BlogNovember 2017

4 Tips to Determine a Safe Wind Speed for Boating

4 Tips to Determine a Safe Wind Speed for Boating

By Tom Keer

Nov 03, 2017

Boaters always pay attention to choppy waves, but they should focus on the wind that forms them.  Anyone can dry off after a sloppy boat ride, but being safe on the water is more important.  Here's how to determine your wind speed and have a great day on the water.

No one believed me when I said "enjoy the hot fishing and great boating, we won't get out tomorrow due to bad weather."  Tomorrow came, it was blowing like stink, and we sat in the living room drinking coffee.  "How'd you know we'd get blown out?" a buddy asked.  "It was the wind shift," I said.  "When wind shifts in a clockwise direction then good weather is approaching.  But it moved counterclockwise yesterday, and that means foul weather was due."  Knowing what constitutes a safe wind speed for boating is important, so here are 4 tips to add to your boat safety routine.

  1. Know the wind classifications so you can determine how much wind is too much for boating. Light wind: 1-15MPH
    Moderate wind: 16-25 MPH
    Heavy wind: 26-38 MPH
    Gale winds: 39-54 MPH
    Storm winds: 55-73 MPH
  2. Match the WX boating forecast to your vessel.  Flat-bottomed boats are good in light winds, but odds are they'll pound in a moderate wind.  Modified and Deep Vee hulls cut though the waves in stiff winds while boats without liners are light weight and can bounce around.  Strong winds make for difficult boat handling, and that raises the issue of boat safety.  Pick your days carefully.
  3. Get ahead of the forecast.  Boating wind speeds can be monitored with electronics, but here are some traditional methods that work. •    Put the wind at your back and point to the left to find the storm center's position.  Chart a new course around the heavy weather.
    •    Low clouds that are dense and dark indicate foul weather.
    •    White, wispy clouds indicate safe boating wind speeds and good conditions.
    •    When winds double in speed the waves quadruple in strength.  Conditions deteriorate quickly.
    •    Look up with the wind at your back.  If high clouds move left to right you'll get bad weather.  If they move right to left the conditions will improve.  Clouds moving towards or away from you keeps the patterns the same.
  4. Time on the water.  Knowing how much wind is too much wind for boating comes with experience.  I always look at the American flag flying on the pole near my boat ramp at home.  When Old Glory flies perpendicular to the pole I know it's rough on the water.  A safe wind speed for boating is when she's at any position below the right angle.

If we waited for perfect weather then we wouldn't spend much time on the water.  Check these simply, yet useful boating checklist before you hit the water! Keep an eye on the weather so you know how to boat safely.

Tom Keer
Tom Keer
Tom Keer is an award-winning writer who lives on Cape Cod, Massachusetts.  He is a columnist for the Upland Almanac, a Contributing Writer for Covey Rise magazine, a Contributing Editor for both Fly Rod and Reel and Fly Fish America, and a blogger for the Recreational Boating and Fishing Foundation’s Take Me Fishing program.  Keer writes regularly for over a dozen outdoor magazines on topics related to fishing, hunting, boating, and other outdoor pursuits.  When they are not fishing, Keer and his family hunt upland birds over their three English setters.  His first book, a Fly Fishers Guide to the New England Coast was released in January 2011.  Visit him at or at