Your Hurricane Preparedness essential shopping list:
If you own a boat on the Gulf Coast or Atlantic Coast of the US, you face the possibility of a hurricane striking during the second half of the year. Every year an average of two hurricanes make landfall in the US, and cause tremendous amounts of damage. But boatowners can take precautions that will reduce the likelihood of damage if you’re unfortunate enough to find yourself in harm’s way.
The real experts in hurricane preparation are the associates at the marine insurance division of BoatU.S. They have collected an incredible amount of information about what works, and what doesn’t, for the last 25 years. Their Hurricane Catastrophe Team members are frequently among the first to arrive after a hurricane has passed through, and they can observe which boats survived with little or no damage, and which ones are totaled.
You can get up-to-date information on current hurricanes as well as tips on how to prepare at the Hurricane Resource Center online at http://www.boatus.com/hurricanes.
BoatU.S. also publishes this highly informative booklet "Preparing Boats and Marinas for Hurricanes" which has a wealth of information. It’s available by calling the BoatU.S. home office, or it can be downloaded from the Hurricane Resource Center online (click here for the PDF). In fact, this booklet served as a resource for much of the information that we’re presenting here. We’ve boiled down a dozen pages of advice in to our Top Ten List for Hurricane Preparation.
Tip #1 is to think about what you’re going to do in case of a hurricane by creating a comprehensive plan in advance. By starting with the form that’s in the Hurricane booklet, you’ll have all of the vital information you need in one comprehensive list. This form is also available for downloading from the BoatU.S. Hurricane Resource Center. It covers items like where you plan to take your boat, how will your boat get moved if you’re away, and a checklist of critical gear to have to minimize damage.
Tip #2 is to make sure you understand your insurance policy and your marina contract. As an example, your insurance company may pay you up to 50% of the cost of hauling or moving your boat prior to a hurricane. And some marinas require that you haul your boat in advance of a storm to protect both the boat and the marina.
Coordination with your marina is vital.
Tip #3 is that if you do plan on hauling your boat, make sure you’ve arranged this in advance with the marina operator. The evidence is strong that boats stored on land fare better, on average, than boat kept in the water. Making boats fast to anchor points embedded into the yard’s surface can keep boats from toppling over, but at the very least, make sure that jackstands are chained together to prevent shifting. Also, make sure that jackstands are on a firm surface. If the surface is dirt or gravel, put the jackstands on pieces of plywood to keep them from sinking into the soil. If you have a trailerable boat, anchor the trailer to the ground if possible, or consider using that additional mobility to move the entire rig away from the hurricane’s anticipated path.
Tip #4 is for boats that have to be left in the water. In that case, you’ll want to choose someplace that has minimal fetch: that means that the waves have less distance to develop into larger and larger waves due to wind exposure. Canals are nearly ideal, since they generally allow lines to be run to both sides so the boat doesn’t pound against a dock. Hurricane Holes also provide protection since they are completely enclosed. Remember, the wind direction is going to veer as the storm passes by, so make sure that you’re protected from a wide range of wind angles.
Tip #5 concerns boats that are tied to docks or pilings. If you are making your lines fast to fixed docks or pilings that don’t float with the tide or surge, you need to use long lines so that your boat can float up as the water height increases. Lines that are too short can break, or in some cases, can actually jack pilings out of the bottom. You’ll also want to reduce windage by orienting your boat bow-to the anticipated storm direction which may be different than how you normally tie up.
Tip #6 is for boats on floating docks. They won’t require lines that are as long, but you will have to insure that the storm surge doesn’t lift the docks entirely off the tops of the pilings. Older marinas with pilings that extend only 6-8′ high above high tide can easily float free. Newer marinas will have pilings that are up to 14-18′ tall to be more "storm proof". You can also use one or more anchors to hold your boat away from a dock, or to share in the load that your boat would otherwise create on the dock alone.
Tip #7 concerns boats on moorings since they face special challenges. Most mooring anchors can handle summer squalls and storms, but hurricanes place extraordinary loads on the anchor and the anchor rode. The best anchors are helix-types which screw into the seabed. They are much more effective than mushroom or deadweight anchors. According to tests done by BoatU.S. and Cruising World Magazine, mushroom anchors held about 2 ½ times their dry weight, while concrete anchors held about half of their dry weight. Helix anchors held between 12,000 and 20,000 pounds and were unable to be pulled free. A problem with mushroom anchors is that they may have taken a set during the season in the prevailing wind direction, but the hurricane you face may be out of an entirely different direction. Assuming the anchor holds, you also have to be concerned about the anchor pennant. The rapid pitching of the vessel can cause unprotected lines to chafe quickly, and even heat up to the point of melting.
Tip #8: If you have to anchor out, select your location so that there is as little fetch as possible to reduce the size of the waves. You should consider using multiple anchors, set either in tandem (one anchor connected to another anchor with chain), or in multiple directions. If you have two large anchors, set them approximately 90 degrees apart in the direction of the anticipated winds. Three anchors can be set 120 degrees apart, and led to a single swivel and line leading to the vessel’s bow. This is especially effective if the room available is tight and you need to reduce the swinging radius of the vessel.
Tip #9 is to protect any line that’s used to secure your vessel from chafe. Modern lines are incredibly strong in tension, but they can wear very quickly if allowed to rub over surfaces. Chain can be used, for example, to connect lines to pilings, trees, and concrete structures and will provide immense resistance to chafe by comparison to nylon line. Spliced lines with thimbles will fare better than bowlines or other knots.
Chafe protectors come in a variety of different styles. You can use common garden hose which is tied in place with small polyester cord, or woven chafe protectors made from polyester or Spectra, or leather chafe guards which are stitched in place. Since the stretch in the line causes it to saw back and forth across bow rollers or chocks, one technique is to use a short length of low-stretch polyester line where the line passes over the gunwale of the boat, and connect this to a high-stretch nylon line to absorb shock.
Finally, this isn’t a time to use your old, ratty lines as anchor lines, mooring pendants, or dock lines. A recent test by Practical Sailor magazine found that old lines had lost from 49-75% of their strength due to a lack of lubricity and the addition of dirt, salt, and chafe. Use lines in good condition, if not new condition, for the greatest reliability.
Tip #9 is to make your boat as "streamlined" as possible. Regardless of where your boat weathers the storm, you should try to reduce windage to minimize the force exerted on the boat. Boat canvas, in particular, should be removed including dodgers and biminis. Furling genoas inevitably unfurl, no matter how scrupulous you’ve been in rolling them up. Halyards should be tied to a small line and allowed to run to the top of the mast to reduce windage and flogging. Mainsail covers and mainsails should be removed and stowed. On powerboats, cockpit enclosures should be removed. Even if the additional windage doesn’t cause your boat to be damaged, it’s very likely that the boat canvas will be destroyed by the force of the wind and debris in the air.
Our final tip is to be an educated storm tracker. As soon as a hurricane is forecast for your general area, use the BoatU.S. Hurricane Resource Center to get the latest information on the storm track from NOAA and other agencies. And remember to prepare early; if you delay in hauling your boat or buying additional lines or anchors, you may find that it’s too late when the storm gets close