National Weather Service United States Department of Commerce

Weather can make your time on the water wonderful or deadly. It is vital to know how to respond to fog, thunderstorms, rapid wind shifts and other dangerous weather.



Thunderstorms can be a mariner's worst nightmare. They can develop quickly and create dangerous wind and wave conditions. Thunderstorms can bring shifting and gusty winds, lightning, waterspouts, and torrential downpours, which can turn a day's pleasure into a nightmare of distress.

There are no specific warnings or advisories for lightning but all thunderstorms produce lightning. A lightning strike to a vessel can be catastrophic, especially if it results in a fire or loss of electronics. If your boat has a cabin, stay inside and avoid touching metal or electrical devices. If your boat doesn't have a cabin, stay as low as you can in the boat.

Boaters should use extra caution when thunderstorm conditions exist and have a plan of escape. Mariners are especially vulnerable as because you may be unable to reach port quickly. Do not venture out if thunderstorms are a possibility. If you do venture out and recognize thunderstorms nearby, head to port or safe shelter as quickly as possible. Ultimately, boating safety begins ashore with planning and training. Keep in mind that thunderstorms are usually brief so waiting it out is better than riding it out.

+Rapid Wind Shifts

A sudden change in wind speed and/or direction will have a significant impact on boaters. Wind speed and direction are the primary forces creating waves. When are rapid changes in wind speed and direction most likely?

  • Sudden changes in wind speed and direction often occur near thunderstorms and fast moving rain/snow showers.
  • Wind shifts in direction and speed usually occur near cold fronts and warm fronts.