On the Water

Joel Milton Mariners, are you ready for hurricane season?

June 12, 2012

In my June WorkBoat magazine column I wrote about hurricane preparedness.

This included checking the condition of doors, hatches and vents to ensure that watertight fittings are, in fact, watertight. If they’re not, it’s dangerous to the vessel and crew. If the crew is unaware of this, they are even more dangerous.

However, establishing and maintaining watertight integrity is only part of hurricane preparedness. It’s better to avoid a storm altogether rather than test your vessel’s watertight integrity by riding one out. Or, as the Coast Guard says, prevention is always preferable to response. So knowing how to avoid tropical cyclones is key.

A quick troll through the web reveals a new take on the old mariner’s 1-2-3 rule for hurricane avoidance. In short, more-accurate and modern forecasting capabilities have generally reduced the uncertainties of storm-track predictions, thus allowing mariners to have a better idea of where a storm is headed. This gives mariners more opportunity to stay out of the danger zone of gale-force and higher winds (34-plus knots). At this speed, because of the combination of wind and seas, a vessel’s maneuverability can begin to suffer real restrictions, options diminish, and a vessel get into trouble pretty quickly if luck isn’t on their side. To say that mariners should at least have a reasonable working knowledge of this rule is an understatement.

Of course, the more you know about tropical cyclones the better off you are. NOAA’s excellent Mariner’s Guide For Hurricane Awareness In The North Atlantic Basin is free. It should be kept handy in a binder in the wheelhouse of every vessel that navigates in hurricane waters. More importantly, it should be reviewed until it’s completely understood. It’s impossible to know too much about this important subject.

I also highly recommend the Heavy Weather Avoidance And Route Design by Capt. Ma-Li Chen and Lee Chesneau. This is my benchmark text for commercial mariners who want to know more than just the basics and, particularly, how to make good use of both the surface weather charts and the 500-mb upper-level air charts (available via radiofax broadcasts), and the Internet, to avoid the worst weather. Too many mariners are willing to simply look at the standard marine forecasts, take them at face value, and decide whether to embark on a voyage based mostly or solely on that information. This is particularly true when operating on waters outside of our usual haunts where our local knowledge may be limited. A deeper understanding is desirable and achievable, and this book can give it to you.

Finally, there is NOAA’s JetStream — Online School for Weather, where you can school yourself all you want. Mariners may want to start directly with “The Ocean”. Read on my fellow mariners and friends, and stay safe.

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