Skip to main content

Knowing the Land and Sea Breezes

When sailing close to the coast it often seems that NOAA’s wind forecasts are maddeningly inaccurate. How could NOAA get it so wrong?

When sailing close to the coast it often seems that NOAA’s wind forecasts are maddeningly inaccurate. How could NOAA get it so wrong? The answer, of course, is that they didn’t. NOAA’s forecasts refer to prevailing winds, but as sailors we need to account for how the land affects the breeze.

After the sun goes down, the ocean retains heat longer than land. This heat rises, creating a low pressure area that gets filled in by the cooler air over the land. The flow of air from the land to the ocean creates a land breeze. Conversely, as the sun rises and heats up the land (the temperature of which changes more drastically between night and day), the low pressure area created by rising warm air is now over the land. The resulting flow of air from the sea to the land creates what is called a sea breeze.

No matter what direction it’s from, when the prevailing wind is light, a land or sea breeze can counteract it. Even in stronger prevailing winds, a land or sea breeze can have a noticeable effect. If, for example, you are on the eastern shore of any large land mass and there is an east wind, it will be augmented by the sea breeze during the day. At night, however, it will be decreased, or perhaps entirely counteracted, by the land breeze blowing against it. Conversely, a west wind will be augmented by a land breeze at night, but counteracted by the sea breeze during the day.

In less simplified situations, the land and sea breeze will have different effects depending on local geography. Learning how they behave in your cruising ground will help you make more informed decisions when you study weather forecasts.

Related

promo-2048x

Just Launched Mid-sized Cruisers

With so many manufacturers dreaming up bigger production boats, more and more mid-sized cruisers fall on the smaller end of their lines. However, “smaller” does not mean less, and the tricks for optimizing larger models have helped with squeezing more enjoyment into less LOA. As ...read more

05-DSC_0638

Charter: Lake Tahoe

A sail on Lake Tahoe has been on my bucket list since the day I first laid eyes on it, and come hell or high water, I decided I was going to someday charter a boat there. North America’s largest and deepest alpine lake, Tahoe sits at 6,225ft above sea level and straddles the ...read more

East-River-Rapids

Escape from New York Part 1

I was never supposed to take my boat through New York City. After getting sucked backward through the Cape Cod Canal on my way south from Maine, when the speed of the current exceeded the maximum speed of my little electric auxiliary, I wanted nothing to do with Hell Gate and ...read more

LEAD-Celeste-in-the-Tuamotu

A Watermaker Upgrade

As a classic-boat sailor, I’ve long held that simpler is the better. I still think this is true: a simpler boat is cheaper, she has less gadgets to break down and there’s a certain satisfaction in knowing you’re able to handle a bit of discomfort. Thus, for a long time, I sailed ...read more

01-LEAD-IDECsport_180919_032

Sailing Speed Records

Although the 1903 defender of the America’s Cup, Reliance, was deemed a “racing freak”—the boat pushed design rules to their limit and couldn’t be beaten, at least in very specific conditions—designer Nat Herreshoff was nonetheless onto something. A century later, purpose-built ...read more

BVIFeetup

Chartering with Non-sailors

Three tips on managing the madness First-time charterers and first-time sailors aren’t at all the same thing. One group may struggle with beginner chartering issues, like sailing a multihull, catching a mooring or dealing with base personnel. For the other group, though, ...read more

AdobeStock_455372159

A Gulf Stream Crossing at Night

Even the dome of light glowing above the city behind us had disappeared as if swallowed in a gulp by Noah’s whale. The moon was absent. Not a star twinkled overhead. The night was so dark we could have been floating in a pot of black ink. The only artificial lights to be seen ...read more

00-Lead-549215sJL2uLEa

Summer Sailing Programs

Every year, countless parents find themselves navigating the do’s and don’ts of enrolling their children in a summer learn-to-sail program for the first time. While the prospect of getting your kid on the water is exciting, as a sailing camp program director, there are a lot of ...read more