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Insuring Against Future Hurricanes

By badriance - Published August 12, 2009 - Viewed 12556 times

A Blueprint on How to Minimize Catastrophic Losses

Minimizing Damage

Some Intermediate-Term Solutions

First and foremost, whenever hurricane warnings have been posted, ALL boats must be prepared by their owners or by professionals. This is critical; boats that are ignored before storms are much more likely to come adrift and damage boats that were prepared. This has been true when a boat was in a slip, on a mooring, or in a canal; neglected boats account for a disproportionate share of hurricane damage.


In past storms, a large percentage of boats -- over 50% at some Florida marinas -- were left to fend for themselves because owners lived out of state. Even the basics weren’t done: Extra lines were not added and canvas was not taken in. What can be done? One solution is to have the boat prepared by the marina for a fee. (Note that in Florida, a law has a good chance of being passed that allows marina operators to prepare a boat for a hurricane in an owner’s absence. The marinas can charge a reasonable fee for this service and cannot be held liable if the boat is damaged during the storm.)


At Sebastian River Marina on Florida’s East Coast, for example, a slip holder pays $1,000 to join a “Hurricane Club,” which covers the cost of hauling and blocking a boat ashore twice, whenever a hurricane is approaching. This amounts to $500 per hurricane and the price includes having the boat strapped down to anchors embedded in the concrete. The results thus far have been impressive: Even during Hurricanes Frances and Jeanne, two very powerful storms, not one of the boats stored ashore was damaged.


When storage ashore isn’t an option, other marinas and yacht clubs have worked with boat owners to move boats to hurricane holes. At Dog River Marina in Alabama, professional captains move boats to a sheltered hurricane hole further up the Tenn-Tom Waterway. Again, the results have been consistently impressive; during Hurricane Katrina, none of the boats that were moved to hurricane holes were damaged.


Not all marinas have the staff or equipment necessary to move or haul and block boats. If arrangements can’t be made with a marina to prepare the boat, an absentee owner has to make arrangements before the start of the hurricane season to have the job done by a friend or professional. Note that BoatU.S. Marine Insurance will pay up to half the cost to haul and block a boat ashore or have it moved by a professional captain.


Preparations must be thorough. One TowBoatU.S. captain in Florida salvaged two large sportfishermen that were sunk by another boat that had been moored with a single working anchor. The boat became a floating wrecking ball, dragging its anchor into the other boats despite having been “prepared” by its owner.


Planning for something as extraordinary as a hurricane includes an analysis of all available options. Where will the boat be safest? Most boats will be better protected ashore, if they’ll remain safely above the surge. Others may be more secure on a mooring, a canal or hurricane hole. Boats that remain in their slips must be prepared with longer and larger-diameter lines and protected against chafe. All boats must be stripped of things like biminis and dodgers to minimize windage.


Long Term Solutions

Ultimately, efforts by boat owners and marinas to minimize damage have to include local and state governments. Area governments, which benefit financially from recreational boating, must become involved in coordinating hurricane preparation efforts.


This is already being done in a few areas. Palm Beach County, Florida, for example, has over 800 marine businesses with a combined $1.35 billion annual impact on the local economy. After being devastated with more than $100 million in marine losses during hurricane Jeanne, the Marine Industries Association of Palm Beach County held a meeting on hurricane preparation that was attended by more than 80 industry leaders, including state and federal officials, marina owners, boat owners, towers, the coast guard, and representatives from boat insurance companies. The result included a comprehensive 15-page plan “Hurricane Manual for Marine Interests” to better prepare marinas and boats for future hurricanes (AICW.org). The meeting also resulted in several important efforts -- which are still ongoing -- such as a move to use County parkland for emergency boat storage before a storm.


As marinas are upgraded and rebuilt, they must be made more “hurricane resistant”. When new pilings were installed at its floating docks, Columbia Island Marina in Arlington, Virginia opted to make them 18’ tall versus the older seven-footers that were replaced. Not long after the pilings were installed, Hurricane Isabel pushed a 14’ surge into the marina basin. None of the 382 boats there were damaged. Had the much shorter seven-foot pilings still been in place, the docks and the marina’s boats would have floated away and the marina would have been devastated.


Cement pilings, if they’re used, also have to be designed to withstand tremendous forces; substandard cement pilings are far more likely to fail. And protective seawalls, which had previously been a foot or two above normal high tide, must be tall enough to resist surge.


Older boat storage racks have proven to be especially vulnerable in high winds. In 2005’s Hurricane Wilma, three large racks collapsed damaging hundreds of boats. These buildings didn’t have to collapse; steel structures can be built to withstand just about any wind speed.


Building codes in much of Florida now require that structures for boat storage be constructed with heavier-gauge steel and have more structural supports. It’s a trend that should be continued everywhere; there’s no point waiting until buildings have collapsed to upgrade local codes.


Finally, the tie-down system used successfully at Sebastian River and other marinas should become the norm at marinas along the Gulf and Atlantic Coasts.


Technology can also help. For instance, rope companies like Yale Cordage developed a braid-on-braid mooring pennant that has a nylon core for stretch to absorb energy and a polyester outer core to resist chafe. Other rope companies have similar products. Perhaps a rating system could be developed to let buyers know how sturdy a line is likely to be in a storm.


The Hazelett Rode, which was developed over almost 20 years, has considerable strength and the ability to absorb tremendous amounts of energy. Finally, helical moorings, which are drilled down into the seabed, should eventually replace traditional mushroom and deadweight moorings. However, it’s possible that the three could be used together to make a mooring that would resist almost any surge and wind speed.


Other innovations that could reduce damage have actually been around for decades. New folding cradles do a better job of supporting a boat’s hull than jack stands and can be strapped into the ground. Are there other ideas? With each hurricane we learn a little more about what works and what doesn’t work.


A Sense of Urgency

Aside from better technology, improves marinas, and even help from local governments, the one thing that is essential to combating damage in future storms is a sense of urgency. What would happen if, by some magical stroke of good luck, all of the hurricanes that form in 2006 were to pass harmlessly out to sea? Would people still have the same sense of urgency? Even if the coastal states get lucky this year, luck can’t be depended on every year to protect boats from hurricanes. Only planning and taking action can do that.


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