Waterspouts: What are they? When can they occur? What should you do if you encounter one while boating.


July 12, 2023

There are two types of waterspouts depending on their origin. The tornado type (the most intense) results when a tornado moves out over the water. This waterspout has all the characteristics of a true tornado. In contrast, the simpler and weaker convective type of waterspout (winds less than 56 kn) may occur in fair or foul weather and may rotate in either direction — tornadoes almost always rotate counterclockwise in the Northern Hemisphere.

Often seen on the Great Lakes and even farther north, waterspouts are frequent over the Florida Keys, the Gulf Coast and the New England Coast. Waterspouts are associated with rapidly growing cumulus clouds that have not become thunderstorms and often never become thunderstorms, often when the water temperature is warmer than the surrounding air. Landspouts are similar to waterspouts and have similar origins.

There are five stages in their development:

• 1st — formation of a dark spot on the ocean (air moving in a circle and upward)

• 2nd — spot begins to take on a spiral pattern of dark and lighter water (boater might feel a wind shift and/or speed increase; and might see a funnel coming from a cloud or off to one side)

• 3rd — boater sees spray vortex (winds of 35 knots begin to kick up spray in a circular pattern which means a vortex is reaching the ocean from the cloud). The boater might see a funnel pointing down from the cloud

• 4th — mature stage — funnel of tiny water droplets (thin cloud) reaches completely from the cloud to the surface of the ocean; small waves are being kicked up and a wake of effervescent bubbles caused by low air pressure is left behind

• 5th — spray vortex weakens, funnel distorts and waterspout dissipates as cool air from rain cuts off supply of warm humid air

The average duration of a waterspout is shorter than an average tornado and is measured in minutes. They tend to originate in warm air, over warm water, with light winds and high relative humidity.

Although typically weaker than tornadoes, they are dangerous. A boater should try to escape by going at right angles to its path away from it. Do not try to outrun it! Waterspouts commonly travel at 30 to 35 knots, and have been observed traveling at over 60 knots.

Get additional advice from our volunteers, watch The Weather Network video here.

To learn more about weather and forecasting register for our Weather for Boaters course at: www.boatingcourses.ca

Related Articles

New Boats: Beneteau Oceanis 34.1 – A Sleek, Good -Looking Delight To Sail

By Katherine Stone

There is nothing more that I enjoy than being with friends and messing about in boats. Messing about in brand-new boats on a champagne sailing day on Lake Ontario at the beginning of the summer doesn’t get any better. To have the new owner, Helmuth Strobel and Anchor Yachts dealer Pancho Jimenez aboard made it even more special, as they can also speak to what they truly enjoy about the boat. We keep our own boat in a harbour that has a long waiting list for boats over 35 feet, so this little gem would definitely fit the bill and feels like a much bigger boat. True to the spirit of the 7th generation Oceanis line, the 34.1 is built in Poland and replaces the 35.1. It is 1,000 lbs lighter, 14 cm narrower and has 29% more sail area.

Read More


Peter Island Resort in the British Virgin Islands has Reopened

Peter Island Resort in the British Virgin Islands has opened its rebuilt and re-envisioned luxury private island in 2024 after the property closures from the Virgin Islands’ 2017 hurricane season. Peter Island Resort has been undergoing its transformation for over six years. Its evolution includes brand new and upgraded accommodations and new state-of-the-art facilities and five stellar beaches amid hundreds of acres of unspoiled tropical island.

Peter Island Yacht Club

The new Yacht Club will be a must on the itineraries of sailors, boaters and yachtsmen with a marina that can accommodate a range of vessels from power boats, sailboats and catamarans, to super yachts of up to 200 feet. Located in Sprat Bay harbor, the Yacht Club will be its own destination with a dedicated swimming pool for Yacht Club guests, Drunken Pelican restaurant and bar, a commissary, Sea Chest Boutique and a sports recreation area with pickleball, basketball and bocce ball courts and a lawn-games area. To protect the coral reef and marine life surrounding the island, moorings will be located in White Bay, Sprat Bay, Deadman’s Bay…

Read More