Boat driving on the water during a cloudy day

Mariners have told stories about it for centuries. Books and movies have been written about it. It is every boater’s worst fear – getting caught out on the water when severe weather rolls in. Whether it is a squall or a tropical storm, if you find your boat in a storm one day, you will need to know what to do.

Severe weather and hurricane boat preparation

Preparing for storms is the first step to getting through them. That means bringing emergency supplies with you every time you go out and taking precautions if you hear of a possible storm front rolling in. If a hurricane or similarly severe storm is coming, never consider going out on the water or even remaining on your boat.1

  • Remove your boat from the water - If possible, it is best to get your boat as far from harm’s way as you can. Smaller vessels can be trailered to safer locations and then secured to fixed objects with heavy, durable lines.
  • Remove everything you can – Heavy winds can turn objects into damage. Remove everything you can from your boat – things like sails, dinghies, radios, etc.
  • Tie down everything you cannot remove – Things like tillers, wheels and booms need to be secured to ensure they do not add to the debris flying through the air.
  • Disconnect electrical systems – If you are taking the boat out of the water, make sure you disconnect all electrical systems. Remove the battery and any portable fuel you keep aboard.
  • Double up the lines – If removing your boat from the water is not an option, make sure you double up the lines securing it and use chafe protectors at any points that might chafe.
  • Make sure the bilge is ready – A boat left in the water is going to need a working pump. Cut off electricity to everything except your bilge pump and consider adding a backup battery.1
  • Consider boat insurance – If your boat gets damaged in the storm, boat insurance will help ensure you are not financially swamped too. Learn more about what boat insurance covers and how much it may cost.

Signs of poor boating weather

Hurricane watches are issued if there is even a chance the conditions could materialize, but not all storms are hurricanes. Use these signs to spot poor boating weather before you are caught in it:

  • Tune in to NOAA – You can listen to a marine weather forecast via the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which broadcasts warnings of impending weather over the radio.
  • Threatening clouds – Storm clouds are easy to identify on land, and it is no different on the water. Dark clouds and lightning are always a sign poor weather is soon to follow. You should also look out for puffy, vertically rising clouds.
  • Change of wind – If the wind suddenly changes direction and/or temperature, the weather is likely changing too. A drop in temperature usually indicates a storm.
  • Falling barometer – A dip in atmospheric pressure means rain is coming. Use yours to keep tabs on incoming weather.2

How to check the marine weather forecast

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is constantly monitoring weather systems around the country and publishes them via its website and radio. It uses four different warnings to describe imminent conditions:

  • Small craft advisory – Winds of at least 24 mph and rough, wavy conditions.
  • Gale warning – Winds of 39-54 mph.
  • Storm warning – Winds of 55-73 mph.
  • Hurricane warning – Winds of 74 mph or higher.2

What should you do if you get caught in severe weather conditions while on the water

You hear the stories. Sometimes conditions come out of nowhere and a storm just finds you. If you get caught in severe weather while boating, take the following steps to minimize risk:

  • Put on the life jackets – If there was ever a time for you and your passengers to put them on, it is now! Make sure everyone is wearing one.
  • Reduce speed and take waves at an angle – Large waves can swamp you if they hit you from the side. Cross over them at a 45-degree angle to prevent this. Smaller boats like personal watercraft may want to go at a 90-degree angle.
  • Seat passengers low and in the middle – Seating them this way will keep them from falling over the side and will also help stabilize your boat.
  • Turn on navigation lights – Other boats might be out there too. With the reduced visibility a storm brings, allowing your fellow boaters to see you is a huge help.
  • Go to shore or anchor – If heading to shore is possible, do it. If not, drop anchor and wait out the storm. Make sure you line your boat up going into the waves and drop the anchor from the bow. This will ensure the waves do not swamp you.2

Every seasoned boater knows to expect the unexpected out on the water. If you’re wondering whether you need boat insurance, you’ve probably been very careful or very lucky. However, even the safest boaters can still get unlucky. Keep yourself and boat safe with boat insurance from Nationwide. Get a free quote today and learn how dependable coverage can protect you out on the water.

boat icon

Product, coverage, discounts, insurance terms, definitions, and other descriptions are intended for informational purposes only and do not in any way replace or modify the definitions and information contained in your individual insurance contracts, policies, and/or declaration pages from Nationwide-affiliated underwriting companies, which are controlling. Such products, coverages, terms, and discounts may vary by state and exclusions may apply.

The information included here is designed for informational purposes only. It is not legal, tax, financial or any other sort of advice, nor is it a substitute for such advice. The information may not apply to your specific situation. We have tried to make sure the information is accurate, but it could be outdated or even inaccurate in parts. It is the reader’s responsibility to comply with any applicable local, state or federal regulations. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company, its affiliates and their employees make no warranties about the information nor guarantee of results, and they assume no liability in connection with the information provided. Nationwide and the Nationwide N and Eagle are service marks of Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company. © 2024 Nationwide