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Heavy Weather Prep While Underway
Prepping on the water
August 2021

is the season. The weather is unpredictable. Southeasterly winds bring high humidity. Mix in some evaporation and an afternoon sea breeze; heavy weather arrives without warning. And, if cruising offshore, heavy weather will definitely find you.

john rahm
Captain John Rahm
It is easy to get a two day, good weather window. But experience has taught me to expect poor weather on day number three.

Anyway, in August 2020, Towndock published my hurricane checklist (good read). That checklist is used for heavy weather preparation at the pier. But what if you are underway?

To complement my hurricane at-the-pier checklist, I thought it appropriate to review some underway bad weather preparations. Of course, bad weather avoidance is the key. A sailor with time always has fair winds. But, if caught in a big blow, this checklist will be helpful.

Apologies in advance. My aviation background weds me to checklists. (My wife teases me about needing a checklist for the bathroom. TMI?) Anyway, in Harriers the major checklists are, pre-flight, pre-start, post-start, taxi, takeoff, post-takeoff, combat, landing and shut-down. Minus the combat checks, I use the exact same methodology for sailing. Mega-yachts are also the same.

If this is the porthole view… it might be time to pull out the heavy weather checklist.

Using a pen, captains will check off the items, sign the checklist sheet and file it in the ship’s log. The engineers aboard these mega-yachts have their own sign-off checklist sheets. I don’t file the checklists. But, the method is valuable risk reduction. Therefore, I am a checklist advocate.

Here is the checklist I use when anticipating heavy weather while underway. Credit goes to Ed Mapes, author of “Further Offshore.” After reading his book, I have adapted his checklist. Thank you, Ed.

Prep for Heavy Weather Checklist
  • Reduce sail early (enough)
  • Make storm sails ready
  • Make storm drogue ready
  • Secure all deck gear
  • Secure companionway hatch and slider
  • Batten all hatches and ports
  • Set up lee cloths
  • Secure all latches to prevent spillage
  • Clear passageways below
  • Prep warm meal
  • Warm drinks in thermoses
  • Position snacks and drinks around boat
  • Obtain fix (the latitude and longitude of your position)
  • Communicate position and course
  • Charge batteries
  • Ensure furled sails cannot unfurl
  • Determine and review storm tactics with Captain
  • Begin heavy weather watch schedule
  • Close all unnecessary thru hulls and seacocks
  • Perform entire routine maintenance and monitoring checks (another list)
  • Say a prayer (perhaps this should be first)

Of course, all this is à la carte. Meaning, it is a pick and choose list. Do we prep a warm meal every time? No. But, at least the choice is considered and errors of omission are eliminated. All thoughtful preparation begins in your living room.

Stay dry and safe.

Fair Winds,
Captain John Rahm

Related Links
Hurricane Boat Prep

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Captain's Blog on TownDock.net is all about making your time on the water enjoyable. Captain John Rahm teaches sailing and boat handling at Third Wave Sailing.