Keeping a Weather Eye Out

Boaters must assess the weather and make a decision before heading out on the water and know how to interpret weather changes while on the water.

As a boater, you have fond memories of warm sunny days on the water, enjoying the time and activity with family and friends. Fair skies and fair winds are the desire of every boater but we all know that weather changes and water conditions never remain constant.

Boaters must assess the weather and make a decision before heading out on the water and know how to interpret weather changes while on the water. Sudden changes in weather can occur without warning in many parts of the country. Sudden changes in wind can be particularly dangerous since this can cause a rapid build up of high waves. Many small pleasure craft are not designed to handle any great amount of wind and waves and can be easily swamped or capsized. So, when the forecast is poor, plan to stay ashore. If you are already on the water and the weather appears to be changing and degrading head to shore as directly and as quickly as is safe.

There are a number of ways that you can you obtain local forecasts for your local waters. First start by making personal observations of the sky and wind conditions. These observations can be backed up with local forecasts from your newspaper, radio or television news. If you have access to cable or satellite television, specialty weather channels provide detailed forecasts. In many areas across the country, media outlets provide special marine weather forecasts for boaters in their markets. The Internet is also an excellent source of detailed weather forecasts and provides you with weather maps and satellite and radar images. Two of the most popular Web sites are (Environment Canada) and

One the best sources of marine weather whether on shore or aboard, is your marine VHF radio. Current weather conditions, forecasts and warnings are broadcast on channels 21B, 25B and 83B on the Atlantic Coast and Great Lakes. On the West Coast weather forecasts are broadcast on channel 21B and Wx1, 2 and 3. Environment Canada provides their Weather Radio service in Vancouver, Toronto and Montreal.

While on the water, it is critical to “keep a weather eye” out. Frequently monitor cloud patterns and sky conditions. If the sky looks dark, the cloud conditions are changing rapidly or there is a shift in the wind you can expect a change in the weather. The best idea is to stay sensitive to the little changes to make sure that you react in time before big changes hit. Summer thunderstorms can strike quickly and quite unexpectedly. Winds and waves associated with thunderstorms can increase suddenly and drastically, creating severe local wind and wave conditions. By being vigilant and listening for static on an AM radio band or observing birds heading for shelter you may be forewarned of a severe weather change.

When changing and deteriorating whether occurs while out on the water, you should take immediate action and head for shore and safety. Having a marine chart on board will allow you to find in a bay, cove or other sheltered location to weather out a storm or wind and wave conditions beyond your boats capability.

Should you find yourself caught in bad weather out on the water, if you don’t have them on already ensure that everyone dons a PFD, slow down and proceed with caution. Approach the waves bow-on at a 45 degree angle and keep your passengers and load low in the boat to avoid capsizing.

The key to weather is checking it before you head out and keep an eye on it while on the water. If you feel that there is any risk, don’t go. It’s every boater’s responsibility to “keep a weather eye” and to Boat Safe – Return Safe. Enjoy your time on the water and “have many happy returns.”

Environment Canada uses some specific specialized terminology in marine weather forecasts to provide boaters with information on the expected conditions:

LIGHT WINDS are less than 15 knots (28 km/h) with wave heights up to 1.5 meters.

MODERATE WINDS are in the range of 15 to 19 knots (28 to 35 km/h) with waves of 1 to 3 metres.

STRONG WINDS or small craft warnings are used to report winds of 20 to 33 knots (37 to 61 km/h)

Learn more about weather and forecasting! Sign-up for a Weather for Boaters course at:

Courtesy of: Canadian Safe Boating Council