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Hurricane Season is Here: Are You Prepared?

By badriance - Published July 29, 2009 - Viewed 13388 times

BoatU.S. CAT (Catastrophe) Team surveyors, who examine boats after they’ve been wrecked by a major storm, weigh-in on what could have been done to save them.




Dan Rutherford’s day as a member of the BoatU.S. Hurricane Catastrophe Team typically begins at 6 a.m. in a motel room with coffee and a stack of paperwork. For the first hour, Dan goes over notes from the previous day, making plans on which boats to salvage next, which boats to move to the staging area, and which boats still need to be located.


Most of Dan’s day, the next 10 hours or so, is spent looking at boats, a lot of boats. Some days he may do preliminary inspection on as many as six boats, while on other days he spends the day, sometimes several days, working with salvage experts to get one boat out of a marsh, a mangrove or someone’s backyard.


One thing that Dan and other members of the BoatU.S. CAT Team know better than almost anyone is why boats survive or don’t survive in hurricanes. Seaworthy talked to Dan as well as three of the other veteran members of the CAT Team -- Jonathan Klopman, Dave Wiggin, and Dave Kacprowicz -- about what their experiences on the BoatU.S. CAT Team has taught them about hurricane preparation.




What Saves Boats: The Basics

By far, the reason given most often when boats are destroyed is “absentee owners,” the neglectful few who did nothing whatsoever to prepare their boats for a hurricane. “It’s the boats that were ignored before the storm that are most likely to break free and sustain the most damage,” says Jonathan Klopman, a surveyor from Marblehead, Massachusetts. He notes that even an hour or so spent stripping the boat and adding extra and larger dock lines as well as chafe protection can make a significant difference when the storm comes ashore. An effective hurricane plan, however, involves more than just adding lines and chafe gear. To maximize the chances of a boat surviving a hurricane, an owner should choose the most storm-worthy location possible long before storm warnings are posted.


A study by MIT after Hurricane Gloria found that boats stored ashore were far more likely to have been saved than boats that weathered the hurricane in the water. Some boats -- small open boats and boats with low freeboard -- are especially vulnerable to rain, wind and spray. When Hurricane Floyd came ashore in Wilmington and crept up the East Coast in 1999, Dan Rutherford found that a lot of boat owners were caught off-guard, thinking that the storm had lost its punch. Torrential rain, 20” of rain in some areas, quickly overwhelmed the scuppers and sank many boats, both large and small.


Whenever a hurricane threatens an area, small boats can be hauled out of the water on trailers and taken inland, but hauling and blocking larger boats ashore takes considerably longer. Massachusetts surveyor David Wiggin says that many of the boatyards in New England that were clobbered by Hurricanes in the past have devised comprehensive plans to get more boats out of the water quickly whenever a storm is approaching. One Massachusetts marina, for example, Marsha’s Vineyard Shipyard, has a list of ex-staff and boat owners who will help haul out boats and prepare the facilities in a hurricane emergency. And at Burr Brothers in Marion, Massachusetts, boat owners can make arrangements before the start of the hurricane season to have their boats hauled out and blocked ashore on high ground, should a storm threaten.


With some boatyards, however, hauling boats and storing them ashore isn’t realistic. Wiggin says that boatyards in cities like Miami, Florida, for example, where land is at a premium, may only have enough room ashore to store a few boats. When storing a boat ashore isn’t possible, Wiggin says, a lot of boat owners have saved their boats by moving them to hurricane holes.


In Miami, potential hurricane holes, like the Miami River, are already crowded with boats and are also blocked by bridges that must remain down to evacuate people in automobiles. As an alternative, some of the marina boats are moved to canals.


Every area is different. In Mobile, Alabama, and Pensacola, Florida, a lot of boats were spared in Hurricanes Georges and Opal because their owners moved them to nearby bayous, where they were tied to trees as well as anchored. Most survived. Even if an area lacks canals and bayous, however, there may be harbors that provide excellent shelter for boats in a storm. Wiggin mentions Cataumet on Cape Cod, which has sheltered many boats successfully.


Protecting the Lines that Protect the Boats

Wherever you decide to leave your boat in a storm, Dave Kacprowicz, a surveyor who hails from the Great Lakes area, says there is a significant amount of preparation that must take place if it is to have a good chance of surviving intact. First and foremost, if the boat is in the water, at a dock, in a hurricane hole, or at a mooring, it is essential that extra and larger lines be added. One note of caution, however, Dave Wiggin found that a lot of boats lose cleats in storms, because too many lines are attached. He recommends not running more than two lines to a single cleat, even if the cleat is large and securely backed. For one thing it puts too much strain on the cleat, but it also means that a cleat failure would be catastrophic.


Jonathan Klopman was surprised at the number of damaged boats he inspected after hurricane Andrew that didn’t have any chafe protection. He says adding extra lines and chafe protection doesn’t take long and will go a long way toward protecting a boat.


Jonathan has inspected a lot of nylon mooring and dock lines that were melted by stretching under high loads over the chock. The constant cycling over the edge of the chock causes heat to build in the line and can melt the nylon fibers. To solve the problem, the Concordia Boatyard in South Dartmouth, Massachusetts, rubbed grease on mooring lines used to secure the Concordia yawls before Hurricane Bob hoping that it would reduce friction. It did; none of the lines chafed through.


As for the more traditional techniques, Dave Kacprowicz has seen a lot of lines protected successfully by hose -- everything from neoprene garden hose to canvas fire hose. The longer the hose the better, since potential chafe points may change as the boat rises with the surge. Whatever hose is used, it should also be secured with duct tape or sail tape so that it isn’t moved beyond the chafe point.


Another frequent cause of chafe problems, Dave Wiggin has found, is the chocks. Either the chock isn’t rounded or it is located at an awkward angle between the pilings or mooring ball and the cleat. He’s also seen chocks that were installed backward. Depending on the docking or mooring arrangement, Wiggin says the chocks that create chafe should either be bypassed, moved or replaced with more suitable chocks -- whatever it takes to get a proper lead.


When a boat is on a mooring, Wiggin says the best way to avoid chafe is by installing a hefty stainless steel or bronze eye down near the waterline to secure the pennant. The eye must be properly backed to distribute the enormous loads. This technique eliminates chafe points, avoids the sharp angles at the rail, and reduces the chances the pennant will be snagged by renegade boats, although Wiggin recommends traditional, over-the-rail mooring lines be used as backups.


Details, Details ...

All of the CAT Team members repeatedly emphasized the importance of reducing windage on a boat before a storm. Jonathan Klopman says that removing biminis antennas, sails, and any other gear that creates windage is essential, as important as anything an owner can do to protect a boat. Whether it weathers the storm ashore or in the water, the more gear that’s stripped from a boat the better. Dan Rutherford recommends that sailboat owners remove all of the sails and the boom. On smaller boats, if there’s time, he also recommends unstepping the mast. 


Ships' papers and anything else of value should be taken home. Even if they survive the storm, anything of value left aboard is liable to fall prey to looters when the storm has passed.


Some other things suggested by the CAT team: Scuppers and deck drains should be clean; float switch and bilge pumps should be functioning; doors and hatches should be secured; and duct tape should be used on any ports or hatches that could leak. Batteries should be changed so that there will be sufficient power available for the bilge pumps. Since too much water down below can damage any boat, keeping batteries charged is a good idea whether the boat is stored ashore or in the water.


How Would You Prepare Your Own Boat ... 

...At a Mooring

Jonathan Klopman:

Moorings must be considered as “systems,” and each element must be evaluated to see if it is able to stand up to hurricane-force winds and seas. The extreme storm surge that rolls in with a hurricane can extend the mooring chain so that there is a short period where it pulls vertically on whatever is anchoring the system. In these instances, a conventional mushroom anchor-mooring will pull straight out of the bottom. I’d be more inclined to leave my boat at a mooring if it were on a helix or an adequately heavy deadweight -- railroad wheels, a granite block, or concrete block.


I’d make sure that my chain was inspected routinely, at least once a season. The weak links, the ones that are most likely to be corroded and fail in a storm, are the shackle that attaches the bottom chain to the block, and the swivels that may be installed between top and bottom chain.  Inspecting every link is impossible underwater, so I’d pay the extra money to have the entire mooring system raised and examined carefully.


Aside from obvious issues of chafe at wear points such as chocks and bobstays, rope pennants often wear through due to working and internal friction. Compared to Dacron, nylon is highly susceptible to heart failure. Three-strand nylon is far more likely to fray from the inside out than double braid nylon pennants. The pennants (four wouldn’t be too many) must be sized large enough so they do not stretch considerably, which somewhat counters the “shock absorber” theory behind nylon pennants.


Despite all of your well-intentioned efforts, it is possible that another boat will free and drag down on your boat’s mooring. In these cases, the best approach is to see that there is no gear on deck that might act as an “anchor point” for another boat. Removing stanchions and lifelines is quick and easy. If time permits, removing the bow and stern pulpits is a good idea also.


...At a Hurricane Hole

David Wiggin:

Choosing a suitable hurricane hole is something that should be done long before hurricane warnings are posted. I evaluate the storm-worthiness of a hurricane hold based on the protection it offers, the proximity to my marina, and the holding power my anchor gets on the bottom. If the anchor won’t grab in calm weather, it certainly won’t hold in a hurricane. With a good bottom, the anchor will continue to bury itself. After Hurricane Opal, divers in Destin, Florida told me that some of the anchors had been buried more than 10’ into the bottom. I’d tie a trip line to each anchor for retrieval purposes so I wouldn’t have to pay a diver to find my anchor after the storm.


In past hurricanes, I’ve seen many vessels moored successfully in the middle of a canal or bayou. The vessels that survived typically were moored in the middle with long lines to trees and/or anchors and deadman anchors on shore. The more anchors and lines the better. I’ve seen boats with three or four anchors (with a lot of chain) and at least that many lines secured to trees ashore. You can’t have too many. All lines should be well protected from chafe.


...At a Dock

Dan Rutherford:

There are three primary threats to a boat during a hurricane. The first two are immediate: wind and storm surge. The third is less obvious, but as evil as the first: vandalism (or theft). Protecting myself from the latter is easy: I would remove all of the electronics and valuables from the boat.


The first two threats take a bit of seamanship to handle. To protect the boat from 70-145 mph winds I would strip it bare, removing anything and everything I could. The second threat is the storm surge and wave action. Most often, the damage I find is related to impact with the surrounding pilings or docks. In some cases, where lines were tied too tightly, I found the boats still tied to the pilings, but submerged. Lines tied too tightly can also snap or pull out the cleat. Lines with too much slack stretch and allow the boat to override the pilings or dock. So what is the answer?


I would secure the boat using as many spring lines as possible. Lines from the bow should run aft to prevent the vessel from surging forward. Lines aft should run forward to keep the boat away from the dock. Forget fender boards in this situation; they are useful only when tied to one side. (If your slip is so tight as to normally require them, move to a wider slip!) I’d cross the dock lines forward and aft running the port side line on the boat to the starboard cleat on the dock, and so on. There is safety in numbers, so I would use plenty of separate sets of lines. Finally, to allow for surge, any bow and stern lines would have to be run to more distant pilings.


If the boat is at a floating dock, it will rise with the surge, which is good. But if the pilings aren’t tall enough, the entire dock will float away, which is bad. I would only leave my boat at a floating dock if the pilings were sufficiently tall to accommodate the predicted surge. I have seen too many floating docks carried up and over the pilings. All of the boats wound up downwind, piled on top of each other in a giant clump.


Wherever I leave the boat, the lines have to be protected from chafe, but aside from adding chafe protection, I’d also try to identify anything on the boat that will create chafe. How about that anchor davit or the sharp edge of stainless-steel trim or the ragged edge of sail track? I’d take off whatever I could or reroute the lines away from anything sharp.


To sum it all up, the intent is to keep the boat within the safety zone of the slip -- away from all of the pilings and docks by a comfortable margin. It needs to remain there no matter which way the wind is blowing and with expected surges of up to 12-14 feet above mean high tide.


...On a Trailer

Dave Kacprowicz:

I’d like to start by making sure I had a place to leave the boat that was on high ground -- the higher the better. I’d also make sure my trailer was in good shape. All too often, a trailer sits all season in a parking lot and then when it’s needed most, the tires are flat and it’s covered with rust.


When the boat has been moved to whatever location ashore I decide will give it the most protection, I would begin by stripping everything off the boat that I could. I would then secure the boat to the trailer with extra lines or tie tie-down straps. I want to boat to function as one unit without any movement on the trailer. The trailer should also be secured, either to trees, if they’re available, or to earth augers. The lines should be taut, to steady the boat in high winds unless there is a chance that the surge could lift the boat and trailer. In that cause, I’d leave some slack in the lines.


Finally, what should be done with the drain plug? If the surge could reach the boat, I’d leave the drain plug inserted. If the boat were on high ground, however, I’d leave the plug out so water wouldn’t accumulate.


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