Sailing In A Storm: The Do’s And Dont’s In Storm Sailing


Irrespective of whether you are just getting started with sailing or you have been wearing sailing shorts and pants for a while now, storms could be your biggest fear every time you rig your sailboat. This is understandable considering that high waves and strong winds could wreak havoc on both the sailor and the sailboat. In this article, you will get to learn about the main storm sailing tactics you can use to stay safe.

Tactics for Sailing in Storm

Even before we show you the storm sailing tactics you need to know; you must understand your sailboat is infinitely stronger than you. For this reason, your main priority should be protecting yourself when you figure out that a storm is headed your way.

Be sure to use the safety gear, including PFD and harness. The sailboat motion will become more severe once you are in the storm conditions. Taking action early will help you prevent seasickness and injuries. After ensuring that you are safe, you can use the following storm sailing tactics to make sailing in storm easier.

Stay Away from the Shallows

When storms begin, the first thing you will probably think of is dropping your sails, starting the motor (if your sailboat has one), and heading for the land. This should be the safest option if it is possible to reach the harbor and dock the sailboat.

It is, however, worth noting that waves and heavy winds are capable of turning the shallows and narrow channels into more dangerous zones than even the open waters. Waves generally become steeper and have a high likelihood of breaking in the shallow areas. Even if you are experienced behind the boat steering wheel, you may find controlling the sailboat difficult.

Your engine could end up dying the moment you need it the most. The wind could blow you rapidly onto the rocks and the other obstructions which exist close to the shallows.

If the wind is blowing to the shore, anchoring the sailboat is not a good idea either. If the sailing anchor drags, the sailboat may end up going aground. Trying to reset in the storm conditions is not just difficult, it can dangerous. What this tells you is that staying out in the waters and using the storm sailing techniques in this article is a much safer option.


As soon as you notice that the storm is headed your way, you should start reefing the sails. You wouldn’t want a lot of sail to be up when the strong winds hit. If the sails are still up, the strong winds could cause the boat to capsize.

It is much easier to furl the jib or reef the mainsail while the wind is still manageable. When the boat is being tossed around or being heeled strongly by the wind, leaving your cockpit may not be a good idea.

You must monitor the wind at all times. Pay attention and be sure to start reefing as early as possible. If you cannot read the winds, you should consider investing in an inexpensive handheld wind meter.

Consider Investing in Storm Sails


Voyagers who head offshore after wearing their sailing gloves typically have special sails which they use in the high winds. You can only furl or reef the regular sails so far and still have the ability to maintain a shape that offers efficiency. The regular sail fabric is usually too light for the storm winds.

A storm jib with/without the trysail replacing the mainsail will make sailing in a storm much easier for you. The sail will make it possible for you to continue sailing in a storm in a course that reduces the effects of the waves.

Lying Ahull

This refers to simply dropping the sails and then allowing the sailboat to fare for itself. This strategy may not be ideal in all situations. It will only work in limited situations when the waves are not too huge and the boat is far enough from the shore or shipping channels so that you won’t have to be concerned about how far the sailboat drifts downwind. In some instances, you may have to lie ahull after being exhausted or to attend to an injury.

If you are currently dealing with large and breaking waves, there is a high likelihood of the boat capsizing. This is because your sailboat will lie broadside to the breaking waves.

If you intend to use an open sailboat after putting on your sailing boots, you must avoid lying ahull at all costs. If the sailboat is open, there is the likelihood of the sailboat filling with water too quickly. While a sailboat featuring a closed cabin is supposed to bob back up, lying ahull is never a very good idea when you are in a serious storm.

Consider Investing in a Sea Anchor

If you head offshore every time you wear your sailing jacket, you should consider investing in a sea anchor. This can be compared to a parachute that you deploy under the water. It keeps the bow pointed into the waves and wind. Breaking the waves at this angle causes much less damage when compared to breaking the waves from any other angle.

Sea anchors are generally expensive. Also, you will need the skills and time to deploy it. Investing your time into learning and understanding how to use the sea anchor is worth it.

You should use the sea anchor in a serious storm that can last for some time. Using it for a thunderstorm or a passing squall may not be worth the time and effort.

Heaving To

This storm sailing technique is preferred by a large number of sailors. The sailboat is usually turned close to the wind, the partly furled jib (you can hoist a smaller jib) is backwinded, the helm gets locked into position. The boat simply jogs and does not turn broadside to the waves.

Understanding how to heave is crucial. You must practice the skill on your sailboat until you get right. This will ensure that you do not end up having issues the moment you decide heaving-to is the best option when storm sailing.

The main advantage of heaving to is that you do not have to remain on the helm. If it is safe to go below, you can go. Your sailboat will remain pointed close to the wind. Chances of the sailboat being rolled over by the breaking waves reduce.

As the hull slides down, its motion produces a slick in the water. This reduces the chances of the wave breaking on the sailboat.

One of the most conservative storms sailing tactics is heaving to using the sea anchor. You will just need to adjust the anchor off to one side to ensure that the bow is pointing closer to the wind than it would if you were heaving to without the sea anchor. The boat will still drift back to make a slick.

Running Off Downwind

This storm sailing tactic is common among accomplished sailors. If you just purchased your sailing bag and this is your first sailing trip, the storm sailing tactic may not be very easy for you.

You will need to reduce the sail as necessary. In the true storm-force wind, you should have the ability to keep sailing downwind under the bare poles without a sail.

As the wind increases, the greatest danger will be going too fast. This can happen even without a sail. If the boat is moving too fast, it could end up coming down a huge wave and burying its bow in the wave in front of it.

This could cause the sailboat to capsize or pitchpole end over end. To make sure that the boat does not move too fast, sailors often trail heavy and long lines of the sailboat stern. Nowadays, it is possible to find a special drogue that you can use to control the speed of the boat.

Alternative Storm Strategy: Avoid Sailing in Storm

If you determine that the conditions may end up worsening while you are still at home, postponing your sailing trip may be the best option. This will help you avoid all the dangers which come with being in the middle of the ocean when the storm is approaching fast. After the storm has passed and you are sure that the conditions will be okay, you can grab your sailing hat and embark on your trip.

Globo Surf Overview

While we have shown you the tactics you should use when sailing in a storm, it is up to you to make sure that you are familiar with the tactics the next time you decide to go sailing. What this means is that you have to put the storm sailing tactics you have just learned into practice.

Remember, knowing the theory is pretty different from knowing how to do what the theory tells you to do. Be sure to take your time to learn how to reef, heave to, lay ahull, and run off downwind before you have to deal with the storm.

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My name is David Hamburg. I am an avid water sports fan who enjoys paddle boarding, surfing, scuba diving, and kite surfing. Anything with a board or chance I can get in the water I love! I am such a big fan I decided to start this website to review all my favorite products and some others. Hope you enjoy!