Water spouts can occur over most waters where people regularly cruise. They can be extremely dangerous. Here are a few of the things that you can do to improve your chances of not getting hurt.
1. Understand that water spouts may occur even in “nice” weather.
2. If a cool high pressure system (usually behind a cold front) has recently moved over warm water, spouts may develop from a few innocent looking clouds even though the day is crisp and clear.
3. Unsettled weather or “bad” weather increases the chances of a water spout.
4. If the bottom border of a dark cloud appears sharply ragged, with wisps of cloud trailing down, pay close attention.
5. Usually a visible water spout begins from the clouds and descends downward toward the water, although sometimes its visible manifestation may appear at the surface of the water first.
6. If you see a wisp extending from a cloud, it may be no more than that. But watch it. If it appears to lengthen, become more solid, and/or undulate, you may be seeing the birth of a waterspout.
7. If you see a waterspout tail extending from a cloud, don’t assume it will continue more or less straight down to connect up with the water below it. They often die before reaching earth. Also, sometimes they descend diagonally, to connect with the water quite far from the spot where they first come out of the cloud.
8. Usually you will see mist and then spray over the water where the tail is attempting to connect. The water surface area involved may be quite small initially. Sometimes this will be the first indication of a water spout. Always pay attention to the water around you, even on pretty days.
9. In the dark or rain you will probably never see the spout, and in bad conditions you should always assume this possibility.
10. Frequently, if you can determine the direction in which a water spout is moving, you will have a good chance of moving away from it by traveling away at right angles to its path.
11. Usually the water spout will quickly dissipate when it moves over land.
12. Most water spouts are small and survivable if you are in a well found boat and exercise good seamanship. Many are large and quite dangerous. All should be avoided.
13. The less windage you present and the less “stuff” you have on deck, the better.
14. If you think you’re going to get hit, stay below and, particularly in a small boat, keep the center of gravity low.
15. Obviously, anytime you are in circumstances where you see or suspect a waterspout, you should wear a Type I PFD, preferably with strobe, a whistle, and an EPIRB.
16. Whenever you see a maturing water spout, it’s a good idea to call on the VHF, announce its location and direction of travel (if discernable) and your location, size and type and the number of people aboard.
Copyright 2004-2010 Tom Neale