Hurricane Preparedness for Boat Owners

The key to protecting your boat from hurricanes or any threatening severe weather is planning, preparation, and timely action. A boat owner/ operator may be held responsible for damages caused by his vessel during a natural disaster. Normally the National Weather Service will issue 48 and 24-hour warnings; however, in some instances only a 12-hour warning will be given. The marina will evaluate the storm threat and recommend evacuation accordingly. Upon receiving first storm notice, the boat owner/operator should immediately take precautionary measures to see that his boat is properly secured.

Each boat owner needs a plan unique to the type of boat, the local boating environment, the severe weather conditions, and the characteristics of safe havens and/or plans for protection. The following preparation and precautionary suggestions are issued as guidelines to be used by the marine community. The following precautions and checklists are meant as guides only. It is stressed, however, that following these guidelines does not necessarily exempt the owner/operator from being held responsible should his boat cause damage to another's property; nor will acquisition of required safety equipment and following the suggested safety procedures necessarily assure that no damage will occur to the boat.

General Precautions

Prior to the hurricane season, develop a detailed plan of action to secure your vessel in the marina, if permitted, or remove your boat from the threatened area, or take your boat to a previously identified hurricane refuge. Specifically identify and assemble needed equipment and supplies.

Hurricane moorings should be located in advance. Permission should be obtained from appropriate persons. For keelboats, make certain there is enough water at low tide.

A practice run should be made to check accessibility, depth of water, bridges, location of aids and/or obstructions to navigation and locations to secure lines or drop anchors. Drawbridges will not open for boats during evacuation procedures.

Before a hurricane threatens, plan how you will remove valuable equipment from the boat. Determine how long it will take so you will have an accurate estimate of the time and work involved.

After you have made anchoring or mooring provisions, remove all movable equipment such as canvas, sails, dinghies, radios, cushions, biminis and roller furling sails.

Lash down everything you cannot remove, such as tillers, wheels, booms, etc. Seal all openings (use air conditioning duct tape) to make the boat as watertight as possible.

Make sure the electrical system is off unless you plan to leave the boat in the water. If the boat is not to remain in the water, remove the battery to eliminate the risk of fire or other damage.

Arrange for a reliable person to learn and carry out your hurricane plan if you are out of town during a hurricane or severe storm.

Check your lease or rental agreement with the marina or storage area. Know your responsibilities and liabilities as well as those of the marina or storage area.

Consolidate all documents including insurance policies, a recent photograph or video tape of your vessel, boat registration, equipment inventory, lease agreement with the marina or storage area, and telephone numbers of appropriate authorities, i.e., harbor master, Coast Guard, insurance agent, National Weather Service, etc. Keep the documents in your possession in a locked water-proof box. They may be needed when you return to check on your boat after the hurricane.

Maintain an inventory list of both the items removed and those left on board. Items of value should be marked so that they can be readily identified.

Trailerable Boats

Determine the requirement to load and haul your boat to a safer area. Be sure your tow vehicle is capable of properly moving the boat. Check the condition of your trailer; tires, bearings and axle. Too often a flat tire, frozen bearings, or broken axle prevents an owner from moving a boat.

Once at a safe place, lash your boat to the trailer and place blocks between the frame members and the axle inside each wheel. Owners of lightweight boats may wish to consider letting out about half the air in the tires, then filling the boat one-third full of water to help hold it down. (The blocks will prevent damage to the springs from the additional weight of the water.) Consult with the manufacturer for the appropriate procedure for your lightweight boat.

Secure your boat with heavy lines to fixed objects. Because hurricane winds rotate and change direction, try to pick a location that allows you to secure the boat from four directions. It can be tied down to screw anchors secured in the ground.

Non-trailerable Boats in Dry Storage

Determine the safest, obtainable haven for your boat and arrange to move your boat there. When selecting a safe location, be sure to consider whether storm surge could rise into the area. Wherever you choose to locate your boat for the duration of the hurricane, lash the boat to its cradle with heavy lines. Based on the weight of the boat, consider adding water to the bilge to help hold it down.

Never leave a boat in davits or on a hydro-lift.

Non-trailerable boats in wet storage

The owner of a large boat, usually one moored in a berth, has three options. Each action requires a separate strategy. Another alternative, running from the storm, is not encouraged except for large commercial vessels.
Secure the boat in the marina berth.
Moor the boat in a previously identified safe area.
Haul the boat.

Boats Remaining in Marina Berth

Double all lines. Rig crossing spring lines fore and aft. Attach lines high on pilings to allow for tidal rise or surge. Make sure lines will not slip off pilings. Inspect pilings and choose those that seem strongest and tallest and are properly installed.

Cover all lines at rough points to prevent chafing. Wrap with tape, rags, rubber hoses, etc. Install fenders to protect the boat from rubbing against the pier, pilings and other boats.

Assess the attachment of primary cleats, winches, and chocks. These should have substantial back plates and adequate stainless steel bolt sizes.

Batteries should be fully charged and checked to ensure their capability to run automatic bilge pumps for the duration of the storm. Consider backup batteries. Turn off all other devices consuming electricity.

Do not stay aboard. First and foremost, safeguard human life. Winds during any hurricane can exceed 100 mph, and tornadoes are often associated with these storms. In addition, when winds and seas warrant, marine agencies remove their boats from service and will not be able to rescue foolish boaters.

Mooring Heads

If your vessel is moored at a dock on a river, or in a marina near the ocean, it is possible that with an additional 5 to 10 foot or greater storm surge, the vessel could take a beating against the dock or even impale itself on the pilings.

The best offshore mooring location for a vessel to ride out a storm is in the center of a canal or narrow river where at least doubled mooring lines can be secured to both shore, port and starboard, fore and aft.

Do not raft vessels together at moorings or docks, especially if larger and smaller vessels are involved. The probability of damage to the vessels is greater than if they are moored separately.

If the vessel must remain dockside at a private dock or marina, heavy duty fender boards (2" x 6") should be installed on a bare wood center piling to prevent damage. Lines should be doubled and even tripled where necessary to hold a vessel in the center of a berth or off seawall or dock pilings. Preventers should be installed at the top of the pilings so lines cannot slip off the top. Note that nylon line will stretch five to ten percent of its length.

Don't go down with your boat! Do not stay aboard. Winds during any hurricane can exceed 100 mph and tornadoes often are associated with these storms. First and foremost, safeguard human life.

Source: Fact Sheet DH 12 (1993), Florida Cooperative Extension Service, University of Florida, Gainesville, FL 32611.