Waterspouts at sea

Waterspouts are a natural wonder to look at, but when
fully-formed can be destructive to vessels.

Waterspouts look like a slender tornado but, only occur over water. They are caused by  cool, unstable air masses passing over the warmer waters causing up-draughts to form, which can tighten up into a spinning column. The cool, moist air usually supports a full condensation funnel.

They are occasionally seen near the coast in late summer and autumn.  Waterspouts can be dangerous for boaters and shoreline locations. They are not usually a threat farther inland as they collapse soon after moving onshore.

Though considered to be  generally non-destructive at sea, a waterspout has the potential for being destructive. Like a tornado, the most destructive aspect is its ability to carry anything that comes in its way with it. Sand particles, small floating structures, animals and sometimes even small boats may be carried along with a waterspout.

Avoid navigating through a waterspout

Avoid the temptation for a closer look. Try a course at right angles to its apparent direction of movement.

Look for the weather signs
Dark spots on the water, followed by rings or a sudden shift in wind can be warning signs of a developing waterspout. Look for the telltale signs in the line of flat bottom cumulus clouds or thunderstorms, or in the lines of thunderstorms that can develop any time of year.

If a waterspout is in close proximity and you are unable to avoid it, take down any sail, close any hatches and if possible stay below deck.

Find out more about weather for boaters from the Bureau of Meteorology.


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