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What Actually Happens When a Boat Gets Caught in a Storm?

Photo courtesy of Ken Douglas

What actually happens when a boat gets caught in a storm? Well, the threat comes from one or more of the following:

  • High winds and/or large waves catch you side-on and knock you over.
  • You surf down a wave so fast that you bury your bow in the next one and pitch pole (cartwheel).
  • Wind and waves damage equipment on your boat.

How To Sail The Seven Seas

How to Get to the North Pole: and Other Iconic Adventures

This is an edited excerpt from the How To Sail The Seven Seas chapter of my new book: How To Get To The North Pole And Other Iconic Adventures.

Such situations are quite rare and you have a number of options to keep the risk to a minimum. Prevention is better than cure, of course, so the first way to deal with storms is to avoid them in the first place by:

  • Travelling outside of storm seasons.
  • Monitoring weather forecasts and patterns.
  • Asking about and researching about local conditions.

If you still get caught then the question is how to get through it:

  • Drop sails – It is hard for waves alone to topple a boat. High winds catching sails from the wrong direction is far more dangerous. As such, it is often prudent to leave up just enough sails to allow you steer.
  • Go with the flow – Even if it means travelling in the wrong direction, you are less likely to come to harm if you don’t fight against the weather.
  • Slow yourself down – This can be achieved with specially designed equipment or by dragging rope or similar off the back of the boat. This also helps minimises how far off course you go.

Names for scary things that can happen to a boat

  • Broach – Excessive rolling to one side as a result of waves or wind.
  • Knockdown – The boat being tipped onto its side such that the mast is horizontal to the water. Most boats should recover from this.
  • Capsizing – Getting rolled over and upside down. A good monohull may recover from this but a catamaran will not.
  • Pitchpoling – An end-over-end capsize like a cartwheel which usually results from surfing too fast down a wave.

Photo courtesy of Ken Douglas

How to Get to the North Pole:

and Other Iconic Adventures

Newly published for April 2012

How To Get To The North Pole

About the Author

Tim Moss has supported over 100 expeditions across all seven continents. He has climbed new mountains, crossed a desert and is currently cycling around the world. He is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society London and a Guinness World Record Holder. He aims to encourage more people to live adventurously. Read more...

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