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.
Planning to go boating for the summer holidays? Before obtaining a boat licence, buying a boat and perfecting your destination, take some time to review these safe boating guidelines:
- Book on a one day boat licence course delivered by an approved training provider using qualified maritime trainers. This will give you the best chance of gaining essential knowledge, rules and skills you need to keep your vessel, yourself, family and friends safe.
- Ensure you have the required in-date, safety equipment aboard your vessel. Know how to use it and where it is stowed.
- Check current weather conditions and be prepared for the elements – Wear appropriate clothing. (Don’t forget sunglasses, hat, sunscreen and provisions) Summer thunderstorms and severe wind gusts are common during the summer months.
- Boating at night is challenging – your vision is restricted and it’s more difficult to see whats happening around you. Ensure you have the correct navigation lighting and safety equipment on board if boating at night. Keep a good lookout and travel at a safe speed appropriate for the conditions.
- Day or night pay attention to your surroundings. Be aware of other vessels around you and comply with speed limits, safe distances, and local state rules. The waterways are busier during summer – reduce your speed and give yourself more time, planning the day accordingly.
- Five short, rapid blasts on your vessel’s horn means “danger – what are your intentions, stay clear.”
- Monitor VHF (Very High Frequency) 16 on your marine radio.
- Be prepared to move out of the way of larger vessels. They may not be able to see you, or, if operating in a narrow channel may be restricted by their ability to manoeuvre. Even if you have the right-of-way, you must yield to them.
- Consult your area charts – Look for chartered depths, hazards and restricted areas for your boating destination.
- Obtain up-to-date tide, wind and current information before heading out.
- Never get between a vessel and its tow – Tow cables/lines are often submerged and not visible.
- Listen out for float planes taking off and landing. There is a designated safety zone around moving aircraft. A Foward Safety Zone of 60 metres in front of a moving aircraft and a 30 metre Aft Safety Zone behind a moving aircraft.
- Boat respectfully – Keep wake and wash to a minimum to avoid damage to sensitive habitat, property or other vessels.
- Even though there is a valuable place at the helm of your vessel for much of the technology available, remember eyes and ears are still the most valuable tools you have. Safe boating practice means balancing the technology you have at your helm, with full awareness of the environment around you.
- Engage your crew and passengers by getting them to assist as lookouts. Maintaining a good lookout is a collective activity for all on board.
- Report incidents – If you are involved in a boating incident or, see anyone violating safe boating practices, contact your local State Maritime Authority or in an emergency, press VHF: Channel 16 on your marine radio or, phone 000.
- Be wary of the effects of drugs and alcohol when consumed on the water. Wind, water, sun and fresh air environment combine to intensify the effects which can affect balance, slow reaction abilities and impair judgement. Driving a boat under the influence of alcohol or drugs is an offence.
See Boating Rules and Safe Boating guidelines published on the National Maritime College website.
Go to the NSW Roads and Maritime website to view their “Safety on the Water” section.
No sailor, even without superstitious tendencies, would change the name of a boat without some trepidation of bad luck to follow.
Here are some precautions you can take: (no guarantees implied)
Remove all traces of the boats current name including name references on documents.
Write the old name of the boat in water soluble ink on a strip of wood.
Acquire two or more bottles of champagne and arrange for family and friends to attend your boat renaming ceremony.
Stand on the bow of you boat and address Poseidon as follows:
In Greek mythology Poseidon was the god of the sea, earthquakes and horses. Although he was officially one of the supreme gods of Mount Olympus, he spent most of his time in his ocean domain.
” Oh, great and glorious ruler of the deep, we humbly request that the boat’s name on this piece of wood be removed from your kingdom’s records. At this point, drop the piece of wood tied with a line attached to the wood into the sea and then pour at least a bottle of champagne over the bow as well”.
Now make a second appeal to Poseidon:
” Oh mighty and omnipotent lord of the seas, we beseech that you record the name of this vessel henceforth as……… At this point say the new name out loud and pour a second bottle of champagne over the bow.
Remember, the new name should not be visible on the boat until the renaming ceremony is complete. If the new name has already been painted on the transom, cover it up until the end of the proceedings.
Some might say this is a great waste of champagne. But, if it brings you good luck on your sea voyages it’s a small price to pay!
Have you had a naming ceremony for your boat? We’d love to hear about it!