What To Do When Sailing In A Storm

What To Do When Sailing In A Storm | Life of Sailing

Last Updated by

Daniel Wade

November 19, 2020

Although it’s always advisable to avoid storms as much as possible, they are part of life at sea and sometimes you can’t avoid them. But when a storm comes your way, you should understand how to set up for the storm and how to deal with the worst.

You’ve probably asked yourself; what is it like to sail through a storm? Well, it can be the scariest thing to ever happen in your life. Sailing through a storm will test your strength, endurance, seamanship, and steering skills to the bitter limits. It can wreak serious havoc on your sailboat and any sailor, whether a beginner or experienced should know what to do in a storm when sailing.

Huge storms at sea are a requisite of fear and uncertainty. In most cases, it will sap morale, lead to poor decision making, make the crew members exhausted, and leave everyone in panic mode. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to. In addition to properly preparing the boat, you’ll require a well-thought-out strategy to deal with the sudden and unpredictable changes in weather. More importantly, you should make sure that everybody stays safe, remain calm, and work toward a common goal: overcoming the storm.

In this article, you’ll get to learn about what to do should storm come your way while out there on the water.


Table of contents for this article

Check Your Boat before Sailing

Surviving a storm requires a great level of preparedness and it all begins long before setting out on a sail. As such, your chances of weathering a storm will increase if your boat is properly prepared to endure bad days on the water. A major part of controlling your boat and the crew in a heavy storm is being prepared for the worst. This means that you should have your boat properly rigged to easily access anything in short order.

Whether you can see a storm coming from far away or see it within seconds and on top of your head, the boat should be well prepared to deal with any condition. It’s fundamental to ensure that your lifelines are secure, the lines are strong and unworn, and all the emergency gear is on board and up to date. You should also update yourself on the weather on the days you’re planning to go out though it may be inaccurate.

Tactics for Sailing in Storm

The sailboat is, of course, stronger than people, which means that the main priority is to protect yourself, the crew, and the passengers. In addition to having enough life jackets and harness for everyone in the sailboat, you should take early action to avoid injuries and any form of seasickness as these can affect your safety.

You should also exercise situational awareness by watching your surroundings and monitoring the situation to determine whether the storm is decreasing or worsening. If the situation prolongs, it’s essential to ensure that everybody remains calm, keeps warm and takes time to eat and rest. In other words, this is the right time to show your man-management. Make sure that you maintain high spirits and that everybody works in tandem and are on the same wavelength. This will only work if you calmly work out a plan and communicate the plan to everyone.

Some of the best tactics to use in storm include sailing under storm jib, applying deeply reefed mainsail or applying storm trysail. These tactics will not only give you more control but will also give you more power to steer the boat in the waves. You can also run before the storm and try towing the drogue to slow down the boat.

Stay Away from the Shallows

The first thing that will come to your mind when a storm begins is to drop your sails, start the motor engine, and head off for the land. Well, this can be a very concrete plan as long as you can reach the harbor and dock the boat.

On the contrary, things can become worse if you get stuck in shallow waters. And even if you’re experienced, steering a boat out of the shallows is something else. This is because the winds can rapidly blow you onto the rocks and other obstructions, which can make it a lot more difficult. The engine will most likely die when you need it most.

For this reason, the best option is to stay in open water and use your skills to calmly ride out of the storm.


It’s important to start reefing as soon as you anticipate the storm. The idea here is that you shouldn’t have a lot of sails up in strong winds as this can make the sailboat to capsize. Again, it would be a lot easier to jib or furl the boat if the sails are up. Keep in mind that you should reef the sails when the wind is still manageable. As such, you should pay attention and monitor the winds at all times. Again, do not leave the cockpit if the winds are becoming stronger the boat is being tossed around.

Invest in Storm Sails

There are special sails that can be of great help in heavy winds. Although regular sails can be easily furled and still maintain shape and offer the required efficiency, a storm sail will make it much easier. It will enable you to continue sailing in a storm while reducing the effects of the heavy winds and the big waves.

Sailing in Storms

As we noted earlier, sailing in storms is a huge test of your experience, steering skill, and your overall seamanship. It’s, therefore, important to put your best foot forward and steer the boat effectively without panicking. For instance, you should refrain from sailing across tall breaking waves as they can easily capsize the boat. You should instead sail toward the flat spots while maintaining a high speed to steer out of the huge waves.

You should also target smooth waters if any to prevent the waves from washing across the deck. You can rig a preventer to hold the boom out while being extra careful not to broach the boat’s beam.


Honestly speaking, going through the storm can be a very miserable experience. The most important thing is to ensure that everybody in the body is safe and out of danger. In fact, do not risk your life to save the boat. Of course, your skills, experience, and willpower will be tested to the limits but you should remain calm and come up with a proper strategy that will help you steer the boat to safety. For instance, avoid shallow waters, reef as soon as possible, have storm sails. And make sure that everybody is reading from the same page. More importantly, avoid going out on the water if there’s an impending storm.

What To Do When Sailing In A Storm

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What To Do When Sailing In A Storm

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