Protecting Your Boat in a Hurricane
Hurricanes are enormous cyclonic storm systems covering thousands of square miles which usually develop in the tropical or subtropical latitudes during the summer and fall. To be a hurricane, the system must be producing winds of 64 knots or more. Less intense storms are designated tropical depressions or tropical storms. Tropical storms and hurricanes are named to aid in identifying them. Each hurricane is, essentially, an organized system made up of hundreds of individual thunderstorms. The core of the hurricane is called the eye, an area of relatively benign weather several miles across surrounded by turmoil. All of the severe weather conditions produced by individual thunderstorms (heavy rain, hail, lightning, tornadoes, downbursts, etc.) are produced and magnified within the hurricane. Working together, such storms generate tremendous tidal surges which can decimate coastal areas.
Historically, individual hurricanes have caused the loss of thousands of lives and billions of dollars in damage as they ran their course over populated areas. If you know that a hurricane is approaching your area, prepare for the worst. The important point is, GET OFF THE OPEN WATER AS FAR AWAY FROM THE STORM AS POSSIBLE! If this is impossible, keep in mind that the right front quadrant of a hurricane usually, but not always, produces the most violent weather.
With today’s modern communication net to warn them, people have a better chance to reach safety before a hurricane hits their area. Even so, you may have little more than 24 hours advance notice to get your boat secured against the storm’s full force. Check the weather often.
If your boat is easily trailerable, store it ashore, far from the danger of high water. Follow these tips:
- If you must move your boat, first inspect the trailer to ensure that it is in proper operating condition. Check tires (including spare), wheel bearings, tow hitch and lights.If you can, put your boat and trailer in a garage. If they must be left out, secure them to strong trees or a “deadman” anchor. Strip off every thing that could be torn loose by a strong wind.
- Increase the weight of your trailered outboard boat by filling it with fresh water and leaving in the drainplug (inboard boats must be drained to avoid motor damage). Insert wood blocks between the trailer frame and the springs for extra support with the added weight.
If your boat must stay in the water you have three options: BERTH at a dock that has sturdy pilings and offers reasonable shelter from open water and storm surge. Double up all mooring lines but provide enough slack so your boat can rise with the higher tides. Cover all lines with chafe protectors (double neoprene garden hose cut along the side) at points where the line is likely to wear and put out extra fenders and fenderboards (the more the better).
ANCHOR your boat in a protected harbor where the bottom can allow a good anchor hold. An advantage to anchoring is that the boat can more easily respond to wind and water changes without striking docks or other boats than when moored. Heavy and extra anchors are needed for this option and enough line should be on hand to allow a scope of at least 10:1 for each anchor.
HURRICANE HOLES are ideal locations to moor your boat during a hurricane. These are deep, narrow coves or inlets that are surrounded by a number of sturdy trees which block the wind and provide a tie-off for anchor lines. The best location for a hurricane hole is one far enough inland to avoid the most severe winds and tides, yet close enough to reach under short notice. You may want to scout out a satisfactory hurricane hole ahead of time!
- Never stay with your boat. Your boat should be stripped of anything that can become loose during the storm. This would include unstepping the mast in sailboats. Boat documents, radios and other valuables should be removed from the vessel prior to the storm, since you never know how long it will take for you to get back to your boat once the storm passes.
- Hurricanes are among the most destructive phenomena of nature, their appearance is not to be taken lightly. Advance planning cannot guarantee that your boat will survive a hurricane safely or even survive at all.
- Planning can, however, improve survivability and is therefore certainly worth the time and money to do so.
General Weather Tips
Before Setting Out: Obtain the latest available weather forecast for the boating area. Where they can be received, the NOAA Weather Radio continuous broadcasts (VHF-FM) are the best way to keep informed of expected weather and sea conditions. If you hear on the radio that warnings are in effect, don’t venture out on the water unless confident your boat can be navigated safely under forecast conditions of wind and sea. This link will take you to up-to-date marine weather information.
- Keep an eye out for the approach of dark, threatening clouds which may foretell a squall or thunderstorm.Check radio weather broadcasts periodically for latest forecasts and warnings.Heavy static on your AM radio may be an indication of nearby thunderstorm activity.
- If a thunderstorm catches you afloat:
- Put on a Personal Flotation Device. (if not already wearing one)
- Stay below deck if possible.
- Keep away from metal objects that are not grounded to the boat’s protection system.