At the core of sailing is one thing - weather. Not only does it act as an engine propelling us forward, but it's also a hazard. Strong winds can capsize boats, either directly or with the combination of waves it may create. The subject of weather may seem like a daunting topic, but with some knowledge and resources, it can be more manageable. Please use the weather resources on this page as a guide before you set sail.
At Columbia Sailing School, we ask that our sailors always use their best judgment taking into consideration their skill and their crews' skill level.
5 Things to Consider Regarding Weather
1. Check the Weather
The first and most important, which can be easily overlooked, is to check the weather forecast before leaving the dock. This may seem obvious, but you’d be surprised how many sailors look out the window for the weather. There is a VHF (Channel 16) dedicated weather channel you can check if you’re on the water but remember to check the weather before you even step foot in a boat.
2. Watch the Waves
Wave patterns can tell you a lot about what can happen. Not everyone always carries an anemometer with them, but we all can see with our eyes what’s happening around us, hopefully. Ripples in the water can tell us when a puff is coming, which is important in determining sail trim.
5-knots of wind create small wavelets in the water.
10-knots of wind-scattered whitecaps appear.
15-knots, the wind forms waves – many of them with breaking tops.
20-knots, the wind begins to kick up spray, and life on the water can get a bit more intense.
3. Know How to Reef
Before leaving the dock, remember how to reef your sails, especially if it’s windy! Reefing is a fundamental concept in sailing and comes in handy, so we hope everyone remembers how to do it; if not, ask! For most sailors sailing upwind, sails trimmed in are too much to handle. At Columbia, we like to air on the side of caution. We ask that all keelboat renters put a reef in at 18 knots and, for newer sailors, even less or consider sailing without one of your sails.
4. Check Your Surroundings
Before you leave to dock or mooring can, know your surroundings. Sometimes, you may have trouble starting your engine and drifting toward the break wall or another boat. Knowledge of your surrounding in advance can help avoid these stressful scenarios. Just like when you’re driving, always be alert about what’s near your path or behind you. If you have a blind spot, ask your crew to keep a lookout.
5. Dress to Impress
Just like we pull out our winter coats when there is snow, it’s essential to have proper gear when sailing. Appropriately dressing for the weather seems simple, but it’s easy to forget that the temperature can be significantly different onshore from out on the water. Being underdressed can cause you to function more slowly and, in extreme cases, frostbite. If you think you may be cold, always bring extra layers! You can always take them off and store them.
CURRENT OBSERVATIONS AND FORECASTS