How to Prepare Your Boat for a Hurricane
The most important thing to remember when thinking about hurricane preparations is to act early. Don't make the mistake of waiting until a hurricane is forecast to hit to go out and shop for anchors and extra line. These items should be a part of your vessel's essential gear.
Photo by Terry Modica
If you own a boat that is too large to bring home on a trailer and you must keep it in the water year round in a hurricane-prone area, you need to seriously consider what you will do when a hurricane approaches. When storms strike a coastline, those properties nearest the shore sustain the most damage, and boats often fare worse than buildings, getting seriously damaged, destroyed or sunk. You can save your boat from damage, however, if you take the time in advance to make a plan and to purchase the storm-survival gear your boat will need.
In most hurricane-prone areas, it is not safe to leave your boat tied up in a marina slip. The hurricane will cause the water level to rise by several feet, and boats in marinas are frequently battered by breaking waves that wash over seawalls because of this water rise. The other danger is that the boat will be swept over the dock or on top of submerged pilings and then impaled and sunk when the water level drops and lowers it back down.
Plan to evacuate the marina early at the approach of a storm. You will have to study the area charts and talk to experienced locals about where you can go to evacuate. Most boat owners seek to move their vessels as far inland as possible, into the more protected waters of bays, rivers or bayous where the boat can be secured with anchors and, hopefully, even lines to trees or other solid objects on land.
Inland canals offer some protection. Do not block other boats by anchoring yours in the center of a canal. Ground traffic receives priority in the event of an evacuation. Therefore, county bridges are locked in the down position 3-1/2 hours after the evacuation order is issued or when winds reach 39 mph, whichever comes first. Have your boat evacuation plan ready, and act as quickly as possible to ensure safe mooring.
The first step in your hurricane plan should be to have a list of everything that is necessary to evacuate your boat and to make sure that these things are on board before hurricane season arrives. You will need full tanks of fuel for your auxiliary engine, fuel for your cooking stove, drinking and cooking water, food and snack supplies for the time underway when evacuating, and such supplies as batteries and spare parts for all important systems on board. You should have the boat ready for a trip of at least a week, because after a hurricane hits an area, it is often impossible to return to the marina for several days in the aftermath.
With these basic supplies on board, you now need to think about how you will secure your boat in the storm. Even far inland, you may experience extremely strong winds that will tear your boat loose from your standard anchor. You should have on board no less than four anchors of the appropriate size for your boat. Ideally, one of these should be a greatly oversized storm anchor to set in the direction of the strongest expected wind. The anchors should be of different designs. Some are best for mud bottoms, some for sand bottoms and some for rock. Be sure you have all that you need for your boating area.
Each anchor should be accompanied by its own dedicated anchor rode, consisting of appropriately-sized nylon rope or chain, or a combination of both. If your boat does not have an adequate number of sufficiently strong cleats for securing all these anchors, be sure and install them before a hurricane threatens. All cleats and deck hardware should be reinforced with backing plates under the deck. Hurricane force winds often tear hardware out of the decks of improperly equipped boats.
In addition to the anchors and rodes you have on board, you should have several extra long lengths of heavy nylon line for securing your boat to trees and other solid objects. These lines cannot be too long. You never know how close you can get to such objects. I suggest carrying four such lines at least 200 feet long for a hurricane evacuation. You will also need anti-chafing gear, which you can make yourself, for all these lines and anchor rodes. Anti-chafing gear is anything you can wrap around the line where it is tied to a deck cleat or passes through a deck chock and is susceptible to chafing through. Many boats are lost in hurricanes because the lines chafe through and part in this way. Make chafing gear out of strips of leather or pieces of rubber hose that will fit over the line and protect it from abrasion at these critical points.
Here are guidelines for securing your boat at a marina:
- Tie high on pilings to allow for rising water.
- Run extra line and double tie every knot.
- Purchase rope, duct tape and other materials early before supplies run low.
- Cover all tie lines at contact points with rubber to prevent chafing.
- Disconnect shore power.
- Verify battery power is sufficient to run bilge pumps throughout and after the storm.
- Remove or secure all deck gear, radio antennas, outriggers, rafts, sails, tops, canvases, curtains, booms and dinghies and all other objects that could blow away or cause damage.
- Insert plugs in engine ports.
- Close fuel valves and cockpit seacocks.
- Install fenders to protect the boat from rubbing against the dock.
- Use duct tape to seal windows and hatches.
- Remove all canvas, chains, life preservers and other equipment to reduce wind load.
- Ensure fire extinguishers and lifesaving equipment are in working order.
- Keep copies of boat registration and insurance in a safe place NOT on the boat.
If you choose to take your boat out of the water
or have your boat on a trailer:
- Park the boat/trailer in the garage or near a building.
- Fill the boat no more than halfway with water to add weight. (Overfilling can damage the trailer.)
- Remove outboard motors (if possible).
- Let some air out of trailer the tires.
- Place blocks in front and back of the tires to prevent rolling.
- Lash the trailer down with heavy ropes or chains.
For more hurricane information, please go to the National Hurricane Center website at: www.nhc.noaa.gov.
See how Flotilla 74 of the US Coast Guard Auxiliary survives the storms together.