How Can I Protect My Vessels and Personnel From Surprise/Freak Weather Events?

Imagine a violent, angry sea, the sky has darkened to near black, the wind has picked up speed to well over 100 knots (115 mph), waves up to 15 meters high are crashing around you, and intense rainfall has reduced visibility to nearly zero. This scenario is a frightening reality for any ship captain. 

In fact, in October 2021, a lift boat experienced a microburst of severe weather and capsized several miles south of Port Fourchon, Louisiana with 19 crewmen on board. Six men were rescued that day. However, despite the Coast Guard’s best efforts, six lost their lives, and seven men are still missing to this day. A “wake low” weather pattern caused 70 to 80 mph winds and the resulting rough seas dealt a death blow to the craft. 

This is not the only ship to suffer devastating losses, and it is no wonder that captains put a lot of importance on vessel protection. Can you properly prepare yourself and your crew? 

To steer clear of hurricanes and other tropical storms, get ahead of the weather with DTN Severe & Tropical Weather Suite. Protect your vessels and personnel using this 24/7 global monitoring system. It includes a seven-day forecast summary twice a day regarding active tropical systems; as well as development potential, movements, and defined tracks for tropical waves. 

This proactive consultation can save not only your cargo, but more importantly, the precious lives of the men and women aboard your ship.

Strong waves in tropical storm

What dangers do tropical storms present?

Scientists tell us that rising temperatures globally are leading to more severe weather, including heavier rainfall. Ocean temperatures are also rising, and this is fuel for tropical storms, presenting a real danger for ships. 

Severe weather can impact every link in a supply chain. From your loading port to your final destination, weather conditions will impact each step of the process. At the loading port, heavy winds can prevent loading cranes from operating; therefore, cargo will need to be stored at the facility until the storm calms. This causes a delay to customer delivery times. 

Once the winds have calmed enough to safely load your cargo, you can begin your trip to your destination port. However, this doesn’t mean the dangers have passed. 

A tropical storm can cause such high-speed winds that you’re no longer able to maneuver safely once at sea. You will need to dedicate all your efforts to just keeping your ship from losing any cargo or, worse, capsizing and losing the lives of your crew. 

With DTN Severe & Tropical Weather Suite, you would be able to plan ahead to avoid the storm’s predicted path. These plans would allow having enough fuel to traverse a different route or prevent the need to cancel the trip and return to safety, which would cause even further delays.

At times, there is no other option but to navigate the storm. A ship’s survival will depend on two things, sea room and steering-way. 

Sea room means a ship is a safe distance from any potential hazards, such as the coastline, or if on a popular shipping route, other vessels. While being close to a shoreline may seem appealing to any crew hoping to abandon ship and head to safety, if the time comes for such action, a storm can actually drive the ship onto the land and cause a devastating shipwreck. 

Steering-way is when a ship is able to gain enough momentum to keep it moving forward with enough power to enable it to steer effectively. The alternative is being at the mercy of the tumultuous waves and wind. If the ship’s bow isn’t pointed forward, plowing into the wave itself, the wave can strike the side of the ship with such massive force that it will capsize and sink. 

Extreme winds and waves aren’t the only freak weather patterns for a captain to fear. Freezing ocean spray creates ice accretion, which forms on the ship masts and the superstructure of the vessel itself, destabilizing the ship and eventually capsizing it.

In October of 2019, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) and International Maritime Organization (IMO) held the first International Symposium on “Extreme Maritime Weather: Towards Safety of Life at Sea and a Sustainable Blue Economy.” 

According to the event info on the WMO website, this event was attended by over 200 participants from over 40 different countries. Topics explored were how to improve the value chain from the collection of marine weather and ocean observations through to forecasting and the dissemination of marine forecasts and service to users and stakeholders. 

Ship in rough waters

What preventative actions can be taken to ensure sufficient vessel protection?

So, what can you do with your vessel in order to ensure a safe passage for all cargo and personnel onboard? Here are some practical tips:

  • Keep up to date on all available weather warnings and tropical storm patterns.
  • Be sure all crew members follow cargo security manuals when loading the cargo.
  • Employ captains who are:
    • fully trained on navigating turbulent weather,
    • completely capable of making proper speed changes and course corrections, and
    • can do so without unnecessarily endangering the lives of the crew and the safety of the cargo.
  • Always maintain the excellent condition of:
    • the entire ship,
    • the lashing equipment,
    • the water-tight seals of hatch covers and shipping containers, and
    • any emergency equipment such as life jackets and lifeboats. 
  • Plan out potential alternate routes, ensure you have enough fuel aboard for any course changes and be aware of possible safe ports along the planned route where you can take shelter, if necessary.
  • Properly train crewmembers how to act in the event that damage cannot be avoided, including emergency medical procedures. 

Shipping crew looking at cargo ship

Use the tools available for you to plan ahead effectively

Of course, severe weather can be unpredictable. But for the best results, accurate weather forecasting and planning is critical. 

With DTN Severe & Tropical Weather Suite, you receive the following features and benefits:

  • Set your preferences and select criteria to receive 24/7 global location monitoring, severe weather alerts, and additional consultation when warranted. 
  • Enhance safety by making informed decisions and avoiding environmental disasters. 
  • Minimize costs and limit downtime caused by adverse weather conditions.
  • Have complete, 24/7 access to an expert team of meteorologists to provide you with current information to maintain safe, efficient operations no matter the situation.

Learn more about the information, products, and services available to you.