Hurricane Prep 101

By Charles Fort

We know that at least some parts of the U.S. will be affected by tropical storms. Having a hurricane plan in place and knowing how to execute it are the best ways to get your boat to come through unscathed.

Boats in a stormPhoto: State Archives of Florida/McDonald

Folks along the U.S. East Coast and Gulf of Mexico start getting a little nervous right about now. While the 2017 hurricane season officially started June 1, activity really starts to pick up around mid-August through mid-October. Historically, September 10 is the peak. If you've put off planning for what you'll do in the event of a storm, it's not too late. We're here to help.

Make A New Plan, Stan

If you own a boat, the first step in developing a preparation plan is to review your dock contract for language that may require you to take certain steps when a hurricane threatens. Ask the marina manager what hurricane plan the marina has in place.

BoatUS Marine Insurance claim-file data shows that choosing the most storm-worthy location possible and having your plan ready before a hurricane warning is posted can significantly reduce the probability of damage. Our BoatUS claim records show that damage is usually due to one or more of the following: rain, wind, waves, and exceptionally high water, in proportions rarely experienced by boaters. Keep in mind that in the day or two before an approaching storm, marinas and chandleries may be swamped, and drawbridges will be busy and eventually have to shut down to allow traffic to evacuate. Start your preparations early.

Hop On The Bus, Gus

At Home

Trailerable boats have the advantage of being movable, at least some distance out of harm's way. Take advantage of the wheels under your boat and get it as far from the coast as you can, even if it's only a few miles away from your house. Storm surges in marinas can float boats right off their trailers and into trouble.

Trailered boats tied downIf a storm is on the way, get trailer boats as far away from the coast as you can and, if possible, stake the boat and trailer to the ground. (Photo: Scott Croft)

Safely at home, raise the bow and remove the drain plug to prevent the boat from being filled with water. Use a cover if you have one. If possible, avoid parking the boat under trees that could be toppled. If the storm is heading your way, consider tying the boat and trailer to the ground using stakes.

On The Hard

If your boat is too big to trailer, you'll have to keep it at the marina. Hauling your boat before a hurricane is the safest thing you can do. BoatUS Marine Insurance will pay up to 50 percent of the cost (up to $1,000) of having your boat hauled when a named storm threatens.

Hauling boat out of the waterHauling your boat out of the water will almost certainly lessen damage from a storm.

With few exceptions, boats hauled out fare much better than those left in the water. For many boat owners and marinas, hauling boats is the foundation of their hurricane plan. Some farsighted marinas and yacht clubs have evacuation plans to pull as many boats out of the water as possible whenever a storm is approaching. Be aware that it takes time to move boats, so you'll need to decide early if you're going to haul.

Once it's hauled out, make sure your boat has extra jackstands, at least three or four on each side for boats under 30 feet, and five or six for larger boats. The jackstands must be supported by plywood and chained together. In some areas, marinas are able to tie down boats to stakes in the ground, which makes it far less likely your boat will be blown over. Even during the super-high surge of Hurricane Sandy in which boats were floated off their stands, those that were on the hard suffered less damage than those in the water.

Securing boat in slip with docklines illustrationFor boats kept in a slip, double up on docklines and use fore and aft spring lines. (Illustration: Marcus Floro/BoatUS)

In The Slip

Over the years, we've learned that the probability of damage can be reduced considerably by choosing the most storm-worthy location possible. Any boat in the water should be secured in a snug harbor. The trick is deciding which harbors will still be snug if a hurricane comes ashore and which will be vulnerable.

Storm surge (high water) is a major consideration. A storm surge of 10 feet or more is common in a hurricane, so a seawall or sandy spit that normally protects a harbor may not offer protection in a hurricane. Take a look at your boat slip and its relation to the rest of the harbor. For most boats, you'll want to arrange the bow toward open water or, lacking that, toward the least protected direction. Not only does this keep the strongest part of your boat facing waves; it also reduces windage.

If you plan to leave your boat at a floating dock, it's critical that you measure the height of the pilings. Will they remain above the predicted storm surge? A fixed dock presents an even greater problem. With a fixed dock, a boat's docklines must have sufficient scope to allow for storm surge. Lines that are too short will be stressed and broken by the surge.

On the other hand, simply increasing scope to existing pilings typically results in too much slack; the boat will be slammed against the pilings when the storm first comes ashore. The remedy is to secure longer lines to more distant pilings or even trees. The larger the slip, the better. This allows the boat to rise without greatly increasing the risk that it will be destroyed against pilings.

If you decide to leave your boat at a dock, you'll need to devise a docking plan that is probably far different from your normal docking arrangement. You'll probably want to use other boat owners' pilings (and vice versa), which calls for some planning and cooperation with slip neighbors and marina management.

By the time preparations are completed, your boat should resemble a spider suspended in the center of a large web. This web will allow the boat to rise on the surge, be bounced around by the storm, and still remain in position. See "Setting Storm Docklines" below for more.

Setting Storm Docklines

A good rule of thumb: Storm docklines should be at least as long as the boat itself. Also, lines should be a larger diameter than your standard lines to resist chafe and excessive stretching. In most cases, use 1/2-inch line for boats up to 25 feet, 5/8-inch line for boats 25 to 34 feet, and 3/4- to 1-inch lines for larger boats.

Setting docklinesDocklines need to be long enough so that during storm surge they can still keep the boat centered. Note how high the water is in relation to the pilings between the boats. (Photo: Charles Fort)

Chafe protectors must be on any portion of the line that could be chafed by chocks, pulpits, pilings, and so on. To secure lines to hard-to-reach outer pilings, put the eye on the piling so that lines can be adjusted from the boat. For other lines, put the eye on the boat to allow for final adjustment from the dock.

Anchored Or Moored

Crowded, rock-strewn harbors are picturesque but may not be the best place to keep your boat in a storm. Rocks are hard on boats, should yours break loose, and in a crowded harbor the chance of another boat breaking loose and banging into your boat is far greater. That said, mooring in a sheltered location can be a good alternative to exposed harbors and/or crowded marinas. A boat on a mooring can swing to face the wind, which reduces windage, and it can't be slammed into a dock unless the anchor or mooring drags.

Boats moored in a stormIf your boat is moored, find out what type of mooring your harbor uses. Embedment-type helical anchors, which are screwed into the harbor bottom, are least likely to be dragged during a storm. While they don't rely on scope to increase holding power, scope must allow for tidal surge. (Photo: Bert McConnell)

The first question is: Will your mooring hold? Results from a BoatUS test several years ago using a large tug and several types of moorings showed that the moorings that are the least likely to be dragged are the embedment-type helical anchors, which are screwed into the harbor bottom. Traditional moorings — mushroom anchor and dead-weight blocks — were far more likely to be dragged with relatively little effort. The holding power of a mushroom or deadweight anchor can be increased by extending the pennant's scope, but you also have to consider the proximity of other boats. Embedment anchors do not rely on scope to increase their holding power, but scope must be sufficient to allow for tidal surge.

If you have doubts about your mooring, the chances of it dragging can be reduced significantly by using one or two additional storm anchors to enhance its holding power and to decrease the room your boat will need to swing. Whatever arrangement you decide on, it's important to have plenty of scope — at least 10:1, if possible, and a lot of heavy oversize chain. A riding weight, or sentinel, placed at the chain/line juncture will lower the angle of pull on the anchor and reduce jerking and strain on the boat. To absorb shock, an all-chain rode must have a snubber (usually nylon line) that is about 10 percent of the rode's length.

Chafe gear is essential on any line, but it is especially important on a mooring line. Recent storms have given dramatic evidence that a boat on a mooring is especially vulnerable to chafing through its pennants. Unlike a boat at a dock, which is usually sheltered and is secured with multiple lines, a boat on a mooring is typically in a more exposed location and secured with only one or two pennants, which are under enormous loads and will chafe through quickly if they aren't protected.

Chafe Protection

Cleat location is a significant weak spot that is often overlooked when a boat is prepared for a hurricane. A cleat that is located on the rail is ideal because it avoids heat buildup, loss of strength, and chafe that is caused by stretching rope across the chock at a sharp angle down to the water. The line won't be compressed as tightly, it won't generate as much heat, and it will be far more likely to weather the storm intact.

Chafe guardPhoto: Taylormade Products

On boats where the cleat is located back from a chock, it may be possible to move the cleat. Note, however, that the cleat must be installed properly or the whole effort will have been for naught. Bolts — not screws — should be used to secure the cleat, and it should be backed with a wood or metal backing plate to distribute the load (washers are not adequate).

If the cleat can't be moved, your choice of chafe protection is critical. Various types of hoses — PVC, garden hoses, and even fire hose — have the potential to reduce compression at the chock as well as protect the line against external chafe, which is good. But these types of hose will allow heat to build up and prevent cooling water from reaching the fibers. The best way to reduce the chances of the line failing at the chock is to use something like polyester chafe protectors (as shown above), which let out heat and allow water in.

Don't Need To Be Coy, Roy

Regardless of where you'll keep your boat, in anticipation of high winds you'll need to strip it of anything that the wind can catch. Biminis, furling sails, dodgers, and so on all need to be removed. Every doubling of wind speed quadruples the wind's pressure, and you want to give the wind as little as possible to push against. Furling sails are notorious for unfurling in a strong wind, which at best will destroy the sail and perhaps the rigging, and at worst topple the boat or destroy your neighbor's rigging. Reducing windage is even more important for boats left in the water, so strip everything you can.

Use tape to seal hatches and dorade vents. Tie down tillers or wheels and remove anything that could blow away. Check the bilge pumps, and ensure the batteries are fully charged. It's likely your marina won't have shore power if there's a direct hit. Remove personal effects, valuables, and ship's paperwork, and bring it all home.

And Set Yourself Free

Enduring the effects of a hurricane is stressful, and hopefully in the aftermath you and your family have come through unharmed. If your boat was damaged, contact your insurance company immediately. If your policy is with BoatUS, you can do this online at BoatUS.com/Claims, via the all-new BoatUS app, or by calling our claims department 24/7 at 800-937-1937. In the meantime, as soon as it's safe, here are some things you should do to protect your boat and reduce potential problems:

1. If your boat is damaged, accessible, and it's safe to do so, remove as much equipment as possible to protect it from looters or vandals.

2. Protect the boat from weather exposure, leaks, mildew, dry mud, and so on. Inspect for leaks in all cabinets and lazarettes. Also check and clean out scuppers.

3. If the engine and other machinery have been submerged or gotten wet, "pickle" it by flushing with freshwater and then filling with diesel fuel or kerosene.

4. If your boat is sunk or must be moved by a salvage company, let your insurance company assist with the arrangements. Do not sign any salvage or wreck-removal contracts, including the BoatUS salvage form, without first getting approval from your insurance claims staff because it could jeopardize coverage.

The Challenge Of Predicting Hurricane Seasons

Every spring a number of sources try to predict — based on years of experience, and using supercomputers — how many tropical storms and hurricanes will form in the Atlantic. One of the better-known hurricane-season forecasts comes from Colorado State University's Philip Klotzbach and the late Bill Gray. We looked at 22 years of hurricane-season predictions from that group to test their accuracy. Out of all the forecasts, only one season was predicted perfectly. In some years, there were up to eight more storms than predicted.

Predicted vs Actual Hurricanes chartThe numbers at the bottom of the chart show the number of hurricanes predicted for each year. Red icons above the line indicate how many more hurricanes there were than predicted. Blue icons below the line indicate how many fewer hurricanes there were than predicted.

The takeaway? Never rely on early-season predictions to decide what to do with your boat. In our warming climate, tropical storms and hurricanes are getting stronger, so it's even more important to have a hurricane plan in place and have your boat prepared when a storm threatens, despite the forecasts. Your mantra should be "Hope for the best, but prepare for the worst." 

Associate editor Charles Fort also leads our BoatUS Consumer Protection department. A USCG-licensed captain, he lived aboard and cruised for many years.

— Published: August/September 2017


TideMinders Work

During storms and high winds, especially, I keep a watchful eye on the docklines of our 53-foot motorsailer. But after years of using TideMinders on our dock, I find I don't worry as much about tide extremes, hurricane surges, or rope damage from lines chafing on the pilings. This simple product consists of very durable polyethylene balls with holes that you string onto your docklines like beads. They stay in place with a figure-eight knot, and ride up and down the pilings, following your boat as the water rises and falls.

TideMindersPhoto: TideMinders

Their weight keeps the line down on the piling (depending on how much line you let out) so when the gust hits, they're pulled up the piling until they're even with the boat's cleat, adding significant "elasticity" to the line, in addition to what's already there from the nylon. They float, have no edges to chafe your line, and because the balls alone contact the pilings as they ride up and down, the line is protected from chafe from rough pilings.

In my opinion, this system is better than stainless-steel slides on bars that must be bolted to the pilings, which can weaken them. Plus, bars may not be as strong as the underlying piling. TideMinders use the piling itself and don't introduce bolt holes. They won't work well if the pilings are encumbered with cleats or other structures, but these should be avoided anyway because they weaken the piling. tideminders.com

— Tom Neale

 

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