Preparing your boat for a hurricane

To some, June 1st means that summer has unofficially begun; to others it means the official start of hurricane season. And if you’re a boat owner who resides on the Atlantic or Gulf Coasts, it also means you must have a plan to prepare your boat before a named storm makes landfall.

Hurricanes have been known not to give much warning; sometimes less than 24 hours before they make landfall which doesn’t give you a lot of time to prepare your boat to withstand wind gusts of 75 to 155+ mph. So if you want your boat to have a fighting chance of surviving the extreme winds, waves, rainfall and storm surges associated with a catastrophic storm, you need to develop a written plan well before hurricane season begins; a plan that will include second and third options if your primary plan cannot be carried out!

Preplanning – When Minutes Count
Your hurricane plan will need to take into consideration your type of boat, location and potential onshore/offshore shelters, as well as the characteristics of severe weather specific to your region. Then, prior to hurricane season, you must create an appropriate checklist so that you don’t waste any time once a hurricane watch has been issued. You’ll want to prepare a hurricane supply kit with items such as:
  • flashlights
  • batteries for radios and communication devices
  • extra lines
  • anchors, chain
  • chaffing gear 
  • fenders
  • duct tape
  • wood plugs
  • a first aid kit
It will also be helpful to take an inventory of the items in your boat as well as a video and/or photos of the exterior and interior, for insurance purposes, should your boat sustain damage due to a hurricane. Determining a safe evacuation plan, including locating a “hurricane hole” if you are not be able to remove your boat from the water or your dock, should occur at least 2 to 3 months prior to the arrival of hurricane season so that you can act quickly when time is of the essence. And last but not least, you should keep your insurance policy and all other important documents in a safe location, away from your boat, so they aren’t lost or destroyed during a storm.

Moving Your Boat
Land is by far the safest place for a boat during a hurricane. If your boat can be trailered then drive it to a secure location far inland.  Protecting your boat inside a wind rated building is preferable to keeping it out in the open air. If the boat cannot be moved inland, then it’s suggested that the boat be tied to the trailer and then the trailer be anchored to the ground or an unmovable object, facing it toward the expected wind direction. Since wind speeds will be high and likely erratic you should consider lowering the height of the trailer, reducing the tire pressure, and chocking the wheels with cement blocks. If you have an outboard motor that can be removed then do so and store it in a safe location. Also remove anything that isn’t permanently fastened to the boat as well as items that can shift inside the boat.

Securing Your Boat
If your plan includes moving your boat to a “hurricane hole” be sure to verify that it’s accessible and available well ahead of a storm. Secure your boat by tying numerous lines from your boat to sturdy trees in a crisscross pattern as well as dropping multiple anchors at various angles. If your plan is to anchor your boat (which is not recommended) use many oversized anchors complete with chains and sentinels. Just be sure to plan beforehand how you intend to get back to shore as you should not attempt to stay onboard during a storm. And if you are planning to leave your boat on davits or lifts, don’t! Hurricane winds and storm surges will cause your boat to go airborne with serious destruction being the likely outcome.

Leaving your boat at a dock during a hurricane will have its challenges, but if this is your only option then you must have lines that are longer, larger and protected against chaffing as the swinging action created by a storm can destroy even the thickest nylon lines. Therefore chafe protectors are absolutely essential for all lines but especially for lines that will rub cleats, decks and dock edges. At a fixed dock be sure to create a plan that has your boat placed in the center of many dock lines; some say it should look like a spider suspended in the center of a large web so that your boat can rise and fall with the wind and waves accompanying a storm. If you can move your boat to a larger slip, then do so, and place your storm lines high on the pilings, in a way that minimizes the chance of crashing into the dock or pilings, but also allows for the tidal rise and storm surge.

The Calm After the Storm
Once the storm has subsided and it is safe to return to your boat you need to do so quickly so as to mitigate further damage. For insurance purposes you should photograph and/or video all damage and list all missing items. However, given the likely storm surge that accompanies hurricanes, it’s paramount that you consider your safety prior to boarding your vessel, especially when inspecting for engine and electrical damage.

Preparing for a hurricane is serious business. Not only do you need to think about preventing damage to your own boat, you need to consider the damage you could possibly cause to neighboring boats or property. In fact, if you fail to plan properly for a named storm you could be found legally liable for damages caused by your boat. Therefore, it pays to take the time to draft a hurricane plan prior to hurricane season so that you are well prepared to execute the plan should a storm watch be issued.

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