A lot of boating checklists start or mention to ‘check the weather’ before you go out boating. While this is an excellent idea, it may however, not provide the novice boater with decision relevant information. For example, the weather forecast in SW Florida during the summer month will almost daily show thunderstorms and rain in the forecast. Should you stay at your dock from June to September? We welcome new-to-the-area boaters daily in Florida that may have been boating for 20 years on a lake in Ohio and that feel totally overwhelmed in their decision making. Here are a few tips to keep you safe and read the weather:
1.) Select at least 3 different sources of weather information. We use AccuWeather as a rough overview, Buoyweather and Predictwind for a detailed look. For all offshore trips, don’t forget to add the NOAA NWS Marine Weather Forecast
2.) A few hours before you leave dock, check the radar image, AccuWeather as well as MyRadar have excellent apps. Here you can see the position and movement of rain, storms and cloud layers. The emphasis is on the directional vector. Often times we have thunder and storms that stay way inland over Ft. Myers when wind is coming from the West.
3.) Wind Direction: Most localities have a prevailing winds, that is the direction where the wind normally blows from. In the Midwest, it is typically from the West, in SW Florida it is typically from the East. A storm system in central Florida can be held back by winds from the West but will hit Ft.Myers and Cape Coral if the wind comes from the East.
4.) Layers on RadarApp: Depending on the App you use for your radar, the color code is not standardized, in one app a green blot mean light rain, in another it means ‘maybe’ a drizzle. Once you use the App a few times during a storm, compare and contrast what your color code means and picture yourself on your boat 5 miles offshore from Sanibel. Would that have ruined your day or just cleaned your boat a little? Also, don’t forget to turn the layer on! A friend to mine, new to boating, had the app all loaded but never showed any rain clouds even during a thunderstorm, didn’t turn the Layers on!
5.) Waves (In-shore & Near Shore): You need two data points, wave hight (average & peak) and frequency. Your boat may be able to manage 2-4 ft seas when the waves come every 10 seconds, but if they hit you every 2 seconds, it likely is too much. Buoyweather will show you the needed data for your decision making. Go out into the bay waters at different times and get comfortable with what the wave height and frequency means for you an your boat. The offshore boater will need more data from buoys as waves behave differently in deeper waters. Generally speaking, bay waters and near shore waters will be calmer in the summer in SW Florida than in the winter.