Have you ever witnessed the power of a hurricane? It’s one of nature’s most destructive forces, and they hammer the eastern seaboard and Gulf coast each year. From the Caribbean to the Florida Keys and Panhandle and the BVIs, hurricanes cause catastrophic damage when they reach category four or five wind speeds.
Even small hurricanes with a two or three rating will cause severe problems onshore. The storms knock out power lines, destroy buildings, and flood streets and homes. While hurricanes are a problem for homeowners, they are even more hazardous for boat owners.
Whether you have your boat tied up at the marina for use on the weekends, or you live on a vessel full time, when a hurricane starts to form, it’s time to swallow your panic and prepare for the worst.
The CSU issued its forecasting model for the 2022 hurricane season in late December 2021. The model predicts an overactive hurricane season ahead, with expectations for 13 to 16 named storms, six to eight minor hurricanes, and two to three major hurricanes.
So, it’s a good idea for boat owners to have an action plan ready to go if they reside on the eastern seaboard of the US or around the Gulf Coast. This post gives you everything you need to prepare for the next major storm season.
- Prepping Your Safety Gear
- Create a Hurricane Evacuation Action Plan
- Executing the Evacuation Plan
- How to Prepare If You’re At Sea or the Marina During a Hurricane
- The Final Word – Watch the Weather and Get Advanced Warning
Prepping Your Safety Gear
Boating is all about safety. Even though you’re expecting the hurricane, it’s a good idea to have all your safety gear on board the vessel if the storm takes you by surprise while you’re still on board at the marina handling your preparations.
It’s common for the weather to get very bad before a major hurricane makes landfall. Never work on your boat in the water without wearing a life jacket. Debris, or vessel components, could move around in the high winds, knocking you on the head, sending you overboard.
If you’re lying face down in the water, it’s almost a certainty that you’ll drown and sink. With the life jacket securely in place, you float face-up on the surface, giving you the best chance of being seen by others in the marina.
Create a Hurricane Evacuation Action Plan
Those that fail to plan, plan to fail. To keep yourself and your family safe when a hurricane approaches your marina, you’ll need to have an evacuation plan in place ahead of the event. Planning when the storm is only a few hours from making landfall is a bad idea.
Leaving everything to the last minute is dangerous, and it’s a surefire way to end up panicking if something goes wrong. If you keep your boat in a marina, speak to the harbormaster about the recommended evacuation plan for the marina.
You’ll also have to devise a Plan A and Plan B for your evacuation.
Haul the boat to a storage facility or as far inland as possible, preferably at home in the garage or the driveway.
Don’t panic if the storm arrives earlier than expected and you run out of time with your preparations. Panic is what gets people killed in dangerous scenarios. Secure the boat in the water as best you can.
Whether you’re using plan A or B for your evacuation, there are several preparations you need to make to the boat to ensure the vessel makes it through the storm.
Under no circumstances should you try to wait out the storm onboard the vessel. If you’re running late, secure the boat as best as you can, and then take immediate shelter at the marina office or head home if there is time.
Staying on the boat means you have the risk of the water sinking the boat, with you inside the vessel, or the violent storm surge could end up tossing the boat around like a toy, with you inside the vessel. Either situation is hazardous, and there’s a good chance that you won’t make it out of the situation alive.
Check Your Insurance Policy for Hurricane Coverage
When you take out your insurance policy, many boat owners make the mistake of assuming that they have cover to protect their boat in the event of a hurricane damaging or sinking the vessel. However, the reality is that standard policies typically don’t offer you hurricane protection.
To get the cover you need, you’ll have to take out an additional policy protecting the boat from hurricane damage and liability. Review your policy as soon as you finish reading this post, and check to see if you have hurricane cover mentioned in your policy.
BoatUS and Geico offer you specialist insurance policies for boats, protecting you from all hazardous events, including hurricanes.
Stay Aware of Storm Surges
When the storm forms miles out to sea, the wind creates huge waves in the ocean. The waves will travel from the storm’s epicenter towards the coastline, forming a “storm surge.” The storm surge forces more water inland, causing flooding events.
The surge from a category four or five hurricanes can completely submerge marinas and docks. Some storm surges can raise the water level by 10-feet or more, causing boats to end up floating around the marina, coming to rest all over the place as the storm surge subsides.
Take Down the Sails
If you have a yacht, remove all the sails or take them down and tie them up. This procedure goes for Bimini tops and other shade canopies as well.
When the Rain Starts
Hurricanes are violent storms, creating wind speeds up to 180-mph or more. Along with the high winds, hurricanes can dump a huge amount of water on land. It’s common for large hurricanes to produce anywhere between six to 12-inches of rainfall in just a few hours.
Torrential rains can invade the cabin and leak down into the hull and berth, sinking the boat. So, it’s always the best option to remove the boat from the marina and store it further inland, away from the danger of the storm.
Storm surge presents a huge problem for boaters that leave their vessels in the marina. However, the surge only describes the water moving inland to the shore. Along with the surge, you get huge waves. Waves form at the storm’s epicenter and fan out to the coast.
Large cat five storms could produce waves as high as 10 to 15-feet, depending on the bathymetry of the ocean floor and its depth. For instance, hurricane waves will be larger in the Carolinas than around Florida due to the bathymetry of the seafloor.
Watch for Waterspouts
Hurricanes cause major changes in the wind. It’s nature’s fury in full effect, and these storms can sometimes splinter into waterspouts. Waterspouts are like tornadoes out at sea. They are incredibly rare, but they can occur.
Executing the Evacuation Plan
Now that you know the specific dangers presented by hurricanes, it’s time to formulate your evacuation plan.
Where Will You Go?
Where will you take your boat to hide away from the hurricane? If you have the space at home, store it in the garage or the driveway. If you’re keeping it outdoors, we recommend avoiding using a cover as the high wind speeds will rip it from the boat and carry it miles away.
If you don’t have the space at home, look for secure boat storage facilities close to you and as far inland as possible. You’ll also need to plan the route as the traffic can get bad when a storm is approaching.
Keep the Trailer Maintained
Trying to outrun a hurricane with your boat on a dodgy trailer will result in an accident. When a hurricane is close to shore, the traffic on the roads is chaotic as people try to escape the storm. Maintaining your trailer ensures that you don’t have to worry about it when hauling the boat.
If you’re leaving the boat on the trailer during the storm, and the wind speeds are high, moor the trailer and the boat to a tree to prevent the wind from lifting it away. If there aren’t any trees around, you can anchor it using an auger.
Look for Shelter
If you’re taking the boat home and have a garage, we recommend storing the vessel inside the unit, even if it means leaving your car in the driveway during the storm. Cars are much heavier than boats, and there’s less chance of the storm blowing it away.
Avoid Using Use Jack Stands
Many boaters decide to keep their boat on jack stands during a storm rather than on the trailer. The bad news is that the high winds can shift the stands, causing your boat to crash to the ground, damaging the hull. To keep the stands in place, you’ll need to reinforce them with chains and plywood.
Avoid Lifts and Davits
We recommend avoiding storing your boat on a lift or davit for the duration of the hurricane. There’s a good chance the wind will blow it off the cradle or hoist, severely damaging the boat.
How to Prepare If You’re At Sea or the Marina During a Hurricane
Sometimes, it’s not possible to retrieve your boat from the water. You might not have enough time to complete the task, or your boat might be too big to pull from the water without hiring a company to do it for you. Follow these tips to make it through the storm.
Anchoring and Mooring
You’ll need to know how to moor and anchor your boat successfully to wait out the hurricane. Practice your technique during calm days to ensure you have it ready to go when the storm does arrive.
Use Long Dock Lines
The hurricane’s strong winds and storm surge will test your dock lines and knots. If the boat comes loose, expect it to end up somewhere to the front of the harbor, and you’ll find it run aground after the water subsides.
If you have to tie off to the dock, we recommend you use the longest dock lines you can find. The BoatUS Cat team estimates around 50% of all boat damage could be avoided with the use of proper dock lines when preparing for the storm.
The more space the boat has in the slip, the better its chances of making it through the hurricane undamaged.
Secure Dock Lines using the “Spider Web” Method
If you’re on the water and you don’t have time to remove your boat to the storage facility, you can always look for a “hurricane hole.” These venues provide secluded protection from the wind and the waves. However, the storm surge may still increase the water level.
If you’re hiding out in a hurricane hole, secure the boat in the center of the hole using docking lines. Secure the dock lines to both sides of the hurricane hole using the spider-web method to prevent the vessel from clashing into either side.
Securing the boat in mangroves works quite well, but you run the risk of the storm surge pushing the boat into the mangroves, leaving it stranded when the water subsides. Utilize multiple anchors at the stern and bow for optimal stability.
Will the Mooring Hold Up?
A hurricane can drag a mooring, so you’ll need to secure the boat to ensure it holds. If you have to leave the vessel in the water, then learn how to hook onto a mooring ball and ensure you have the mooring’s chain periodically inspected.
Ask the harbormaster if you have questions; they are usually keen to help you. If you have to anchor and moor the boat, we recommend going with helix anchors and moors for the best holding power in a hurricane.
The Final Word – Watch the Weather and Get Advanced Warning
Most hurricanes take days to form, and meteorologists watch them closely. As a result, you’ll usually get at least 48-hours’ notice before the hurricane makes landfall. Don’t wait to see if the storm dissipates or changes direction – take action.