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Preparing for and dealing with storm. At sea and in port.


Due to climate change, storms are increasing

Due to climate change, the crew of a cruising yacht that sails across the oceans has to increasingly adapt to bad weather and make appropriate preparations. Because even in the best season of the year, heavy storms sometimes occur on the “barefoot route” popular with circumnavigators – for example on the sections to New Zealand, on the southern tip of Africa and on the last section, the Atlantic crossing from west to east. It is not always possible to avoid or avoid storms with good timing.

The ocean-going and coastal yacht

An important preliminary decision to safely survive storms is made by the owner by choosing an ocean-going yacht. In our case, that means: In terms of stability and ship strength, the yacht must also withstand the heaviest stresses caused by storms and swell. And of course (!) After a knock-down or capsizing it has to straighten up again and remain waterproof.

A yacht that is seaworthy is not automatically suitable for the coast: In coastal waters, the challenges and dangers in bad weather differ significantly from those on the high seas. On the high seas, the main danger is that breakers capsize the yacht over one side or even roll it over. In coastal areas, on the other hand, ground contact or stranding on shallows or on the shore are the greatest dangers.

Accidents and accidents happen much more frequently in coastal waters than on the high seas. This has not only shown itself to us in five decades, but is also reflected in all of our expertise. A coastal yacht on worldwide voyage best meets the high demands of demanding coastal sailing with a solid, flat underwater hull with a swivel keel or keel, with a protected rudder and a protected shaft and propeller. In addition, a work platform at the stern is indispensable for maneuvers with the dinghy to deploy land lines or a spare anchor.

While theoretically no machine is required on the high seas, a strong and reliably working machine is essential in coastal waters in order to still be able to maneuver in strong currents and chaotic seas and to be able to cross free with motor assistance.


Storm equipment for weathering on the high seas and in coastal waters

Without exception, all sailing yachts – displacement yachts, light displacement yachts, long keelers and short keelers – should have the following equipment if a storm is to be weathered on the high seas:

  • A mainsail with a triple tie reef or a furling reef that works on all courses to the wind and at all wind strengths and can be turned in with a hand crank in the event of a failure of the electrical or hydraulic system
  • A try sail with a separate rail on the mast
  • A cutter rigging with a jib day on which the storm jib is firmly attached. This storm jib must be able to be continuously reduced by means of a furling device (as of course with the genoa)
  • A solid tree to take out the genoa or storm jib from the wind with appropriate harness
  • A sea anchor or sea anchor in the worst case. We recommend row anchors such as the “Jordan Series Drogue”, the dimensions of which must be tailored to the length of the ship and the displacement. It should be noted that the forces occurring at the rear are absorbed by appropriate fittings.

Stormy coastal waters require – in addition to the storm equipment required on the high seas – additional accessories and, if possible, twice:

Storm equipment for weathering in anchor bays

  • A suitably dimensioned anchor gear (anchor, chain, anchor winch, solid bow and other fittings, a strong bollard on the foredeck)
  • At least two 100 meter mooring lines on drums that can be deployed to the bank
  • chain precursors
  • dinghy and outboard

Other useful aids in demanding areas are, in addition to radar and echo sounder, an anchor buoy / anchor fender, an anchor watch (for example via the IDRIFTER app), a laser range finder or, alternatively, binoculars with a range finder during storms. A hydraulic press, a nail gun or a cordless hammer drill with dowels and eyebolts are also useful in an emergency.

yacht 2

Storm equipment for weathering on the pier or in a package

  • Well-dimensioned ball fenders in sufficient numbers
  • Two fender boards with two long fenders each
  • At least six mooring lines as fore and aft lines and springs
  • Chain precursors, preferably made of eight millimeters of stainless steel
  • Two car tires as rear fenders
  • Sufficient number of strong cleats on deck
  • Leave a towing bollard on the foredeck and / or a solid eye on the bow for towing and unloading.

Requirements for the crew in a storm

Seaworthiness requires an experienced crew and a qualified skipper who has mastered the usual storm tactics and knows how his ship reacts. In bad weather, the demands on the crew in coastal waters are greater than at sea. In a storm at anchor, lines often have to be deployed in addition to a second anchor; it must also be possible to collect everything again quickly if the anchorage has to be abandoned due to the threat of stranding. A single-handed sailor is usually overwhelmed with this, and even a crew of two quickly reaches its limits.

boat storm

Storm tactics on the high seas

Because every yacht reacts differently and the crews also differ in number and know-how, there is no magic formula that works always and everywhere. Every ship, every crew and every situation require individually adapted measures.

Capsizing cannot be ruled out in principle. But when it comes to ocean sailing, there is an opportunity to significantly reduce the risk with the right storm tactics. For example, the risk of capsizing in a severe storm or hurricane is greatest when a yacht is hit from the side by a breaker – the broadside is your Achilles heel! The higher the crusher and the smaller the yacht, the more likely it is to capsize.

Model tests have shown that no hull shape – with whatever ballast combination – can permanently withstand capsizing if the crusher height is 55% of the hull length. The critical height is already reached with 35% of the fuselage length. For a 12-meter yacht, this means that it is dangerous with breakers above four meters in height, and capsizing is inevitable when it is six meters or more.

Recommended storm tactics on the high seas

Enclosed or twisted under sail (s)

This tactic – depending on the type of ship – makes sense up to average wind strengths of nine to ten Beaufort. But the ultimate wisdom is not turning. If the wind and sea increase significantly, there is a risk of capsizing from breakers.

Drainage (piling) before the storm under storm sails or in front of top and rigging

In the event of a severe storm or even a hurricane, a yacht has to run down before the storm – whether under the smallest of storm sails or in front of top and rigging depends on the circumstances. A speed that is not too low must be guaranteed, otherwise the lakes cannot be controlled. However, it must not be too high either, because then the risk of ricocheting and capsizing increases.

Use of sea anchors or cables in storms on the high seas

Scientific investigations in the tow tank and conclusions from mass accidents at major sailing events such as the Fastnet tragedy in 1979 and other regattas have shown, along with numerous individual examples from practice, that it makes sense to deploy a sea anchor over the stern in a heavy storm. Especially when the crew cannot navigate the lakes properly – due to lack of experience or exhaustion.

With a sea anchor deployed at the stern, the yacht drifts out to sea with the stern under top and rigging. The risk of ricocheting and capsizing is significantly reduced and the crew can save energy.

In recent decades, numerous types of sea anchors and sea anchors have been developed or further developed and tested at sea and in towing tanks. In the meantime it has become clear that a correctly dimensioned row anchor installed over the stern – such as the “Jordan Series Drogue” – is the best way to ensure that a crew can survive a severe storm unscathed.

The special thing about it is that there is no need for a helmsman. Sea anchors, especially parachutes, have established themselves as useful storm equipment and have shown that they are an important additional way of dealing with severe weather.

It is still controversial to this day whether a yacht with small sails or bare masts can still be steered when sailing down before the storm if cables or sea anchors are deployed over the stern, which on the one hand reduce speed, but on the other hand maintain controllability. Different, sometimes opposing forces act: the rudder force on the one hand, the tensile forces of the cables or the sea anchor on the other. The experiences of well-known sailors as to whether the yacht is still obeying the rudder contradict each other. We ourselves have no experience of this.

Avoid panic, don’t give up on the boat

As long as the yacht is floating, the boat should not be abandoned. Getting into the life raft or being concealed are not good alternatives in this case. Experience shows time and again: Ships are stronger than their crews. Many sailors would still be alive today if they had heeded that.

boat storm 2

Unsuitable storm tactics on the high seas

Let the yacht drift under top and rigging

A drifting boat automatically takes a position approximately across the waves. Letting it drift under top and rigging has turned out to be particularly risky because it is the greatest risk of the yacht being hit from the side by a breaker and capsizing.

Run too slowly or too quickly before the storm

If the yacht runs too slowly, breakers are difficult to steer, but if it goes down the high seas too quickly, it threatens to run out of control or even to overturn.

Drop a sea anchor over the bow

Any attempt to put a yacht bow to the wind is a battle against its natural inclination, against the elements, and it leads to nowhere. Since the yacht is riding astern at sea anchor, the rudder can also be easily damaged by the forces that occur.

Use the “Pardey System” in heavy storms

The “Pardey System” stands for a Para-sea anchor that is deployed over the bow and with a cockpit lays the boat at an angle of 50 to 60 degrees to the waves. The bladder trail described by the Pardeys, which is supposed to calm the approaching, breaking lakes, is not or not sufficiently available. In the meantime, it has also been proven in the test basin that a para-sea anchor deployed over the bow cannot prevent capsizing. This is also evident from a report by the Wolfson Unit from Southampton on the test results of towing tests with sea anchors and sea anchors.

Counter-sail in a storm

On the one hand, counter-sailing is an ordeal for the crew and a huge burden for the ship. On the other hand, you can never rule out the possibility of being hit by a breaker or a transverse lake, especially at night. Only if there is a danger on the leeward side – such as a shoal or land – does it make sense to try to break out of the Legerwall situation.

boat storm 3

Storm tactics in coastal waters

Storm tactics in stormy weather in coastal waters

Storm is much more dangerous for a yacht in a restricted sea area (coastal waters) than in open sea space. Therefore, as soon as the skipper recognizes a threatening deterioration in the weather near the coast, after carefully weighing all the circumstances, he should make a decision: Either the heavy weather is ridden at sea, then the crew must gain free sea space as quickly as possible, or the skipper wants to seek protection under land or in a port.

If there is only the slightest doubt that it will be possible to reach a safe harbor or a safe anchorage, the skipper should weather the storm on the open sea and accept the associated inconvenience. Hitting a coast in an onshore storm is particularly dangerous. As a rule, there is then no turning back, not even with machine support. An onshore storm can destroy a ship both at anchorage and in port. Therefore, appropriate maneuvers must be initiated in good time to avoid this situation.

Doubts are particularly appropriate if the ship’s location is not clear and there is no precise nautical map, especially on a reasonable scale. We got to know numerous areas around the world where we could not rely on the information on the nautical charts because the measurements were inaccurate.

Storm tactics at anchorages, bays and in harbors

The choice of anchorage determines the success of the maneuver. Particular attention should be paid to the place to swim so that enough chain can be put in place, as well as protection from gusts of wind, waves and swell and the (tidal) current to be expected.

If the anchorage does not allow the anchor (s) to dig in properly, only land lines will help. And in the harbor, even if it is well protected: mooring on the leeward side of the pier.

When anchoring, complicated anchoring techniques should be avoided, so that in an emergency (even at night) you can anchor quickly. If this does not succeed, the anchor gear must be marked, left behind and later retrieved. This also applies to line connections to land.

In bays where several yachts are anchored, it should be taken into account that yachts can drift when there is a lot of wind – including your own. When choosing an anchorage, the following applies: Those who are lying windward in the anchorage area are safest from drifting yachts.

The main anchor may only be deployed with a chain, never with a hawser, the secondary anchor, if necessary, with a chain forerunner and rope. Whenever possible, you should attach a buoy to the anchor. With it you have to be able to pull the anchor the wrong way around if it gets stuck – for example in corals or at underwater obstacles.

In ports it is important to change berths in good time if the wind direction changes. If this is not possible, then deploy anchors or lines – if necessary with the aid of the dinghy – to windward. In a lot of wind this is a demanding maneuver.

If the bay or harbor does not offer sufficient protection, there is only one thing to do: get out and either look for another, safe berth or set sail.

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