The biggest problem for all skippers is how to use weather forecasts for sailing. Skippers usually have very little formal training in meteorology, so experience is what they are leaning on. Here are some advices (base on exact experience) on how to act on best weather for sailing and how on heavy weather sailing in general.
A good skipper can have a good idea of what to expect in terms of weather, especially in an area he knows well, but only a fool goes to sea without checking a weather forecast. So, first thing you do before leaving a Marina or before your day or several days sailing cruise is to check weather forecast. The most important information is the forecast of both direction and strength of the wind. In most countries worldwide Coastguard station are tasked with broadcasting weather information. In many cases this is done on VHF radio on a regular basis through the day (3 or more times a day). That is why (especially in Croatia) if you are a skipper and you are chartering a boat, you need to have a VHF licence. In Croatia, a Maritime Safety Information (MSI) are transmitted in English and Croatian language from 3 coast radio stations by means of VHF system and from coast radio station Split Radio in English language by means of Nautex system. MSI information includes navigational warnings, weather reports, search and rescue reports and other urgent information about safety of navigation. Weather reports include warnings about gales, synoptic data and weather forecasts for mariners.
Here is the table on how to use weather forecast for sailing with explanation of wind:
Each forecast states how fast a system is moving, and the barometer’s rate of drop gives you an idea how hard you’ll be hit.
Among radio weather forecasts (which you will obviously use if your phone ran out of battery or you do not have available Internet access at the moment) there are many popular applications and websites these days for weather and wind prognoses. Some of the best nautical prognoses are:
Windguru (Website, IOS and Android apps)
Windyty (Website, IOS and Android apps)
Predict Wind (Website, IOS and Android apps)
Yachting Weather App (Apps for IOS and Android)
So, firstly check the forecast, see is there a front coming with a major change in wind and weather. Also read or listen forecasts over the past 24 hours to see how the forecast has changed to see is there a trend. If you are experienced in the area you are sailing, lean on your knowledge also in terms of how wind is likely to vary locally.
On the other hand, you must pay attention on things you will not hear in the forecast. There are always uncertainties over the open sea. Something unpredictable can happen even if you have experience, which is influenced by minor variations in the pressure pattern. There also can be local effects, sea breezes, headlands, straits, gusts and down draughts. You are probably not likely to find yourself in a storm on the sea, but it can happen. Perhaps it’s the temptation to sail on a marginal forecast to make sure you’re home for work on Monday. What is certain, is that you need to prepare yourself before every embarkation.