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Preparing Your Boat For Hurricane Season

The 2017 hurricane season devastated much of Texas, Florida, and the Caribbean, with damages totaling upwards of $200 billion, making it the costliest hurricane season in U.S. history, and boat owners were the most severely hit. The Boat Owners Association of the United States (BoatUS) says over 63,000 recreational boats were damaged or destroyed by Irma and Harvey, with many more losses in the Caribbean due to Hurricane Maria.

Unfortunately, scientists have predicted this year's Atlantic hurricane season will bring more storms than average, with three major hurricanes expected between June 1 and November 30. Hurricanes continue to increase both in number and power within a given season. Therefore, the time to prepare for a tropical cyclone is long before the threat has been announced.

This guide will help you figure out which steps you need to take to secure your most prized possession: your boats.

Plan Early, Plan Twice

Before the beginning of hurricane season, you should prepare your plan, which will involve deciding whether you will store your vessel on land or water. Make a list of all the materials you will need to prepare your boat for a hurricane, and make sure you have them on hand at the start of the season to avoid having to run around gathering supplies at the last minute. You should also collect all the documentation for your ship, including the boat's title deed and registration, insurance information, and numerous photographs from many angles of your boat's pre-hurricane condition.

It's in your best interest to decide on boat insurance before hurricane season. With the declaration of a tropical cyclone, insurance companies often discontinue processing applications until the storm has run its course, so begin your education on insurance early and discover the ins and outs of the industry.

If you store your boat in a marina, check if the facility administration has a hurricane plan. Marinas are increasingly demanding that boat owners take part in a hurricane plan, some going so far as to perform hurricane drills at the start of the season. Make sure you designate someone as your replacement if you are out of town or have a scheduling conflict and can't participate in the storm preparations. The marina's plan, however, should not replace your own.

Before the Storm

A hurricane watch is usually announced before the hurricane warning, which will be your first sign that you should start implementing your plan.

  • Hurricane watch: hurricane conditions of sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are possible in the next 48 hours.

  • Hurricane warning: hurricane conditions will definitely happen within 36 hours.

Securing Your Boat On Land

If your boat is trailer-able, your best bet is to take it out of the water and move it to a secure location on land. It should be high enough to avoid the storm surge on the ground and offer some protection against wind. For example, an ideal location is your garage if the boat fits. On the other hand, smaller boats are often lighter than cars and could be blown over by strong gusts, even if secured to trailers.

If you're leaving your vessel out in the open, fill up the bilge compartment with water to weigh it down, tie the boat down to the ground, and block the trailer's wheels to keep it from moving. Also, a recommendation is to cut off the electrical system and remove all batteries to eliminate fire risk if you're taking your boat out of the water. Additionally, remember to check the condition of your trailer throughout hurricane season to perform in the best and worst weather conditions.

Most experts recommend never leaving your boat on davits lifts or racks. Storm surges and heavy currents create massive shifts in shoreline sand, making the base of these structures unreliable. In addition, they are often not soundly secured and can cause increased damage to your boat if they collapse or drift under tropical-storm-force or hurricane-force winds.

"Whenever possible, boats on lifts or davits should be stored ashore or moved to a safer location in the water (dock or anchorage)." -BoatUS

Securing Your Boat in the Water

If you're not able to take your boat out of the water, it increases the chances of it suffering damage. However, there are things you can do to mitigate the risk.

If you're leaving your boat in the marina, secure it to the slip using double or triple lines. Use chafe protectors to keep the ropes from breaking mid-storm wherever the lines rub up against the dock or the boat. Use enough rope to allow the ship to move with the storm surge. The type of rope you also use matters. According to the University of Florida, boats longer than 34 feet should use 3/4-inch lines at a minimum, if not 1-inch lines. Finally, make sure the dock pilings are strong enough to hold during the storm and tall sufficient to stay above the surge. Wooden pilings are more flexible than concrete pilings and will, therefore, be sturdier.

If you're using a hurricane hole, don't wait until a hurricane advisory to look for a place. Scout a hole ahead of time and make sure you will be able to get to it easily and quickly before and after the storm. Tie the boat to the surrounding trees and use anchors to secure the vessel. BoatUS recommends looking for hurricane holes with good holding, surrounding hills to block wind, and little wind funneling between those hills. Helix anchors are particularly recommended, as they resist more pull force than dead-weight anchors or mushroom anchors.

When storing your boat in the water, remember to empty the bilge compartment and leave a charged battery running to pump the bilge during the storm. In addition, the University of Florida recommends positioning the boat so that the bow faces the strongest winds.

And finally, whether you secure your boat for a tropical cyclone on land or in the water, remove everything that a strong gust could conceivably rip off. Masts, sails, antennas, deck chairs, dinghies, removable fuel tanks, it all has to go. Remember, you're not just protecting your boat from damage; you're guarding the property around you.

During the Storm

Once tropical storms or hurricane winds are felt, you should be completely done with all your boat preparations and in a safe shelter. DO NOT RIDE OUT THE STORM INSIDE YOUR BOAT. It is never, ever a good idea. If your boat begins to sink, it will be that much more challenging to get out of it in the middle of the storm.

After the Storm

Time is of the essence once the storm has passed. If officials have given you the all-clear to move from your secure location, get to your boat as soon as you can. BoatUS recommends bringing cleaning tools, anti-corrosion spray, duct tape, trash bags, bug spray, boots, gloves, and pencil and paper to inventory damage.

  • If it is mostly undamaged: deep clean and dry it to avoid corrosion. Be sure to check the prop for debris before using the motor.

  • If there are damages: you should have your insurance company's information on hand with your hurricane plan. Gather ample photo evidence of the damage and call them for guidance on how to proceed.

  • If the boat has sunk: the insurance company will likely have a procedure for salvaging it.

Sailing During Hurricane Season

The Atlantic and Caribbean have some of the most excellent summer weather globally; however, one should not underestimate the threat of hurricanes and other tropical cyclones. So, if you're boating between June and November, make sure you keep an eye on the weather forecast.

NOAA Weather Radio is a great resource that provides advisories for all 50 states and island territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific. Carolyn Shearlock of The Boat Galley also recommends knowing the location of the nearest hurricane hole or marina, as well as staying no more than a day's journey away from one. She also recommends being mindful that weather forecasts may not match reality and using common sense.

If you are caught in a hurricane while at sea, BoatSafe.com recommends putting on a life vest and staying below deck, which is safer than being above where the wind and rain could wash you overboard.

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