Here in the Windy City, we are no strangers to strong winds. But dealing with winds on dry land and dealing with winds out on the open water are two different things. For those who enjoy time out on their boats as well as the winds we’re famous for, here are a few tips on how to stay safe on the water in strong winds.
#1: Prepare yourself for inclement conditions before you even leave the dock. Even if the weather looks perfect, you must have an adequate number of life preservers on the boat at all times. Make sure everyone on the boat knows where the life preservers are, how to get into them and that they fit appropriately. If children are aboard, ensure there are preservers that fit them snugly and keep them in them at all times. Check the weather conditions frequently while out on the water, both by radio and radar. A VH-FM radio is a key piece of equipment, especially since cell phones can become unreliable on the water. If you’re going more than 25 nautical miles from the shore, a satellite phone is recommended. It doesn’t take much for a severe storm to pop up during the summer, so always be prepared for the worst and hope for the best.
#2: If heavy winds do pop up and cause large waves, the BoatU.S. Foundation suggests heading into the waves at a slight angle and reducing your speed when operating a boat in large waves and high winds. This will help you to maintain control of the vessel and avoid falling off of a wave or having a wave break over your stern.
#3: Have enough fuel in your boat’s engine. Rough waters can increase fuel usage, so make sure you leave port with a full tank, and if it starts to get low – head back to shore to refuel. Don’t risk being stranded, especially in inclement weather.
#4: If rough weather pops up, have everyone aboard put on their life jackets first thing. For boats with cabins, have everyone who isn’t needed on deck go below and close all portholes and doors to reduce any water that may come in. If on an open boat, have everyone sit low and along the center of boat to avoid anyone getting swept over the side and to keep the weight of the boat centered and less likely to capsize.
#5: Know your boat. Different boats are designed for different conditions. The size of a boat doesn’t necessarily matter in high winds, but rather the individual boat’s design. If you’re using a service such as Carefree Boat Club, you can easily choose the appropriate vessel for the weather, but if you’re a single boat owner, the best advice is to only take your boat out in weather that it’s well designed to withstand.
Boating out on the lake is one of the most enjoyable things about the Chicago area, but don’t let the Windy City ruin your day on the water. Be prepared and know your boat as well as the conditions and you’re sure to have a safe and fun day at sea.