Boat Hurricane Rescue

By Bob Adriance
Published: August/September 2012

Hurricane season is now. The BoatUS CAT Team (that's CAT, for catastrophe!) has lots of invaluable lessons to share with you about how best to prepare marinas and boats for the worst.

The founding of the BoatUS Hurricane Catastrophe (CAT) Team goes back to the fall of 1983, when Hurricane Alicia devastated much of the Texas Gulf coast, including the newly built outer harbor at the Houston Yacht Club. Dozens of boats that had been in the harbor came ashore and were strewn, one on top of the other, in a massive pile-up that proved to be a daunting challenge to would-be salvors. BoatUS, which insured many of the boats, had been in touch with the club's officers and volunteered to dispatch several BoatUS employees to the Houston Yacht Club to, in the words of one employee, "do whatever we could to help clean up the mess."

Photo of a boat that sank because the marina's badly corroded piling
Marinas that haven't been well-maintained are especially vulnerable in hurricanes. Despite being well-prepared by its owner, the boat shown sank because the marina's badly corroded piling was pulled out of the concrete dock.

BoatUS CEO Bill Oakerson, who was then head of our BoatUS Marine Insurance Division, was part of that original group that sped to Texas. He describes what happened in Houston as the start of a company-wide learning process that has continued to expand with each new storm for almost three decades. Today, the BoatUS CAT Team's experience in how to mobilize and get on scene immediately, evaluate would be salvors, efficiently set up staging areas to safely store damaged boats, and negotiate contracts — all on behalf of our insureds — is unparalleled in the marine industry.

With years of firsthand experience, the CAT Team now has more than 35 members, and has amassed an impressive body of knowledge about what works and what doesn't work when boats are prepared for hurricanes. We've talked to several of the senior members of the CAT Team to see what lessons they've learned that might help you prepare your boats for the next inevitable storm.

Jack Hornor: Naval Architect

Those of us who've spent weeks and sometimes months sorting out the maritime aftermath of hurricanes are seldom surprised by what we find when we visit a site for the first time. It's not long before all marinas and boatyards start looking alike in terms of what happens and why. But there's one that stands out for me, not for the damage and destruction — although there was plenty of that, too — but for the lack of damage to many vessels there due to the forethought and planning of conscientious boat owners and a forward-thinking marina owner.

When I first arrived at Florida's Sebastian River Marina following Hurricane Frances in 2004, the entrance at the north end of the property was blocked by cranes, boat lifts, and equipment, so I turned around and parked along the eastern shoulder of U.S. 1 adjacent to the marina. I climbed down the brush- and tree-lined embankment to discover a row of powerboats standing as proud and erect as Terracotta Warriors. None had any damage and all had been secured, with straps and lines, to anchors embedded in the concrete pads.

Anyone who has dealt with the aftermath of a hurricane knows that greatest damage, by far, is done by storm surge, water, and waves, and not simply by the force of the wind. Boat owners preparing their boats for a storm need to get their boats out of the water and on high ground. Tying boats down has proven its worth as an added preventive measure and seems to be gaining in popularity among many marinas. When recently searching out a location to store my own boat in Fort Pierce, Florida, both Harbortown and Riverview Marinas offered the tie-down service for boats in storage. Needless to say, mine is now strapped down.

Photo of tied-down boats stored on land
As a rule, boats on land are far less likely to be damaged if they're strapped down to anchors in the ground.

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