Hurricane Preparedness Tips for Boaters

If your boat is moored, docked, or stored in a recreation harbor on the East Coast, threat of hurricanes is a very real concern. Even a Category I storm can have devastating effects in a crowded harbor. Although a dockmaster tries to ensure that boats are safe, the responsibility falls upon the boat owner. Critical to good planning is the owner’s knowledge of their boat, their own skills, and the surrounding area. In creating a plan, all options should be reviewed an decisions made as to where the safest place for the vessel, the adequacy of the present mooring or dock and what type of equipment is necessary to have on-board. The following are option, but only the vessel owner can decide which is best.

Option I: Get out of the Water

If the vessel is small and easily trailered, it should be taken out of the water and moved to higher ground. This alone however, does not automatically mean it is safe, it is only protected from the storm surge and wave action—rain and wind must still be considered. The best possible solution is to store these vessels in a covered area, such as a garage.

If this is impossible, then

  • Remove and store indoors all equipment
  • Place the trailer frame on blocks (the frame will carry the boat’s weight instead of the axle and springs)

The drain plug should be installed, and the boat should be partially filled with water if the hull is strong enough to withstand flooding (as most re fiberglass hulls).

If the hull is not strong enough to hold water (plywood or wooden-planked hills), use multiple anchor tie-downs to hold the boat and trailer in position, and remove the plug. Consider large tent pegs (2 feet) or house trailer tie-downs for this anchoring system.

Option II: Stay in Water

Staying in the water assumes that the vessel will either (1) stay on the mooring dock; (2) go to a hurricane hole to anchor; or (3) head out to sea. Each of these options should be considered and accurate information collected will in advance of the hurricane season.

  • Dock
    • The decision to remain in port will probably depend on the intensity of the storm, the protection afforded by the harbor, and the condition of the dock or mooring. Staying at the dock may be the most hazardous location. If however this is the decision, precautions need to be taken. Ensure all lines are doubled and that chafing protection is in place where dock lines pass through fairleads and chocks or over the side of the vessel. The best chafing protection is to cover lines with a rubber hose of the same diameter of your line, then tightly wind it with heavy fabric and fasten with a heavy commercial tape. A vessel tied to a dock should have ample fenders to provide protection to the hull. Dock lines should be attached to the pilings, rather than to the cleats or other fastenings on the dock. As flooding and the storm surge raises the water level, dock lines will move up on the pilings.
  • Mooring
    • Staying at the mooring may be the best option if you’ve ensured that the mooring tackle meets safety standards and has been inspected for wear. Any mooring gear that has worn by one-third of its original diameter should be considered unsafe.
    • One of the drawbacks of staying at the mooring, is the threat of a storm surge. If the water level rises even moderately above present conditions, the mooring scope may not provide sufficient holding power. This can be combated by checking with expected storm surge reports prior to the hurricane.
    • Some fundamental steps that need to be taken, regardless of whether you choose to stay at the dock or mooring. First, minimize windage, or the mount of surface area that the wind can act against. IF possible remove sails entirely and stow them below decks, especially roller furler jibs. If it is not possible to remove sails, then it is imperative to fasten sails as securely as possible. Next, look around for other possible objects that could result in added windage, including flags and pennants, and store them properly. After you have minimized windage, make sure all loose items are stored away or tied down. Make sure that all ports are closed securely and that all funnels are removed and capped. Using stiff lines from both sides, secure the tiller or wheels that operate the rudders; do not leave coils of line on the decks without proper stops or other means of rendering them immovable; and take out all the slack from any running lines on the deck or mast. Finally, you must face the possibility that your vessel, or one nearby, may break loose. In order to minimize the impact, it is important that all protruding objects, such as anchors, are removed and stowed and that fenders are set on both sides, if at a mooring, or outside of a docked boat.
  • Hurricane Holes
    • If your boat is in a crowded anchorage zone, you may consider moving your vessel to a "hurricane hole" or area for safe anchorage. Small soft-bottom coves that are less crowded are traditional spots. Before making such a move, consider the fact hurricane holes can become crowded with vessels seeking refuge from impending storms. If you choose this method of protection, consider that hurricane holes should be located before the storm season by consulting an inland chart. It is best to look for a location that has deep water (you may have to arrive at low tide) and is close. The best spots have a route that is free of highway and railroad bridges and has good protection, such as a high bluff, an outer reef, or tall trees on as many sides as possible. Multiple hurricane holes should be tested and several options should be available in the event of a hurricane.
    • Arrive at a hurricane hole at least 12 hours prior to landfall, and set your anchor with at least a 7-to-1 scope. Nylon is the best anchor line because chute chocks. Experts recommend that you leave your vessel by means of a small boat once it is securely anchored, and that all automatic switches have been double-checked.
    • If you elect to stay aboard, stay in touch with all weather advisories. It is important to be stocked up on fuel, water, food, ice, clothing, a portable radio, a flashlight with extra batteries, and any prescription medicines. It might be necessary to put the engine in gear during the worst part of the storm to ease the strain on the anchor line, as well as to have someone stay awake on anchor watch at all times to prevent the boat from drifting. To help maintain your position, use a spotlight and/or radar at night. To see if water or debris is accumulating, and to make sure the pumps are operating, check the bilge regularly. Finally, traditional makers or navigation aids may have been rearranged by the storm. It is important, therefore, not to rely solely on those aids to guide you.

Do Not Go Off Shore

Unless you are the owner of a large recreational vessel, 100 feet or greater, experts do not recommend that you go offshore. Hurricane conditions at sea are extremely violent. Going off shore should not be considered as a viable option for most recreational boaters. Remember, the objective is to minimize property loss without jeopardizing safety.