The Importance Of Learning Marine Meteorology

Posted on January 4, 2016 by Richard Shrubb under Motorboats, Passage Planning, Sailing, Sailing Courses Comments Off on The Importance Of Learning Marine Meteorology

A bit windy at Portland Bill...

This weekend coming I’m taking my partner on a sailing experience day to see if she could enjoy the sport enough for us to buy a Drascombe Lugger and spend the summer months cruising the Channel and south coast of England.

My ideal weather conditions would be a southerly Force 4 in blazing sunshine so the boat can go full blast on relatively calm seas. This would inspire almost anyone to go sailing! Instead, as the synoptic chart suggests at the end of the week it will be bloody windy – may be too windy to take her out for safety reasons…

Meteorology is core to all seafaring. Most good sailing courses around the world will teach you elements yourself, but you will find that with a good grounding in the science you should be able to make predictions as to how things will turn out – as I have outside the 5 day weather forecast, to next Saturday.

Though some sailing types may think otherwise, even those doing powerboating courses will have to learn almost as much as those sailing. The weather will impact boat handling, and the seas could considerably slow your progress on a passage if too rough. Though sailors in an open cockpit of a sailing yacht in the freezing rain will look on enviously as you sit in your centrally heated cabin, you are going to have to make almost as many decisions about the weather as your sailing brethren!

Meteorology as part of boating courses

Most boating courses around the world will have an element of meteorology to them, to help you make decisions whether to go out, and what to expect. The RYA and ASA syllabuses cover weather and weather forecasting to the level you would need for the equivalent level of boating you need to do.

For the beginner you would learn about the Beaufort Scale, and how to judge the winds according to the seas you see. Broadly, you will start to see white tops on the waves at about a Force 5, and most waves will have white tops in a 6, with streaks on the waves at a 7 and most waves having streaks at 8, and at a 9 or above the sea will be almost as frothy as a latte from your favourite coffee house (but far less appealing!)…

Teach you enough and then learn from home?

Boating for everyone is more like a career, not something that you just pick up and put down at the weekend. In more temperate latitudes we are always looking a few days ahead to see what the weather will be like. As such, once you have an idea what a cold front, warm front, or low pressure area is and does, so you will be looking for clues in the weather over the next few days every time you watch a good weather forecast.

Looking ahead to next weekend, I know that weather predictions five days ahead can be very unreliable, but what I have done is look at the synoptic charts for the next few days to see if there is any calm weather at all? After Wednesday this week, the answer is not very likely! Whether the winds will blow from the south or the west, it looks as if Tracee and I will be rocking and rolling no matter what…

Dedicated oceanic meteorology courses

For those planning extended oceanic cruises or offshore yacht races such as the Sydney Hobart, Bermuda, or Fastnet, there are dedicated oceanic meteorology courses such as that at the Barcelona World Race Ocean Campus. Such courses will teach you to make the most of the weather systems ahead, whether avoiding the stronger winds or trying to hit the sweet spot in them to shorten your passage time.

If you don’t want to do a racing oriented course, consider a merchant marine meteorology course that will teach you to project the weather – this could ensure you get home safely on an Atlantic crossing when a nasty weather system is coming at you!

Weather geeks!

Ok, I am a bit of a weather geek. It doesn’t hurt to have a fair idea of the weather coming in week ahead – all outdoor sports I do are weather dependent, even mountain biking! In being a weather geek you can improve your boating skills and be a better and safer seafarer.

As to this weekend coming? I really hope that it is going to blow a hooley and the day is postponed as the way things look from here, my future First Mate could lose her lunch as soon as we get out to sea… What with the salty tales I tell that make landlubbers go pale in the face, that won’t encourage her to want to come again!


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