How To Sail Safely through a Storm

By Anna

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When you sail through a storm is never a stress-free scenario. If there’s a violent storm approaching with heavy winds rocking your boat, your first reaction might be to panic, or try and use everything you’ve learned in your months or years of sailing at the same time to combat the waves and winds. But like many other scenarios in the world of sailing, the first thing to keep in mind is actually to stay calm and focused during the storm. Before your sailing holiday, make sure you are aware of a few safety tips at sea, so you are prepared and informed.

To remind you of the few things you can do steer your ship in the safe direction, here are a few tips to keep in mind. And remember, the first thing to remember is to not ever assume that you won’t come across a storm. Storms are highly unpredictable, and it’s not enough to rely on a weather app — you must also protect for the worst of circumstances! Better get ready and inform yourself what should be done when you sail through a storm.

safety during a storm at sea

What should be done when sailing through a storm

The classic strategy is to sail away from a storm’s path, which is usually always to its right side as it gets closer to you. 

In general, you want to point one of your boat’s ends toward the waves. Specifically, you want to actively run with the stern toward the waves. This means going out of the path of the storm. 

storm at sea

Using or not the storm sails

Usually, folding in sails should reduce your boat’s speed to a safer pace. But if you have storm sails, it’s time to whip them out. They might seem insignificantly sized, but rest assured that the storm trysail and storm jib play an essential role in keeping your boat balanced when the winds aren’t cooperating. 

What does it mean to “heave-to” and should you do it in a storm

When the storm gets too overwhelming, you might want to consider “heaving-to.” This means pulling in your headsail and mainsail in tight, and essentially turning the wrong way so the headsail fills with wind on the “wrong side.” This will help the boat stabilize and not subject it to the violent lashings of wind. When done effectively, when you heave to your boat, you’ll help it slow to a non-violent level. 

storm at sea sailing by boat

Considering dropping an anchor in a storm

Do it, and make sure to let out enough anchor chain. Usually, around 8x scope (chain length) is the usual amount necessary for stormy weather. If you put out any less, you risk putting yourself and your boat in danger. You also don’t want rode out, or else you risk letting your boat sway in the waters a bit too much. In especially stormy situations, your boat might even sail away!

If worst comes to worst, abandon your boat when sailing through a storm

No life is worth a boat. If the weather is only getting worse, then it’s time to strip the deck of all extra gear. Even if you feel that you might have a chance to save your boat, and get safely to shore, the risk is usually not worth the physical injury you might endure. 

How to stay calm under pressure

Saša Drobac, Borrow A Boat’s professional skipper, gives us his advice in case of facing an unexpected storm. He first combats any acute feelings of anxiety with deep breathing. “I inhale through my nose, then do a long exhale through my mouth. It calms my heart rate and gets my mind off the panic and focuses it on the breathing.” Once he’s taken steps to get everyone into life jackets and secure the boat, he tries to hone in on the silver lining. “You know, it’s not every day that you experience a storm like this. You can look at it as an adventure. It’s important to stay cautious, but it’s just as key to stay positive and calm during a storm.” 

Most of the time an experienced skipper will be knowledgeable of the eventual bad weather and avoid sailing that day. However, it is important to know what to do in such a case. Now all that’s left for you to do is pick a date, destination, and boat. Did we mention there are over 30,000 to choose from in over 500 destinations worldwide? If you’re struck with indecision, you can also check out our Super Deals where you can select from our biggest savings of the moment.