Can Yachts Survive Hurricanes & Rough Weather? (Explained)

Some yachts are built to withstand rough weather and high seas.  However, no yacht is designed to withstand hurricanes.  They may survive them while out at sea, but they aren’t intended to do so.

Other yachts aren’t built to withstand rough waters or strong storms at all.

In this post, I’ll answer these questions in detail so that you’ll know what kind of yacht you need to buy to survive in rough weather:

The Hull Plays A Vital Role

A boat hull is either designed as a displacement hull or a planning hull:

  • Displacement hulls move within the water.
  • Planing hulls ride on top of the water.

An example of a planning hull can be found on Jon boats and airboats:

To survive in rough water, you’ll need to be in a boat with a displacement hull.

This is where the boat lays lower in the water, and the hull displaces the water.

However, not all displacement hulls are equal.

Some displacement hulls have deep V shapes or deep keels, while others do not.

The deeper the V or the keel, the more likely it is that the boat can withstand choppy water.

This is why you’ll notice category A yachts will often have deeper hulls than category D yachts.  For more information on yacht categories, take a look at the post titled, “Can Yachts Cross The Pacific and Atlantic Oceans.”

The hull’s shape isn’t the only thing to consider when assessing a yacht’s ability to survive in rough weather.  A hull needs to be built solidly enough to withstand the constant pounding of the sea.

On top of this, it might be important that the hull be strong enough to take impacts with other objects while on the water.  A yacht might not be out to sea when experiencing rough weather, so it’s important that its hull can take hits from debris and shallow areas without falling apart.

The Rudder

A rudder is the part of the boat that determines which way the boat will go.

This simple structure is located just past the propeller at the back of the boat.

In addition to steering, a rudder can also be used to help slow a boat down or to keep it from rolling under certain conditions. 

Being able to steer and being able to slow down is important in fair weather, and it is especially important during rough weather when a boat can be pushed into dangerous obstacles more easily.

A yacht owner will want to make sure that their rudder is in good condition before heading out into bad weather.  This can be done by making sure it does not have any corrosion, cracks, or pits in it.

Neglect to do this and the strong currents that rough weather often brings can destroy the rudder and leave the yacht owner with the inability to steer.

The Sails Must Be In Good Shape

New composite membrane sails will stay stiffer than Dacron sails, which leads to less heel.

This is useful for racing and cruising, and it’s especially useful during rough weather when the sailor needs every advantage he can get.

The material of the sail is just a part of what makes a sail good in rough weather.

Regardless of what sails you have on your sailing yacht, they’ll need to be in good condition.  This needs to be checked all of the time so that the sails are ready for rough weather when it comes.

Proper cleaning and storage of the sail are what will keep the sails in good condition for when they are needed.

This can be done by rinsing the salt water off of the sails with freshwater, letting the sails dry out before storage, and properly flaking the sails as recommended by the sail loft.

The Fuel Tanks Must Be Big

Rough weather can tax a motor boat’s engine.  This is because the winds pick up and the currents become stronger.

The engine then begins to burn fuel at a much faster rate than it does in fair weather.

For this reason, a motor yacht with a larger fuel tank might be needed to travel through rough weather.  Additionally, many yacht owners deal with hurricanes by navigating out of the path of the hurricane.

A larger fuel tank will help the yacht owner put more distance between themselves and the hurricane.

The Bilge Pumps Is Important

A bilge pump works to remove water from the boat.

During stormy weather, water will move into the boat much more quickly than it does under normal conditions.

For starters, a rainstorm can drop several inches of rain onto a yacht, creating over 700 gallons of water over a 50 feet boat.  Fortunately, most of this water flows overboard.

On top of this, rough winds can send seawater into the boat in much greater quantities than normal.  All of this excess water will lead to the bilge pumps having to work harder than usual.  If the bilge pumps go down, the boat could end up filling up with too much water.

This will slow the boat down, make it harder to steer, and in extreme cases, could even lead to the boat sinking.

The Lights Must Work Properly

Rough weather can bring dark storm clouds with it.

In this case, you may need your lights to help you navigate through the water and safely past other boaters.

You’ll need the proper red, green, and white lights on your yacht in order to safely and legally operate your boat under dark and cloudy skies.  The red light will need to be on your port side, the green light will need to be on your starboard side, and your light will need to be at the stern.

For a more in-depth look at light navigation rules, see our post titled, “Boat Navigation Light Rules in Plain English.”

Concerns About The Radio

Your boat’s radio could end up saving your life.

While it’s important to try to ensure that your yacht can handle any weather you expose it to, this might not always be the case.  In this case, you may need to be rescued.  A good radio will give you the ability to call out for help when you need it.

A good radio may also give you the ability to help others in need.

Just because your yacht can handle rough weather doesn’t mean everyone else’s can.  Wouldn’t it be nice to know that you could help someone else out if they needed it?

NOAA radios are also important as they will tell the yacht owner what the weather is doing at any given time.  The weather can move quickly, and an NOAA radio will help to increase the amount of notice you get before encountering foul weather.  We’ll go into this in more detail in the next section.

The Weather Reports

The marine forecast is of vital importance to all boaters, especially yacht owners attempting to survive rough weather and hurricanes.

Luckily, the NOAA National Weather Service provides these forecasts free of charge.

Weather reports can warn yacht owners of impending storms and hurricanes so that they can be avoided.  They can also let yacht owners know what the winds and currents will look like.  In addition to the radio forecasts, today the forecasts are available graphically over the internet.

This can help yacht owners determine whether or not they should take their boat out and how much additional fuel they might need when they do.

Remember, stronger winds and currents could mean more fuel or less fuel depending on whether or not the yacht owner will be working with the winds and currents or against them.

Here are the NOAA weather radio frequencies:

  • 162.400 MHz   (WX2)
  • 162.425 MHz   (WX4)
  • 162.450 MHz   (WX5)
  • 162.475 MHz   (WX3)
  • 162.500 MHz   (WX6)
  • 162.525 MHz   (WX7)
  • 162.550 MHz   (WX1)

These frequencies provide coverage up to 25 miles offshore.

The Boat’s Top Speed Is Important

The best way for a yacht to survive a hurricane is to move away from it before it hits.

A hurricane can travel at speeds of up to 10 to 35 miles an hour.  This is between 8 and 30 knots.

As long as your yacht can travel at this speed, you should be able to outrun it.  This is especially true if you’ve been watching the weather reports, as you’ll have plenty of time to get a head start on the hurricane.

Storms can also be fast-moving, but they’ll typically move at an even slower forward speed than a hurricane.  A thunderstorm may only move at about a speed of 20 miles per hour.

In this case, you’d need a boat that could surpass about 18 knots.

Of course, this is only if the hurricane is right next to your boat.

With a day or two of warning, the average 10-knot speed of a cruising yacht should be enough to allow the yacht to get out of the way of the storm’s path.

The Boat’s Weight

Heavier boats sit deeper in the water and provide more balance.

This is true whether you’re operating a sailing yacht or a power yacht.

The reason for this is that heavier boats have more mass.

When two objects collide, such as a boat and a wave, the one with higher mass isn’t affected as much.

The heavier your boat, the less it will be affected by larger waves.  This is the major reason why larger boats do better in rough weather.

The Boat’s Condition

Your boat should be in good condition and ready for rough weather at any time.

This can be done through regular boat inspections and by adhering to the regular maintenance schedule.

A yacht owner should inspect their boat before any trip they make out onto the water.

In fact, all boat owners should be checking their boats regularly, even if they never intend to leave the docks.  This is because you never know when you may have to drive your boat out of the path of a large storm or hurricane.

Some items to check are the engines, the sails, the fuel tanks, the bilge pumps, the propellers, and the rudders.  You’ll also want to check the lights, the hardware, and even the hull, the deck, and the sides of the boat.

The steering components should be checked regularly as well.  Cables, rudders, and keels all need to be in good working order, or you may not be able to leave when you need to.

The Yacht’s Crew

Without a doubt, the crew of the boat is the most critical factor when determining whether or not a yacht can survive bad weather, thunderstorms, and hurricanes.

A crew should be well-trained, diligent, and experienced.

The crew should also be dedicated, mentally and emotionally healthy, and unlikely to develop seasickness in rough seas.  This is because even the best trained and experienced crew isn’t going to do you any good if they don’t show up, can’t handle stress, or get too sick to help manage the boat during a storm.

Ideally, you’ll know how to operate your own yacht so that you can help get you, your boat, and the rest of the crew to safety in an emergency situation like rough weather.

Even if you have a full-time crew, you should practice with your boat regularly so that your skills remain sharp.

Boat Usability and User Fatigue

As far as a boat’s construction goes, many experts believe that the most crucial component that determines whether or not a boat can survive rough weather is the boat’s actual usability.

This is because a boat with poor usability can cause user fatigue much more quickly than a boat built with user ergonomics in mind.

At the end of the day, the crew needs to be of sound mind and body to successfully navigate their way through a storm or hurricane. 

They won’t be able to do this if they are too tired– or injured.

Here are 6 areas to consider when looking at a boat’s ergonomics:

  1. Handrails
  2. Foot Bracing Positions
  3. Seating
  4. Bunk Sizes and Placements
  5. Galley Ergonomics
  6. Head Ergonomics

1) Handrails

Handrails need to be placed throughout the boat so that the crew can access them any time the boat heels or moves with the wind or water.

This is especially important during rough weather as the boat will be moving much more erratically than normal.  Failure to have access to handrails can lead to injuries, and people have even gone overboard in situations like these.

2) Foot Braces

Foot bracing positions need to be placed on sailing yachts.

A good foot brace will help sailors brace themselves while heeling and will drastically reduce the amount of fatigue they’ll experience while dealing with the high winds that rough weather always brings.

3) Seating

The seating in the boat also needs to be conducive to steering.

An autopilot system can go down, and it’s important that the people driving the boat have a comfortable and well-thought-out seat so that they can navigate without getting tired.

4) Bunk Sizes and Placements

Even the bunks of the yacht matter during a storm.

Bunks for the crew should be at least 30 inches wide so that the crew can comfortably sleep in them.  They also need to be positioned so that the crew does not fall out of them when the boat makes violent movements.

Fail to do this, and your crew will not get enough sleep to function properly when you need them the most.

5) The Location

The boat’s location will also determine whether or not it can handle rough weather.

For example, being too close to shore can often be fatal during a storm.

This is because a boat can be pushed into shallow water where they’re likely to experience steep breaking waves and suffer hull breaches and broken keels.

This is why some yacht owners head out to sea during bad weather to ride out the storm.

6) The Port

A yacht doesn’t always have to be manned or even operational for it to be destroyed during hurricanes and other forms of bad weather.

Some ports can shelter a yacht while others cannot.  Before leaving your boat at the port during a bad storm, you may want to check to see if the port is likely to survive the storm.

If the port is unlikely to survive, you’ll have to decide whether or not there is time to move it to a different port.  If you don’t have time to safely move the boat, just leave it and make sure your insurance is up to date.

You can replace a boat, but you can never replace the lives of you and your crew.

Final Thoughts

Yachts can and do survive rough weather like tropical storms and hurricanes.

However, this doesn’t mean you should tempt fate by going out on the water during these events.

Whenever possible, it is always best to help you, your yacht, and your crew to survive bad weather by avoiding it in the first place.  Sailing away from the storm or entering a sheltered port is usually the best course of action.

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