National Weather Service
National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Marine watches and Warnings NWS Safe Boating Information Home Page NWS Marine Warnings, Watches and Advisories What to do before going out on the water Safety: What to do while out on the water to stay safe How dangerous is boating under the influence of drugs or alcohol?

motor boat on the water. copyright Eric Treece

weather-ready nation link

Safe Boating Navigation bar, hover for links NWS Marine Weather Forecasts Home Page Safe Boating Week Resources Boating Under the Influence, how much is too much? NWS Marine observations Hurricane Preparedness Information for Mariners, Boaters NWS Marine Weather Portals, Starting points Marine Publications and resources for outreach and education Marine and safe boating links Marine Information, Dissemination link Marine, Boating Weather Frequently Asked Questions


Know What To Do When the Weather Changes

Weather can make your time on the water wonderful or deadly. It is vital to know how to respond to fog, thunderstorms, rapid wind shifts and other dangerous weather.

  • Hurricanes
  • Fog

    Chances are when you are on the water, you will occasionally encounter fog, making navigation a challenge. Fog forms when air over a warm water surface is transported over a colder water surface, resulting in cooling and condensation. Fog is usually considered dense if it reduces visibility to less than 1 mile. It can form quickly and catch boaters off guard. Visibility can be reduced to a few feet, disorienting boaters. Learning to navigate through fog (or avoiding it) is critical to safe boating.

    • Slow down to avoid collisions.
    • Turn on all of your running lights, even in daytime.
    • Listen for sounds of other boats that may be near you or for fog horns and bells from nearby buoys.
    • VHF NOAA Weather Radio should broadcast important information concerning the formation, movement or dissipation of the fog. Pay close attention.
    • If your vessel has radar, use it to help locate dangers that may be around you.
    • Use GPS or a navigation chart to help obtain a fix on your location.
    • If you are unable to get your bearings, stay put until the fog lifts but make sure you are in a safe location.
    • Be familiar with horn and bell sounds you should produce to warn others around you when in dense fog.
    • Have a compass available. Even if you don't know where you are in the fog, with a compass you can determine the direction you are navigating.
  • Thunderstorms

    Thunderstorms can be a mariner's worst nightmare. They can develop quickly and create dangerous wind and wave conditions. Thunderstorms can bring shifting and gusty winds, lightning, waterspouts, and torrential downpours, which can turn a day's pleasure into a nightmare of distress.

    There are no specific warnings or advisories for lightning but all thunderstorms produce lightning. A lightning strike to a vessel can be catastrophic, especially if it results in a fire or loss of electronics. If your boat has a cabin, stay inside and avoid touching metal or electrical devices. If your boat doesn't have a cabin, stay as low as you can in the boat.

    Boaters should use extra caution when thunderstorm conditions exist and have a plan of escape. Mariners are especially vulnerable as because you may be unable to reach port quickly. Do not venture out if thunderstorms are a possibility. If you do venture out and recognize thunderstorms nearby, head to port or safe shelter as quickly as possible. Ultimately, boating safety begins ashore with planning and training. Keep in mind that thunderstorms are usually brief so waiting it out is better than riding it out.

  • Rapid Wind Shifts

    A sudden change in wind speed and/or direction will have a significant impact on boaters. Wind speed and direction are the primary forces creating waves. When are rapid changes in wind speed and direction most likely?

    • Sudden changes in wind speed and direction often occur near thunderstorms and fast moving rain/snow showers.
    • Wind shifts in direction and speed usually occur near cold fronts and warm fronts.