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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. Many VHF radios have a separate indicator or button to access weather channels.

Severe weather

You should always monitor weather developments.

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 USCG–approved wearable PFD (life jacket). 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. 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.


Washington State is on the Pacific "rim of fire," which is the main generator of seismic events that can create tsunamis. Tsunamis can cause rapid changes in the water, including water levels and unpredictable currents, especially in harbors and entrance channels.

It is important for boaters in coastal areas, including the Puget Sound, to know what to do if they are on their boat when a tsunami strikes.

Vessel operators should plan evacuation procedures for moving docked or moored vessels and for removing belongings from vessels, including insurance and ownership papers.

In the event of a tsunami warning:

Boaters should consider the following actions.

  • If in deep water (600 feet or greater), stay at sea.
  • If time allows, move trailered vessels to an area outside of the evacuation zone.
  • If a vessel is in shallow water or a harbor and if time and weather conditions allow it, move the vessel to deep water (at least 600 to 1,200 feet deep).
  • Once a vessel is taken out to sea, it should not return until an "All Clear" has been issued by the Civil Defense Agency.
  • VHF-FM Channel 22 should be monitored for up-to-date information and "All Clear" notifications.
  • Vessel operators in the Puget Sound or the Lower Columbia River should anticipate heavy commercial traffic heading seaward.
  • If time does not allow moving a docked or moored vessel to deeper water, the best strategy is to leave the vessel and follow local tsunami evacuation route procedures.

VHF Frequencies Broadcasting NOAA Weather Reports

VHF Frequencies
162.400 MHz 162.425 MHz 162.450 MHz 162.475 MHz
162.500 MHz 162.525 MHz 162.550 MHz  

These are the most commonly used VHF channels on United States waters.

Channel 6

Intership safety communications.

Channel 9

Communications between vessels (commercial and recreational), and ship to coast (calling channel in designated USCG Districts).

Channel 13

Navigational use by commercial, military, and recreational vessels at bridges, locks, and harbors.

Channel 16

Distress and safety calls to U.S. Coast Guard and others, and to initiate calls to other vessels; often called the "hailing" channel. (Some regions use other channels as the hailing channel.) When hailing, contact the other vessel, quickly agree to another channel, and then switch to that channel to continue conversation.

Channel 22

Communications between the U.S. Coast Guard and the maritime public, both recreational and commercial. Severe weather warnings, hazards to navigation, and other safety warnings are broadcast on this channel.

Channels 24—28

Public telephone calls (to marine operator).

Channels 68, 69, and 72

Recreational vessel radio channels and ship to coast.

Channel 70

Digital selective calling "alert channel."

Severe weather

Use Channel 16 for distress and safety calls to the U.S. Coast Guard and others.