The average person in this country pays little or no attention to the weather. Other than wondering how hot, how cold, or if it ‘s going to rain, most people really don’t care much about what the climate is doing. (Although you folks out west going through this drought are well aware of the weather. And you have my deepest sympathies. Maybe Ernesto will move inland far enough and give you all some relief). For everyone else, especially those in cities, the weather is pretty much a non factor in life. The most in depth weather reports they get are from the local news weather bunny who draws smiley faces on her sun icons and grumpy faces on the bad ole dark clouds. She spends all of 30 seconds talking about the actual weather in her 5 minutes of air time and the rest bantering with the other pretty boy news readers about fairs, shows, and other worthless crap. But when you live and/or work on the water, on a boat, you become an expert in weather conditions very quickly. Your home and your life may depend on your knowledge of the weather.
Knowledge of the weather and the effect it has on vessels and the water is essential to safe boating. Any boaters course and especially any captain’s course will have extensive chapters on different weather conditions and what effect they will have on boating. It doesn’t matter if you are on the open sea, in shore, or tied up to nice safe dock, weather knowledge and awareness is very important.
Take a typical breezy day. Say the winds are kicking up to around 20 mph, or in sailor talk, 20 knots. On land, it’s no big deal. Maybe a few branches get blown around, some loose garbage. But on the water, a 20 knot breeze can be the difference between safe passage and a near death experience. Depending on the water, currents, tides, a 20 knot breeze can stir up waves large enough to make passage difficult or impossible for a smaller boat like the Fritter, just 26 ft long. If the vessel is at anchor and those winds kick up, it’s more than possible that the anchor will drag, causing damage to the bottom and possibly leaving the vessel in waters that are too shallow. Even at the dock, a windy day can cause problems. A vessel improperly tied up will bounce around all over. It can easily hit docks, sea walls, and some cases other boats if not tied down correctly.
You can pretty much bet that the moment you become a boat owner, your weather knowledge and awareness will grow quickly. You’ll be paying attention to things like fronts, storm cells, tides and currents, and water temperature. You’ll find out what a small craft advisory is along with a small craft warning. And no cute weather bunny with a big rack is going to provide you with the essential information you need to decide if it’s a good day to go for a sail, or a better day to stay in port.
For starters you will be getting up close and personal with NOAA, the National Oceanic And Atmospheric Administration. This is the federal agency that monitors the weather. They have all the resources from buoys to satellites to give accurate and up to the minute weather reports. Among other things, NOAA operates the National Weather Service, the go to source for most of the weather forecasts around the country. They also operate the weather radio channels that you can find on VHF radios, the most common form of communication on a vessel. These stations run around the clock with up to the minute weather reports for land and sea. They put out alerts for special weather conditions and give public service announcements during weather emergencies.
NOAA also operates the National Hurricane Center which monitors all tropical storm activity in the Atlantic and Pacific. They have a tremendous amount of resources at their disposal and provide very accurate and up to date information on all tropical storms. (And by the way, as of this writing, there are two storms out there, Ernesto and Florence. You can bet that anyone who lives on a boat in south Florida or the Keys is well aware of that fact and keeping a close eye on where these storms are going.)
In addition to the federal agencies, there are many private weather agencies out there also. Weather.com is one of the most popular. They run the weather channel you see on the tv. They are the ones who always put the baldy headed guy out to where ever the weather is the worst. If you see him out side your house, run for cover.
Another good one is WeatherUnderground. Not to be confused with these guys from the 1960’s, Weather Underground provides some pretty decent and accurate forecasts without all the show boating. They have easy to read sites and good graphics for things like radar and storms. Unfortunately, Weather Underground was recently bought out by Weather.com. Weather.com has promised not to change anything but you know that won’t be the case.
A third alternative is AccuWeather. Not one of my favorites and not near as accurate as the other two.
There are other weather resources out there but these are all the big ones. And just about all the private ones glean their information from the NOAA resources. They just present it in different formats.
Weather knowledge and awareness goes beyond just keeping an eye on storms and winds. Knowledge of tides and currents is also very important. Knowing when high or low tide occurs, or how the currents flow through a particular area can mean the difference between safe passage and winding up on the rocks. Anytime you plan on being on a boat, taking into consideration all facets of the local weather is important. Knowing how your vessel will react in different weather conditions, what kind of waters you will be sailing in, and your own limitations and experience should play an important part in determining if it will be safe enough to head out for a voyage.
Weather knowledge and awareness is something you should be learning about now, if you are planning on living aboard or doing any sort of serious boating in the future. It’s not that complicated but very important. What you learn now, will come in real handy later when you are out on the water.