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How to keep your boat safe during a storm – in harbour and out at sea 

Bad weather is unpleasant at the best of times, but its effects are magnified if you’re onboard your boat, whether you’re in harbour or out at sea. 

But there are actions you can take to help mitigate the effects of a storm on your boat, keeping you and your crew safe.  

In Harbour or Ashore

Securing a boat during a storm is crucial to protecting it from the elements, so we’ve put together our top tips on how to keep your boat safe when a storm warning rolls in while you’re in harbour, alongside at a marina or on the hard. 

Check weather forecasts 

Firstly, make sure you stay up to date on weather forecasts and warnings, so you’re not taken by surprise. If a storm is expected, you’ve then got time to implement any necessary safety measures and take preventive steps. 

Find a safe and secure location 

If you’re in a vulnerable location and there’s enough time before the storm arrives, move your boat to a safer mooring, such as a marina with storm-rated infrastructure or a sheltered bay. 

Double check dock lines 

If you’re berthed in a marina, rather than on a swing or trot mooring, marina staff usually monitor boats and keep an eye out for any potential problems, but it’s important to know if they have a plan of action for when a storm is due, especially if you don’t live close by.   

If you’re on hand, ensure your boat is securely tied to the dock with strong, thick mooring lines, and tie to as many points as you can to distribute the load and prevent excessive strain on any individual line.  

Remember to protect your lines where they run through fairleads or over a toe rail – anywhere they might rub, reinforce with chafe guards and protectors.  

Also, consider using longer lines to allow for tidal surges or rising water levels. 

Remove non-essential gear 

Secure or remove any non-essential equipment or loose items on the boat that could be blown away or cause damage – basically remove anything the wind could get hold of.  

Reduce windage  

Remove sails, biminis, and any other canvas items that could catch the wind. If your boat is under a winter cover, either ashore or afloat, make sure it’s as tight fitting as possible. 

This reduces windage, reduces the load on lines keeping the boat secure and decreases the chance of damage.  

Add fenders 

If alongside in a marina, use extra fenders to protect your boat from repeatedly hitting the pontoon, dock, or other boats during the storm. Ensure they’re positioned correctly to provide maximum protection. 

Close seacocks and hatches 

Close and secure all seacocks (apart from the cockpit drain seacocks!) to prevent water ingress. Seal hatches, windows, and doors tightly to avoid water inundating the boat. 

Check bilge pumps and batteries 

Ensure the bilge pumps are working and the batteries are charged. You could consider having a backup power source in case of electricity failure to make sure everything continues to work, should it be needed. 

Monitor regularly  

Unless you don’t have choice, don’t be tempted to stay onboard and ride out the storm. However, if it’s safe to do so, check on your boat periodically during the storm. Ensure lines are holding and that there’s no significant damage. As we mentioned earlier, if you’re berthed in a marina, the marina team will likely do this for you – but sometimes you just have to check for yourself to give you peace of mind. 

Out at sea 

If you’re out at sea, keeping you, your crew, and your boat safe during a storm is significantly more challenging. But there are some crucial steps you can take to enhance safety: 

Check weather conditions 

Check the weather before you set out and stay up to date while on passage. If you encounter unexpected rough weather while at sea, radio in to get the latest updates and guidance. 

Continually assess the situation  

If a storm is approaching, or the weather worsens unexpectedly, consider altering course or heading back to a safe harbour if it’s feasible and safe to do so. Keep communication devices, such as a VHF radio or satellite phone, functional and accessible to listen to weather updates and any advisories issued by authorities. And, if the worst happens, to be able to call for assistance. 

Secure loose items 

Before the storm hits, if you’re unable to return to port, secure or stow away any loose items on the boat to prevent them from becoming dangerous projectiles which may cause damage to you or the boat. 

Reduce sail area 

Reef sails or reduce sail area to decrease the boat’s exposure to strong winds. Keeping the boat more upright and reducing speed can enhance stability. 

Use bilge pumps and check drains 

Ensure bilge pumps are working and ready to handle any water entering the boat, and check and clear drains to prevent any water accumulation on deck. 

Wear lifejackets and use other safety gear 

It’s essential that everyone onboard wears a lifejacket, ideally with an integrated PLB. Have other vital safety equipment, such as harnesses, tethers, MOB recovery devices and liferafts ready for use. 

Keep a steady course 

By maintain a steady course you can help prevent the boat broaching or being swamping. Also, avoid turning broadside to the waves if possible, as this can make the boat vulnerable to capsizing. 

Be prepared to deploy sea anchors or drogues 

Deploying sea anchors or drogues can help stabilise the boat and prevent it from drifting excessively. 

Monitor the situation  

Continuously assess the boat’s condition and your surroundings. Be ready to adjust your plan based on the changing conditions. Stay calm. focus on safety and prioritise the well-being of everyone on board. 

Safety is paramount. If conditions become too severe, or if you’re in doubt about the safety of the vessel or your crew, consider activating emergency beacons, signalling for help, or seeking assistance from the nearest Coastguard, the RNLI or local maritime authorities.