Hurricane Season 2017: Who Is Back In Business

By Lenny Rudow

After the localized devastation from this year's hurricane season, many popular boating destinations in Florida, the Gulf Coast, and the Caribbean are working hard to reopen. Here's what you can expect.

The Moorings charter fleet in TortolaGetting The Moorings charter fleet in Tortola operational is a work in progress (this photo was taken in early October), but the company expects to be open again in early December.

Although the punishing hurricane season of 2017 is now in our wake, it will be a long time before the devastation it wrought, and the recovery, will be behind us. The 2017 season produced the greatest number of consecutive hurricanes in the satellite era (including Franklin and Ophelia) reaching winds of at least 75 miles per hour. It was most likely the costliest season on record, with a preliminary total of more than $188 billion in damages, according to Moody's Analytics. (See below "The Worst Hurricanes In Recent History" on for details and key differences in these storm systems, and how they compare to other devastating storms over the past few years.)

Much has been written in the press about the effects of this hurricane season. There have been personal stories of tragic losses and inspirational rescues, meteorological analyses, and on-the-scene news coverage of the rebuilding. Here at BoatUS, our CAT Team was still in areas of Florida and Texas at the end of October, working with our insureds' claims, and dealing with damaged boats.

In this article, we focus on the state of recovery in the world of American boating. Whether you had a boating vacation on your winter calendar or planned to head south this winter on your own boat, you may be wondering which areas have recovered, how well they've recovered, and which areas and islands have sustained lasting damage. The people of these hard-hit regions have all been working hard to make sure they are back in business, as some of the most vulnerable regions have economies built around tourism. So let's take a look at where things stand, region by region, as of the end of October 2017.

Keep in mind that different places were hit with different levels of severity, and sometimes two marinas just a mile or two apart were impacted in completely different ways. That means it can be difficult to state unequivocally that this island or that town is fully back in business, or conversely, has yet to recover. But on the whole, hurricane recovery from the continental U.S. throughout the Caribbean is a positive and inspirational story. In all but the hardest-hit areas, people have been rebuilding, and rebuilding fast. BoatUS spoke with key representatives from all the various regions to try and find out what, generally, you can expect from these major tourist areas.

Caribbean

While the Caribbean was hard-hit, restoring tourist services so people have jobs and the islands' economies can recover has been job number-one since debris was cleared — which in most areas happened by late September. But there's quite a bit of variation from island to island. Fortunately, in today's world of modern communications, it's easy to check on specific spots, fast. A particularly useful tool is caribbeantravelupdate.com, which lists affected and unaffected islands, in many cases detailing specific hotels, marinas, and resorts, and has links to the latest updates for each.

In the hard-hit British Virgin Islands, charter companies surprisingly have bounced back faster and stronger than many land-based operations. The Moorings and Sunsail, the largest operators in the BVI, had many boats in place and ready for charter at press time. Ian Pedersen, marketing manager for The Moorings, said, "We're happy to announce our BVI destination's reopening on December 9. Tourism is the heartbeat of the Caribbean, and The Moorings is determined to come back stronger than ever."

Despite having its BVI fleet decimated, Dream Yacht Charters already had purchased 20 replacement boats, and were able to shuffle boats around from its other Caribbean fleets, so it could return to full operation in November. MarineMax Vacations and Festiva Sailing have announced both companies will be up and running by the end of the year.

Other BVI boating businesses were not so fortunate. The iconic Bitter End Yacht Club, a popular boating resort in Virgin Gorda, for example, is in ruins. John Glynn, general manager, was at the Newport International Boat Show in September organizing relief efforts for the island. Many other marine businesses based in the islands were doing the same.

The U.S. Virgin Islands were also exceptionally hard-hit and have had a tougher time recovering. In fact, The Mooring's popular facility there will need until February 1, 2018, before reopening. Larger, established companies such as The Moorings were able to reach out to its customers, rearrange charter dates, or offer alternate destinations. Some hotels had reopened at press time, but several weren't expected to reopen until 2018. A few state they will remain closed "until further notice."

Although it's not quite the same tourist hub as some of these other areas, it should be also understood that Puerto Rico is in a decimated state after two major hurricanes hit in succession, and recovery is slowed by its isolated location. Many hotels are not expected to open before 2018, and although many of the marinas are intact, infrastructure damage to this American island — which had a busy charter fishing fleet of its own — makes travel here in the near future questionable.

Although extreme storm surges damaged a couple of marinas, the bulk of the Bahamas boating mecca either survived unscathed or had only minor issues. According to the Ministry of Tourism and Aviation, major tourism centers were minimally impacted and are now back to operating as usual.

Florida Keys

The Florida Keys were hard-hit but began recovering within days, helped by FEMA and a large volunteer effort. "I went to Big Pine twice in three days," said Scott Croft, BoatUS Vice President of Public Affairs and member of our BoatUS Catastrophe (CAT) Team, "and in that short time I could see so many positive changes with people getting things back together."

BoatUS CAT Team surveys damageBoatUS CAT Team members survey the extensive damage to an insured's boat in Florida after Hurricane Irma.

The Keys officially reopened to visitors on October 1, with officials claiming an "almost total restoration of utilities and significant completion of infrastructure repairs." Tourists should expect a few marinas, hotels, and restaurants to be closed or under repair over the winter; for the most part, these are the smaller businesses that may not have had the wherewithal to rebuild without assistance. But generally speaking, the Keys, where 50 percent of the workforce depends on the tourism trade, is ready for the season. In fact, in October, the Keys Tourism Council launched a $1 million advertising campaign to promote that it was ready for snowbirds to begin flocking south again.

Some areas did lose a large number of privately owned boats; Boot Key Harbor City Marina in Marathon, for example, lost 200 out of 300 boats. But even so, those partaking in the sharing economy shouldn't have any trouble finding boats to rent. "There are plenty of options for any boating need here, with more than 1,000 active boats in Florida alone," according to Pablo Vidal Arean, Chief Marketing Officer of Boatsetter, a peer-to-peer marketplace for private boat rentals. "Many of our owners had a full week to prepare and move their boats out of the water before the hurricanes. There still could be damage, but we haven't had any issues with boats being unavailable."

Bud N' Mary's Marina before Hurricane Irma

Bud N' Mary's Marina after Hurricane IrmaAs you can see from these dramatic before-and-after aerial photos, Bud N' Mary's on Islamorada in the Florida Keys got hit hard by Hurricane Irma. It didn't keep the fishing destination down for long, though; the fleet was up and running again by early October. (Photo: Bud N' Mary's)

The Keys' fishing fleet also weathered the storm well. Since fishing season hadn't started up when the hurricanes came to town, many boats were still fishing in waters to the north when the hurricanes hit. But even where charter boats were tied up, such as the iconic fishing destination Bud N' Mary's in Islamorada, for example, by early October the fleet was back to fishing in full force.

Florida Mainland

Like the Keys, virtually all of mainland Florida plans to be fully operational this winter and expects a solid tourist season. Freedom Boat Club, which has 19 Southwest Florida locations, a fleet of 500 boats, and was hit in many different coastal areas, presents a microcosm of the entire state. "We did experience a few small losses," said president and CEO John Giglio, "but our team did a great job prepping for the storm, and we're happy to report that we were open and fully operational by early October."

There was also a significant loss of private boats in Miami, especially in Coconut Grove, but the charter and sportfishing fleets survived the storm for the most part intact. Even areas like Marco Island and Naples, identified as "devastated" and "savaged," expect to have near-normal winters. Like the Keys, in fact, the biggest fear among Floridians is that tourists will hesitate to come because of misconceptions about the pace of recovery.

Gulf Coast

From the Florida panhandle up to Texas, recovery has been a robust effort underway for months, benefiting from strong state economies, attention by FEMA, and heroic efforts by volunteers. Most businesses and hotels should be up to full speed before the winter season gets into full swing.

One particularly hard-hit area was Port Aransas, a popular fishing destination for anglers traveling to Texas. Boaters hoping to visit can probably keep their plans. Most area guides fish from relatively small trailerable boats, few of which were damaged; some, in fact, were used for waterborne rescues following the flooding.

Florida Mainland

Like the Keys, virtually all of mainland Florida plans to be fully operational this winter and expects a solid tourist season. Freedom Boat Club, which has 19 Southwest Florida locations, a fleet of 500 boats, and was hit in many different coastal areas, presents a microcosm of the entire state. "We did experience a few small losses," said president and CEO John Giglio, "but our team did a great job prepping for the storm, and we're happy to report that we were open and fully operational by early October."

There was also a significant loss of private boats in Miami, especially in Coconut Grove, but the charter and sportfishing fleets survived the storm for the most part intact. Even areas like Marco Island and Naples, identified as "devastated" and "savaged," expect to have near-normal winters. Like the Keys, in fact, the biggest fear among Floridians is that tourists will hesitate to come because of misconceptions about the pace of recovery.

Gulf Coast

From the Florida panhandle up to Texas, recovery has been a robust effort underway for months, benefiting from strong state economies, attention by FEMA, and heroic efforts by volunteers. Most businesses and hotels should be up to full speed before the winter season gets into full swing.

One particularly hard-hit area was Port Aransas, a popular fishing destination for anglers traveling to Texas. Boaters hoping to visit can probably keep their plans. Most area guides fish from relatively small trailerable boats, few of which were damaged; some, in fact, were used for waterborne rescues following the flooding.

Worst Hurricanes In Recent History

* Average barometric pressure at sea level is 1013.25 millibars. The lower the number, the stronger the storm.

Hurricane Katrina damage

Katrina

Landfall: 8/25/2005
Cost of damage adjusted for inflation: $160B
Wind at landfall: 125 mph (Cat 3)
Rainfall: 8-10"
Central barometric pressure at landfall*: 920 mb
Storm surge: 30'

States damaged, and notes: Strong wind, heavy rain, storm surge ruptured levees, leaving parts of New Orleans under 20' of water. Surge exceeded 30' along LA, MS, AL. High winds, flooding in AL, MS, FL, TN, KY, IN, OH, GA.

Boat report: Estimate on recreational watercraft insurance losses is $200-$400 million (Source: Towers Watson)

Hurricane Sandy aftermath boat pile up

Sandy

Landfall: 10/30/2012
Cost of damage adjusted for inflation: $70.2B
Wind at landfall: 70 mph (Post-tropical cyclone)
Rainfall: 11.67" (Wildwood, NJ)
Central barometric pressure at landfall*: 940 mb
Storm surge: 12.65' (Kings Point, NY) 8.57' (Sandy Hook, NJ)

States damaged, and notes: Huge hurricane with tropical-storm-force wind out to 485 miles. Water levels rose along entire East Coast. Highest surges in NJ, NY, CT, plus high tide. BoatUS estimates 65,000+ boats destroyed, and $650 million in marine-related damage.

Boat report: 65,000+ recreational boats damaged or lost. $650 million, most costly storm for recreational boaters.

Hurricane Andrew boat damage

Andrew

Landfall: 8/24/1992
Cost of damage adjusted for inflation: $48.1B
Wind at landfall: 145 mph (Cat 5)
Rainfall: 7"
Central barometric pressure at landfall*: 922 mb
Storm surge: 4-8'

States damaged, and notes: Small but ferocious, significant damage to northwestern Bahamas, southern FL, LA. Most expensive natural disaster in U.S. history at time. Winds and storm surges left 250k homeless. Adjusted to present-day dollars, Andrew is 3rd most costly hurricane after Katrina and Sandy.

Boat report: $500 million in recreational boat damage. Prompted sweeping changes in state's building code, insurance industry, role of FEMA.

Hurricane Ike damage

Ike

Landfall: 9/12/2008
Cost of damage adjusted for inflation: $34.8B
Wind at landfall: 110 mph (Cat 2)
Rainfall: 20"
Central barometric pressure at landfall*: 950 mb
Storm surge: 12-18'

States damaged, and notes: Largest (at the time) Atlantic hurricane on record. Huge storm surge in TX. Significant wind/flood damage in TX, LA, AR, TN, IL, IN, KY, MO, OH, MI, PA. Tropical storm-force winds for 11 hours. Four hurricanes hit TX that summer.

Boat report: $200 million in recreational boat damages.

Hurricane Ivan damage

Ivan

Landfall: 9/12/2004
Cost of damage adjusted for inflation: $27.1B
Wind at landfall: 120 mph (Cat 3)
Rainfall: 10-15"
Central barometric pressure at landfall*: 964 mb
Storm surge: 10-15'

States damaged, and notes: Hit AL and FL panhandle with significant wind, surge, flooding, plus wind/flood damage in GA, MS, LA, SC, NC, VA, WV, MD, TN, KY, OH, DE, NJ, PA, NY. Lasted 22 days, 10 as a major hurricane.

Boat report: $37.5 million in recreational boat damages.

Hurricane Wilma aftermath

Wilma

Landfall: 10/24/2005
Cost of damage adjusted for inflation: $24.5B
Wind at landfall: 120 mph (Cat 3)
Rainfall: 3-7"
Central barometric pressure at landfall*: 950 mb
Storm surge: 12-18'

States damaged, and notes: At the time, strongest Atlantic hurricane ever recorded. Minimum central pressure of 882 mb. SW FL landfall with strong damaging winds, major flooding. Eye crossed FL peninsula in less than 4.5 hrs, moving at 25 mph into Atlantic.

Boat report: $252 million in recreational boat damages.

Hurricane Harvey Key Allegro Marina damage

Harvey

Landfall: 8/25/2017
Cost of damage adjusted for inflation: TBD
Wind at landfall: 130 mph (Cat 4)
Rainfall: 20-48"
Central barometric pressure at landfall*: 938 mb
Storm surge: 6-12'

States damaged, and notes: Still a named storm 117 hours after landfall, the longest a TX landfalling hurricane remained a named storm after landfall. First major hurricane (winds 110+ mph) to make landfall in the U.S. since 2008.

Boat report: 13,500 boats costing $155 million in damage.

Hurricane Irma damage

Irma

Landfall: 9/10/2017
Cost of damage adjusted for inflation: TBD
Wind at landfall: 130 mph (Cat 4)
Rainfall: 15"
Central barometric pressure at landfall*: 929 mb
Storm surge: 5-8'

States damaged, and notes: After Harvey, first time U.S. struck by two Cat 4 hurricanes in same year. Named storm 13 days, 11 as hurricane. Significant wind, near-historic levels of surge, flood damage in Caribbean, FL, GA. 7.5 million FL homes without power.

Boat report: 50,000 boats costing $500 million in damage.

Hurricane Maria satellite image

Maria

Landfall: 9/19/2017
Cost of damage adjusted for inflation: TBD
Wind at landfall: 155 mph (Cat 4)
Rainfall: 30-37"
Central barometric pressure at landfall*: 914 mb
Storm surge: 9'

States damaged, and notes: After striking USVI St. Croix, devastated PR with high winds, extreme rainfall caused widespread wind damage, flooding, mudslides. Tied with Wilma (2005) for most rapid intensification, strengthening from tropical depression to category 5 storm in 54 hours. Landfall at Cat 4, a U.S. record three Cat 4+ landfalls this year (Harvey, Irma, and Maria). 

Lenny Rudow is BoatUS Magazine's fishing and electronics editor.

— Published: December 2017


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