Like tax season and Valentine’s Day, there are some things in life that simply cannot be avoided. Hurricane season is one major inconvenience Florida’s boating community cannot overlook or ignore. It’s the price we pay for living in paradise. While we all know even the smallest tropical disturbances can wreak havoc, what we’ve learned over past seasons is that no one is safe and Mother Nature can and will do whatever she wants. Forget about cone of error and spaghetti plots, rather plan for the worst and hope for the best.
While every year is different, the latter part of our tropical season is often the most active. During this part of the year powerful storms roll off the coast of Africa and cruise across the open Atlantic en route to the Eastern Seaboard. And while modern technology gives us plenty of time to monitor a system’s predicted path, tropical storms have ample time to build intensity. As they cross the warm basin they often end up as very large hurricanes with damaging winds well in excess of 100 MPH.
While it’s important to secure your own boat, it’s also important to note that even one unprepared boat can ruin it for everyone.
Hurricanes of years past have crossed the state, stalled and backtracked, so no matter your location along the Gulf or Atlantic you need to have a checklist in order to make certain you stay safe before, during and after the storm. It’s more than halfway through the 2013 tropical season and you should already have a detailed plan and essential items ready or replenished. If you haven’t already done so, here are a few steps boaters should take when preparing for a named storm.
The first thing on your checklist should be to review your vessel’s insurance policy. Determine what is covered and what isn’t. Read the fine print! Next, gather all documentation including registration, vessel equipment inventory, title, bill of sale, marina policy (if applicable) and current photos of your vessel. Make copies and keep them in a secure location.
When preparing your boat it’s important your batteries are fully charged, fuel tanks topped off, bilges cleaned and cockpit scuppers free of debris. Secure or remove outriggers, antennas, canvas tops, etc. If at all possible, relocate your vessel to an inland location. Tidal surge is often the most damaging part of any storm, so the more you can distance yourself from the coast the better off you will be.
Every situation is different, but if you must keep your boat in the water you’ll need a much different arrangement of dock lines than what is normal. And whatever you do, do not wait until the last minute to purchase extra dock lines and fenders. To accommodate tidal surge you’ll need longer lines…and don’t be afraid to double up for extra strength. You will also likely want to utilize nearby pilings or cleats, so talk to your neighbors before pandemonium sets in so you can all have a solid plan of attack.
While it’s important to secure your own boat, it’s also important to note that even one unprepared boat can ruin it for everyone. You must make certain your neighbors are working to secure their vessels and offer to assist. You are not only helping them, but you are essentially helping yourself as well.
It is highly discouraged to leave your boat on a lift during a powerful hurricane, but if the situation is required you should remove the drain plug and make sure cockpit drains aren’t obstructed. Raise the lift high enough to overcome predicted surge and secure the lift and boat to pilings or anchor points on shore.
For boats in the water at a marina you’ll want to speak with the harbormaster. Some marinas have forced evacuations, so you need to have a solid relocation plan in place before the storm gets too close. It’s also a good idea to have a secondary plan in place if your first option fails to come together.
If possible, boats on trailers should be stored in a garage or hurricane proof warehouse. If you must leave the boat outdoors, secure it to the trailer and lash the trailer to the ground by four points. The wheels should also be blocked and nearby trees trimmed.
Once a storm has passed it’s critical you are aware of any hazardous conditions that may be dangerous to your health. Downed power lines, flooded roadways, hazardous chemicals, bacteria in the water and debris are just a few dangers to be aware of. A surprising number of people are killed after a storm from lingering damage, so don’t risk your life trying to reach your vessel to assess the situation. However, it’s critical you get to the boat in a timely manner to take any necessary action to prevent additional damage. When you finally reach the vessel, inspect and document everything. If your boat has been damaged in any way, you want to take detailed photos and contact your insurance provider as soon as possible. If a storm produced extensive damage, there will likely be many boaters in your region filing claims and the sooner you can react with thorough documentation the faster your case will be handled.
From here there’s not much else you can do but evaluate your plan and see how you can adjust to make it better next year and prevent future loss. Determine what worked and what didn’t. Unfortunately, hurricanes are incredibly powerful and sometimes even the best planning and preparation won’t be enough to save your property from a Category 5. Stay safe!