG)–approved life jacket (personal flotation device or PFD). If passengers are already wearing their PFDs, make sure they are secured properly.
  • Have your passengers sit on the vessel floor close to the centerline for their safety and to make the boat more stable.

Decide whether to go to shore or ride out the storm.

  • If possible, head for the nearest shore that is safe to approach. If already caught in a storm, it may be best to ride it out in open water rather than try to approach the shore in heavy wind and waves.
  • Head the bow into the waves at a 45-degree angle. Personal watercraft (PWC) should head directly into the waves.
  • If the engine stops, drop a “sea anchor” on a line off the bow to keep the bow headed into the wind and reduce drifting while you ride out the storm. In an emergency, a bucket will work as a sea anchor.
  • If the sea anchor is not sufficient, anchor using your conventional anchor to prevent your boat from drifting into dangerous areas.
Severe weather
You should always monitor weather developments.