How Much Wind Is Too Windy For Boating? (Tips To Manage)

When it comes to sailing in high winds, the wind is not necessarily the biggest factor. There are three things you must consider when sailing in high winds, the wind, the boat, and the captain.

How much wind is too much, depends on the boat and the captain. The size of the boat will be a big factor in strong winds. If the boat is too small it will be capsized fairly easily. The captain of the boat and their skill set will also help manage the high wind speeds. The better skilled the captain the more wind the boat can handle.

If I had to pick a number for myself it would be 25 knots of wind.

If you have a big boat and are a veteran captain, you could sail in 30 – 40 knots of wind with no problem. If the boat was 22 feet and it was the captain’s first day, I would recommend nothing over 10 knots of wind. So if you are wondering if it is too windy to sail, think about the boat, the captain, and the wind before you make a decision to shove off.

This article is going to discuss wind and how knots compare to miles per hour and a bunch of tips on how to handle the wind better and more safely.

Why Do Boats Use Knots Instead Of MPH?

Boaters use knots instead of MPH because it is more accurate to the earth’s surface. The term knot is equal to one nautical mile, which equals 1.15 miles on land. The nautical mile is based on the Earth’s longitude and latitude coordinates, with one nautical mile equaling one minute of latitude.

The use of longitude and latitude will help with boat navigation when you start factoring in the curvature of the surface of the earth.

Knots are used to measure the speed of the boat, which makes each knot equal to 1.15 miles per hour on land. Most experienced sailors will always refer to the speed of the boat in knots. If you were going 15 knots then you would be going 17.26 mph if you were in a car on land. Check out the basic conversion formula below:

Knots to MPH

Take the number of knots times 1.15077945

K * 1.15077945 = MPH

If you are looking for a quick conversion see some examples in the table below.

KnotsMiles Per Hour
1 kn1.1508 mph
2 kn2.3016 mph
3 kn3.4523 mph
4 kn4.6031 mph
5 kn5.7539 mph
6 kn6.9047 mph
7 kn8.0555 mph
8 kn9.2062 mph
9 kn10.36 mph
10 kn11.51 mph
11 kn12.66 mph
12 kn13.81 mph
13 kn14.96 mph
14 kn16.11 mph
15 kn17.26 mph
16 kn18.41 mph
17 kn19.56 mph
18 kn20.71 mph
19 kn21.86 mph
20 kn23.02 mph

You can see from the table, that the mph is just a little more than the knot speed. If you ever want to figure out the MPH when you are out sailing and only have the knots, I would just add a couple and call it good.

Where Did Boaters Get The Term Knots?

The term knot dates back to when sailors measured the speed of their ship using a device called a “common log.” The common log was a rope with knots at regular intervals. The sailors would attach a piece of wood to the end of the rope and lower it into the water. The wood piece would float back behind the ship for a specific amount of time. When the time was up they would count the knots on the rope between the ship and the piece of wood. This would estimate how many knots they were moving.

As you know now, we have GPS screens that tell us all of this in real-time. It’s crazy to think of how they used to do things hundreds of years ago.

Now for the important part of this article, what to do when you are caught in high wind conditions.

5 Tips To Help Manage High Winds When Sailing

1. Reef Your Sails

Reefing is the act of making your sails smaller so they catch less wind. This is extremely important when the possibility of high winds is coming. If you have a furling jib, you would simply wind up part of the sail to make it smaller. Most mainsails have a reefing setup, that you must set up before heading out. You do not want to get caught in high winds with your mainsail unable to be reefed. The mainsail can also be reefed in multiple spots meaning different sized mainsails are possible when reefed correctly. The size you make your sails will depend on the wind and what you are comfortable handling. Check out the link below to see 7 steps on Reefing by Sailing Uma, and be sure to subscribe to their channel, it’s AMAZING!

2. Lower Your Sails And Motor

I know this sounds like you are scared and don’t want to sail, but the fact is sometimes the wind is too much for your skill set. I have personally been lake sailing and had the wind coming at me from all directions. After trying to manage it for about 10 minutes I lowered my sails and motored back to base. It was a learning experience, even though I only sailed for 10 minutes I learned a lot. I knew I needed more practice before going up against high winds in different directions.

3. Ease The Mainsheet Or Jibsheet

When I was sailing on the lake and I had a lot of wind coming at me from different directions I was constantly letting out the mainsheet. This is an easy way to avoid trouble. You lose your speed but that’s better than damaging the boat. Anytime you might be in trouble, always think about releasing the sheets. This will bring your boat to almost no movement and allow you to assess the situation and make the best decision on what to do.

4. Sail With Only One Sail Up

This is another option that might make you feel like less of a sailor, but don’t feel that way. I have seen plenty of people sail with one sail and they were experts. Sailing with one sail is much easier to manage than with two sails. It also gives you a lot of practice on that one sail until you have mastered it. I strongly recommend doing this in your spare time to test out your skills with the sail and see what works best for you. Once you have mastered this sail, high winds will be much easier to manage. Then you can start looking at two sails and how to use them in high winds.

5. Watch The Weather And Don’t Go Out Into High Winds

If you are inexperienced and don’t know how to handle high winds, DON’T GO OUT IN THEM! Let me tell you a quick story. I was an inexperienced sailor but I had my first sailboat, a Catalina 22. The boat was slipped on a large lake in Idaho and it was great. One day the winds were supposed to be great a little strong I thought but I wasn’t scared. While I was sailing out of the docks I noticed a lot of people were already reefed. My reefing system was not set up, and I said “What the hell, I got this.” After about 10 minutes out in the lake, I lowered my sails and motored back to the docks. I was definitely not prepared or skilled enough to sail in those winds. I also ignored the obvious indicator of the experienced sailors all reefing. Just be careful out there and think before you act. Don’t be like me.

In Conclusion

This article was all about high winds and how to manage them safely. Knots refer to nautical miles and are more accurate when compared to the surface of the earth. Just keep in mind, that one knot equals 1.15 miles per hour. Also, remember when sailing to consider the wind speed (knots), the size of the boat, and the skill level of the captain. High winds have gotten a lot of people hurt because they were not prepared. The most important thing to take away from this article is to always be safe and think before you act.

Oh and check out this guy if you want to see some serious high wind sailing 50 KNOTS!!!! Subscribe to his channel, he is awesome.


Boatlifehq owner and author/editor of this article.

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