Advice From the Hammock No. 6

There are a range of weather conditions that determine whether it’s safe to get out on the water for paddling. Some of them are obvious, but some are less so or often overlooked. Below, I’ll outline the main weather factors we consider, starting with the most obvious ones and moving toward ones that are less known. Finally, I’ll talk about a few of the weather apps I check daily before paddling out.

 

Lightning

Nope. No paddling. Absolutely not. Most people know this intuitively, but it’s important to remember that lightning can strike many miles from a storm’s center. If you’re looking at the radar on your weather app, lighting is often associated with yellow or red sections. However, these really only show you the intensity of the rain; it’s possible to have lightning without seeing red or yellow, and it’s possible to see red or yellow and not have lightning. Your best bet is to check several forecasts, including the hourly, and keep an eye and ear to the sky. If it seems there’s a chance you might get caught in a storm, it’s best to not get on the water. If it’s less certain but still possible, plan your paddling so that you’re never far from land and always have a quick exit from the water if needed.

 

Rain

Totally okay to paddle in the rain. Magical even, sometimes. I’ve had many paddles where there was a gentle, or even heavy, rain falling, and the wind was so calm that the water was like glass except for where raindrops dimpled the water’s surface. So if it’s raining, we say, paddle anyway. It might remind you of playing in puddles as a kid, and what was more fun than that? Couple things to keep in mind though: Sometimes rain comes with lightning, and as we just discussed, that’s a no go. Also, because you’ll be getting continually wet and the sun will most likely be out, you’ll likely be a bit colder. Wearing a water resistant paddling top is a good idea for these times. Also, keep in mind a heavier rain can reduce visibility, making it harder for you to see, but more importantly, harder for boats to see you.

 

Fog

This is a tough one. Generally, it’s not a great idea to paddle in the fog. However, we’ve had some truly magical paddles in a dense fog where our world shrunk to a small radius of ocean around us. Best practice, unless you are a master navigator and have the appropriate instruments, is to either stay off the water during a heavy fog, or stay close enough where you can see land and recognize your location the whole time. Fog is incredibly disorienting, and unless you know exactly where you are, it’s easy to get turned around. You’d hate to think you were paddling toward home for an hour only to find that you were actually paddling out to sea! Also keep in mind, the density of fog can wax and wane over time. Just because you can see shore when you first start out doesn’t mean it will stay that way. If you do end up paddling in the fog, stay really, really close to shore (we often refer to it as “fin-scrapingly close”). Remember, just like with a heavy rain, if you can’t see boats, boats definitely can’t see you, so you need to be hyper aware when you’re out there.

 

Wind

Wind is the weather condition that affects us most while we’re paddling. (This is true in our area, on open ocean, but many not be true elsewhere). The wind, depending on its direction and strength, make paddling physically more difficult, make maneuvering problematic, and can cause choppy conditions. A full discussion of wind deserves its own post,  so for now I’ll just talk about wind speed.

Speed is usually measured in miles per hour (mph) or nautical miles per hour (kts). Wind speeds of 0-5 are generally easy and are nothing to be concerned about. 5-8 mph is considered a light wind, 8-12 is moderately difficult, and 12-15 starts to get hard. Anything over 15mph can be dangerous for a novice paddler, and should be avoided unless with an instructor or after significant experience.

 

Weather Apps

The best way to prepare for conditions before paddling is to check the forecast (or several forecasts). There are countless weather apps, but having one or two that give the important information that you are comfortable using is key. As it happens, as I was writing this piece, the weather app I relied most heavily on, Storm, was discontinued. I was a bit lost for a few days, but after experimenting with several, I’ve settled on AccuWeather for daily and hourly forecasts, including temperature, wind speed and direction, and precipitation. I supplement that with WindyTy, which overlays wind direction on a Google Map, allowing an easy, visual representation of how the wind will affect any planned route.

 

Things to Remember

Any time you enter the water, you should be aware of the conditions you’re entering into. (When you paddle with us, we either let you know the conditions before renting, or have an experienced guide or instructor with you so you don’t have to worry about them.) Keep in mind that conditions can change quickly, and forecasts are only best guesses at what the weather might do. Local variations and inherent unpredictability mean that any plans made based on the weather should err on the conservative side. If you’re paddling on your own and unsure of conditions, feel free to give us a call and we’ll give you our best read of the day’s weather! Stay safe, and Happy Paddling!

Aaron Mearns