PracticalBoater
Seaworthy | From The BoatUS Insurance Files

 

Preparing For A Hurricane

Wind, Rain And Surge

By Charles Fort
Published: August/September 2014

Tropical storms may be unpredictable, but one thing you can predict is that if one hits your marina, your boat is far more likely to survive if you have a preparation plan and follow it.

How To Deal With Surge

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Surge is rising water caused by a tropical storm, and it could very well be the highest an area has ever experienced. The strong wind from a storm causes water to pile up on top of any local tides. On a fixed dock, a boat will rise as much as 10 feet or more and it must be tied loosely enough to allow it to rise, but not so loose that it bangs against the dock. Long lines taken to an adjoining dock or piling and long spring lines will allow the boat to move up and down while still holding it in position. Floating docks rise with the surge, but if it's high enough, the surge can float the docks right off the pilings. If the predicted surge is anywhere near as high as the pilings, the boat must be moved, preferably ashore. BoatUS claims data show that boats are nearly always safer when hauled out. But, as Superstorm Sandy showed, in an exceptionally high surge even hauled boats can be floated off their stands. On average, those boats fared better, though, than those in their slips, many of which were carried away with their docks. (For more on predicting surge, see sidebar.)

Where To Keep Your Boat

Where your boat is kept is one of the most critical factors in preparation. Smaller boats should be put on their trailer and taken inland, but try not to park them under trees that might be blown over or lose large limbs. If you take your boat home, you may want to leave it, and not your car, in the garage. A boat is lighter and more vulnerable to high winds than a car. Boats on lifts are particularly vulnerable and should be taken ashore. Move your trailerable boat early; roads may be traffic-choked in anticipation of the storm. If your boat will be well away from potential flooding, leave the drain plug out and use a cover if you have one (see sidebar).

Photo of 18-foot dock pilings
These 18-foot pilings make it unlikely the docks will be carried off in a high surge.

Boats normally kept in their slip should be hauled out if possible; BoatUS Marine Insurance will pay 50 percent of the cost of a haul-out during a tropical storm warning or watch, up to $1,000. Over the years, the BoatUS Hurricane Catastrophe Team has found that boats stored ashore usually fare much better during a storm than those kept in the water. Even if your boat survives the storm in its slip, it could easily be damaged or destroyed by a neighbor's boat that breaks loose due to poor preparation. If your boat is going to stay in the water, you'll need to have a plan to tie it securely, using extra lines that can be led to the next dock so the lines won't be too tight when the water rises.

Photo of boats stored onshore
Photo: Douglas Hillman
Boats that are hauled ashore are much less likely to suffer serious damage.
Canvas should be removed.

Some marinas have begun to haul out boats and use straps embedded in concrete to tie them down, with good results, though the boats must still be stripped of anything removable that increases windage. Pay particular attention to the area's potential for exposure to the storm. A marina with no protection from the storm's winds and waves is going to suffer much greater damage than one that's tucked away. If you're not comfortable with the location, move your boat.

When To Batten Down

As Superstorm Sandy demonstrated, forecasts don't always get it right far enough in advance to allow for much in the way of preparation. By the time the forecast has moved from probable to near-certain, securing the house, gathering emergency provisions, and even evacuating the area will all have priority. Even a hurricane watch, issued when there is a possibility of hurricane-force winds, comes out only 48 hours in advance of tropical storm-force winds. That's not enough time to move your boat to a new location unless you have everything organized well in advance. The best advice is to follow your tropical-storm plan when a storm is a substantial possibility, even before a watch is issued. If you wait too long, bridges may be locked down, preventing you from moving your boat, and your marina may already be too busy to haul your boat. It's far better to prep your boat for a storm that misses the area than to watch helplessly as the one that should have turned makes a beeline for your unprepared boat.End of story marker

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