Storm Prep, Day By Day

By Tim Murphy

A hurricane or other major storm brings four threats — wind, rain, waves, and surge — and you can improve your boat's odds against all four by preparing early.

Storm cloudsYour boat needs to be prepped long before the weather deteriorates to this condition.

We live in an age of unprecedented storm forecasting. In both the United States and Europe, ever more sophisticated computer models provide us with ever lengthier lead times to prepare our boats for the worst as a storm approaches. For a comprehensive list of storm-prep recommendations, visit the BoatUS Hurricane Preparations for Boaters site.

In the meantime, here's a day-by-day guide to getting your boat ready once a storm has been forecast for your region. Keep in mind that every tropical storm moves at its own speed, so treat this a rough guideline. The goal is to finish your boat preparations well before the first big winds start to blow.

Day 0: Advance Preparations

The first round of storm preparations is best addressed at the beginning of boating season — well before any particular storm starts brewing.

  • Review your boat's insurance policy. What actions does it require of you? If you live in an area that may be prone to hurricane activity, many policies, such as those from BoatUS, may carry a "Named Storm Deductible" that is higher than your normal eductible.  BoatUS policies allow you to lower your named storm deductible by properly preparing the boat by moving it to land, lashing it down with in-ground anchors and removing all canvas and/or sails from the exterior. When a named storm threatens, BoatUS also pays 50% of the cost up to a maximum of $1,000 to have the boat moved by a professional, for a professional haul out, or for the professional execution of a hurricane plan.
  • Choose your location to ride out a major storm; see "Hurricane Preparation Starts with Three Considerations: Location, Location, Location".
  • Enlist a friend or family member to help with preparations and act as an emergency contact with the marina.

Marina Boats (In A Slip):

Review your dock contract with your marina, as well as its storm protocol. To see examples from experienced marina operators, see the BoatUS Sample Marina Plans webpage. If you intend to stay in a slip, this is the time to craft your strategy. You'll need to account for storm surge (10 to 20 feet above high tide), so make sure you have plenty of extra-long dock lines of extra-big diameter. Are your boat's cleats big and beefy enough? If not, replace them now. Does your marina provide ample strong points? No strategy should rely on rotted or degraded pilings, or pilings that are too short for a surge. Dock cleats bolted through dock boards are often not strong enough. Direct tie to pilings may be better. Products such as TideMinders allow lines to easily move up and down pilings. Coordinate your plans with your marina neighbors; you may each need to run lines to each other's pilings. Finally, consider this line from the Pensacola Shipyard hurricane protocol: "Marinas are not safe locations for vessels during a hurricane or tropical storm... it is highly recommended that vessels be relocated well in advance to safer locations ..."

Marina Boats (Hauled):

Studies by BoatUS show that boats stored ashore suffer less damage than those left in the water, often much less. If you plan to haul the boat in a storm, discuss the storm protocol with the marina manager, particularly the timing of hauling after a storm is first forecast. Keep in mind that all your neighbors want to be hauled in the same short time window, too. Does the marina store boats on high ground — higher than a possible surge? Is the ground level and stable? In some marinas recently, strapping boats to the ground has reduced storm damage to boats by two-thirds; does your marina provide anchor points in the ground? Many yards require non-refundable large deposits, well in advance of the season, to "reserve" a space ashore.

Trailered Boats:

If your boat can be trailered, that gives you the option of getting it to high ground, well above any surge. Is your trailer road-ready? That means wheels, bearings, brakes, and lights. Is your tow vehicle ready? Know which launch ramp you'll use and how much time it may take to get your boat there and hauled. Keep in mind that lines may form before a storm.

Moored Boats:

Have your mooring inspected seasonally. Is the mushroom or block amply buried? Studies have demonstrated superior holding from helix-type moorings; consider having one installed. Is all of your chain in good shape? Is there ample scope to account for surge? Do you have a second pendant ready to install (or preferably already installed) as a backup against chafe on your primary pendant?

Anchored Boats:

Find your best one or two hurricane holes. Does it protect against waves from every direction even with an extra high storm surge? Is the holding ground sufficient? Will it be too crowded? For storm-anchor systems, see "At a Mooring, at Anchor, or Both".

Day 1: Storm's First Reports

Only a few storms are destructive in any one region; many more are supremely inconvenient. When a forecast shows a wide range of possible landfalls, it's human nature to want to assume the storm will miss you. But avoid taking that bait. The first day that your boat's location is included in the storm's possible track — that's the day to start getting ready.

  • Rearrange your schedule for the next few days to allow for storm prep
  • Gather chafe gear for docklines, mooring pendants, or anchor rode. Duct tape and rags are not sufficient. Commercial products such as Chafe-Pro have been proven to work in extreme conditions
  • Gather any tools you'll need to remove gear or electronics from the boat
  • Marina Boats: check in with the marina manager; coordinate your plans. Make sure marina staff can reach you on short notice (cell phone, email)

Trailered Boats:

Confirm that the trailer and tow vehicle are ready to go.

Moored Boats:

Locate any extra pendants, chafe gear, shackles or any other gear you'll need to beef up your attachment to the mooring.

Anchored Boats:

Choose your hurricane hole. Gather all the equipment (extra anchors, chain, rode, chafe gear) you'll need to create a storm-anchor system.

Day 2: Storm Approaches

If a whole day has passed and your boat is still in the storm's possible track, it's time to act. Some marinas require you to execute your storm plan more than 72 hours before the predicted landfall. Check for bridge closures due to the storm. This is the time to think through a storm's four threats: wind, rain, waves, and surge. What can you do to mitigate each of those?

Prepare For Waves:

If your boat remains in a marina, keep in mind that sandbars and breakwaters may be covered by the surge, exposing your boat to the waves' full force. If waves are a possible factor, orient the bow facing them. For ideas on tying the boat off, see the "At A Dock" section in "A Guide to Preparing Marinas and Boats for Hurricanes".

Prepare For Wind:

That means removing absolutely everything you can: biminis, cushions, chairs, tables, outriggers, dinghies, motors, sails. If your boat will be in a slip, position the bow toward the likeliest direction of storm winds — but give precedence to the direction of waves. Tie the boat as far from the dock as you can. Each dockline should be long enough to its own strongpoint to allow for surge.

Prepare For Rain:

Ensure that your scuppers and bilge are free of debris, sludge, and any obstructions. Remove electronics or other equipment that's sensitive to moisture. Tape over hatches and dorades to keep wind-driven rain out. Check that bilge pumps are working. Top off batteries that will run the pumps and turn of un-needed items that will drain those batteries. If you have a low-freeboard boat or one with inadequate drains, it will need to be hauled out or trailered to avoid sinking.

Prepare For Surge:

The spider web of extra long docklines recommended in "At A Dock" should allow for a rise and fall of water level that may be unprecedented for your area.

Day 3: Storm Imminent

Time is now getting tight. Secure any items that you might have missed; remove any valuable items from the boat that remain. Take photos of your storm preparation in case your insurance company needs them later.

Day 4: Storm Watch

A hurricane watch indicates that hurricane conditions may pose a threat within 36 hours. By this time, you should have done all you can to secure your boat. The focus now should be on getting yourself and your family somewhere safe.

Day 5: Storm Warning

A hurricane warning for your area indicates that sustained winds of 74 mph are expected within 24 hours. Hopefully, by now, you and your family are safely away from the coastline — and your boat is just about the last thing on your mind. 

Tim Murphy is a BoatUS contributing editor, and the coauthor of Fundamentals of Marine Service Technology (ABYC, 2012).

— Published: August/September 2016

Hurricane Hunting Drones

The act of flying "Hurricane Hunter" aircraft into raging hurricanes to gather data goes back to World War II fighter planes, but today the research is conducted with high-tech gear by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Lockheed Orion P-3s and Gulfstream G-IV jets go where few pilots dare, all in the name of better forecasting when and where a monster storm will make landfall, and the punch it will pack.

But two years ago, NOAA began deploying much smaller unmanned aircraft — drones with six-foot wingspans, named Coyote — into the heart of hurricanes. Coyotes measure temperature, pressure, and wind observations below 3,000 feet, where manned aircraft cannot safely fly. The expendable Coyote, made by Raytheon, is launched from a manned aircraft and sent into the storm to relay real-time data until it goes silent. The ultimate goal is to save lives and reduce operational costs.

Hurricane hunting droneDr. Joe Cione of NOAA, hurricane researcher and chief scientist of the Coyote program, holds one of the unmanned aircraft. (Photo: NOAA)


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