17 December 2021

How to keep your boat safe in a winter storm

By Paul Knox-Johnston Sales & Marketing Manager (Marine)
HKJ Guides & Tips Storm Image

In recent weeks as 2021 draws to a close the UK has been hit by two early winter storms.  Storm Barra and Arwen both swung in from the Atlantic causing huge damage.  Storm Arwen was particularly pesky for its unusual northerly wind direction.  As sailors, we all know the prevailing wind direction in the UK is westerly and according to the Met Office, this is also true for the majority of Atlantic storms.

Storm Arwen saw wind gusts of 85Kt in Northumberland and 102Kt in the Grampians.  Storm Barra, categorised as a weather bomb, saw 35ft waves and gusts of 84kt at the Fastnet Lighthouse.

There is no one cause of a specific weather event, it is all very complex, but it is widely accepted that ever warming oceans provide increased energy to power damaging storms.   As such we are probably going to have to get used to more storms and in turn making sure our boats are as safe and sound in their berths as possible in advance of each one blowing in.

We spoke to Colin Stracey, Principal at Premier Sailing on the UK East Coast about his advice on protecting your yacht in a storm.  Colin has been sailing since he was ten, trained in the Merchant Navy and sailed as an Engineer Officer with British and Commonwealth. As a Yachtmaster Instructor Colin has a huge amount of experience and knows a thing or two about storms.

Here are his top storm preparation tips…


Make sure they are all stowed correctly and not able to come loose.

If you have a furling genoa don’t rely on the furling line turned round a self-tailing winch staying in place. Always tie it off so it cannot come loose.  Check that the furling line isn’t chaffing anywhere and like the winch, don’t rely on a clutch or jammer always tie the furling line off on a cleat or strongpoint.

“In 2015 the genoa on the boat next to us rolled out in a storm, the backstay gave way and the mast came down and went through the pontoon.”

The other thing to remember with a genoa is that if it is not rolled up reasonably tightly then it can billow out halfway up the forestay putting huge pressure on the rigging and ripping itself to pieces.  You must tie the sheets so the sail cannot billow out.  It is good practice to tie a sail tie or rope round the sail (through the clew).

Mooring lines and fenders

We often find people will put extra ropes onto their boats but to the same few cleats.  Most cleats only have an M10 bolt and it is not unheard of for cleats in marina berths to move.  Think of the extra stress caused by the forces of the storm.

If possible, spread the load by putting ropes to other cleats and if your boat has potential to be blown onto a pontoon, there is absolutely no harm in putting ropes to the windward pontoon cleats to keep the boat clear.

“One vessel in our marina heeled so much during storm Arwen that the fenders went below the pontoon leaving the hull and pontoon to rub each other up the wrong way!”  

Make sure your fenders are well positioned and long enough to not ride up or down as the vessel heels.  It is also good practice to put fenders out both sides in case another boat owner has not been quite as forward thinking as you.

Cockpit Drains

This sounds daft but do make sure the cockpit drains are clear prior to bad weather.

“In 2017 I witnessed a centre cockpit yacht with a cockpit enclosure nearly sink after heavy snow fell from the spreaders and demolished the cockpit tent. Melted snow, ice and the subsequent rain then filled the cockpit and found its way into the boat because the owners had closed the cockpit drains.”

Swinging moorings and trots

On a swinging mooring or trot I would suggest extra lines to the buoys and perhaps rigged almost like a bridle to spread the load around the cleats.

“A local RNLI crewman suggested to us some years ago that we take lines to a winch as winches can take more of a shock load than a cleat.”  

In areas where there is a lot of swell it may be useful to wrap the lines or put a piece of plastic hose round them where they come over the gunwhale and through the fairlead, so they cannot chafe.  We have a couple of pieces of plastic pipe sliced lengthways and with a bit of twine attached so we can slip it over the mooring warp and secure it in place.

On a swinging mooring the tiller should be lashed to one side.  Don’t rely on a clove hitch though – they can come undone when bounced around.  A round turn and two half hitches will not come undone but can still be undone under load.  In fact, fenders are best secured with a round turn and two half hitches for the same reason.

Spending time walking around your boat, thinking about the vulnerable areas and double checking everything is secure can make the difference between needing to make a claim or not after a storm.  However, you can only do your best and the unexpected will always happen.  If the worst does occur, our crew are always here to help you get everything ship shaped again.

Check out our Storm Preparation Webinar

Storms and boating don’t make the best combination. If a storm is forecast, it’s time to get to work! But, what should you be doing?

Watch our recent live webinar from Monday 31st January where our expert panel, Colin Stracey, RYA Yachtmaster Instructor and owner of Premier Sailing and Karl Davis (our very own Claims Manager), discuss how to plan for the worst, the best steps to take to minimise risks and what to do if you find things have gone awry, alongside the most common types of claims made following storms.

If you would like more information on the courses or sailing opportunities which Premier Sailing offer, please follow the links to read the brochures on “sailing courses offered”, “Capitals Race” and “Sail Round Britain”.  Alternatively, visit their website to find out more: www.premiersailing.co.uk.

About Colin Stracey

Colin started sailing aged 10 with 3rd Chalkwell Bay Sea Scouts and has continued to sail throughout his working life. “I am forever indebted to the Scout Troop for giving me the skills and encouragement to sail.” After a career in the Merchant Navy with Union Castle Line, Colin retrained and worked in industry and the third sector, notably with the National Trust where he looked after commercial activities including Steam Yacht Gondola, and with CREATE Tottenham where he worked with disadvantaged young people.