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Marine forecasts: deciding if the weather is good for boating

Marine Forcasts

Marine forecasts: deciding if the weather is good for boating

I’ve been asked by guests on our Sea Ray 400 how I decide if the weather is good for boating, what marine weather forecast resources I use, and how I make the final GO, NO-GO decision to leave our mooring.

We all love a beautiful, sunny day on the water – but what about sea conditions with wind and waves?

To start with, a lot of the decision depends on what our plans are for that day. For example, if we are taking a run over to a nearby beach that is only 40 minutes away, we have one set of weather criteria. If, however, our plan includes a longer offshore run, then different criteria and resources are required.

Plan your boat cruise with your guests in mind

Let’s start with a day at a nearby beach with guests on board who may be less familiar with boating. If we are going to be less than an hour away from our home-port, then we know we can return home if sea conditions turn bad. In this situation, I am more tolerant of a marine forecast that may indicate a chance of showers.

A big consideration is the comfort of those on board, and of course how well your boat handles in various sea conditions. Some people don’t mind a rougher ride and find it exhilarating while others prefer something more sedate. Most boats can endure rougher weather than the passengers – which is to say, levels of guest discomfort can become quite high in rough conditions well before the boat is at risk of foundering!  

This of course assumes that your vessel and motor are in good working condition, the boat is not overloaded, all safety gear is on board, and the operator is experienced. (A good resource for what USCG safety gear to carry onboard is here).

NOAA Marine Weather is a good first stop for weather forecasting

For this type of trip, a good resource is NOAA Marine Weather. This site provides information on a selectable zone, your area of boating, and includes a forecast for the current day and five days into the future. Information on the app includes wind speed, wave height, fog, and the likelihood of rain. Note: don’t use the standard weather app that comes with your phone – it doesn’t have the marine information you need.

I typically look for conditions that include constant wind speed less than 15 knots and gusts under 20 knots. An 18-22 foot open boat is best in constant seas of 1 foot with the occasional 2 footers. A 40-foot boat, however, is comfortable in seas of 3-4 feet depending on the direction of the waves and whether or not the waves are rolling or breaking.

Breaking waves create more of a chop and a ride that is characterized by pounding if you take them head-on. Rolling waves, on the other hand, are characterized by a more up and down motion which for some can lead to seasickness. Changing direction in any type of wave condition will alter how the boat rides. Sometimes the best course is not a direct route if “tacking” across the waves creates a safer and better ride. As long as there is no rain or limited rain in the forecast then these conditions would get a “GO”. On the other end, if seas are forecast to be 3-4 feet and winds gusting to 25, I might take a pass on the day.

Longer boat trips require additional marine weather resources

For a long-distance trip or one where we will be away for a few days or more, my basic criteria for comfort is similar but I add additional resources that help me make the determination. Windy is an excellent resource to add. Both browser and app versions offer similar information to the NOAA site but are more dynamic and include more detail on wave height and timing (which can indicate if the waves are breaking or rolling). Additionally, this site has multiple models to compare, each offering a slightly different perspective on the forecast. When planning a longer trip or one over many days, I like to know the conditions on all legs of the trip as much as possible. 

Consider a professional weather router for your longer boating trips

In the YouTube video for our recent trip from Maryland to Marion, where we brought our new Searay 400 Sedan Bridge home, I discussed using a professional weather router at length. In our case, we used WRI – which was excellent. A weather router is a paid service where you have weather experts working for you to find the best route or timing to meet your needs – highly recommended if a longer trip is in your plans. And know that on longer trips, it’s often not possible to have ideal conditions for the entire journey. Again, each captain has to decide what is appropriate for him or her and all those on board, taking into consideration the vessel as well.  

Got to go’itus

There is nothing more dangerous to boating than having to stick to a fixed schedule and disregarding weather considerations or your own better judgement.  Whatever it is can wait when it comes to safety. Accidents happen when a series of avoidable events stack up against you. Its better to wait out the weather than get caught in a bad situation.

With the multiple marine weather resources available, making a GO, NO-GO decision is not too difficult. Start with some high-quality weather research and go boating!

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