Damage to recreational boats could have been much worse, say TowBoatU.S. salvors who credit most Florida boaters with taking the proper precautions to protect their boats from Hurricane Wilma.
TowBoatU.S. Palm Beach owner Chris Shafner said, "While we did have boats fall out of lifts, we didn't have nearly as many losses as last year's hurricanes. Most boaters prepared. Even cases of 'dock rash' - scratched gel-coat caused by vessels rubbing against docks - were minimal." Shafner said the lull in the middle of the storm allowed many boaters to adjust lines to help keep boats off docks.
Mike and Judy Stewart of TowBoatU.S. North Miami report that boaters in their area also did pretty well. "Even the boats that we find washed up on shore show evidence of having been double lined and canvas removed," said Judy Stewart.
Todd Seeds of TowBoatU.S. South Dade says most of the work he's focusing on now is with environmental and navigational hazards. The company just retrieved two large sailboats that had sunk and were blocking a ship loading pier at the Port of Miami. Seeds reports that he saw a high incidence of damage to vessels that attempted to weather the storm at the end of exposed T-docks. Without windward pilings to help the vessels fend off, they were driven into the docks.
A bigger problem the industry is experiencing now, Seeds says, is the lack of repair yard space for salvaged vessels. "Some boat owners are walking away from salvaged but repairable vessels because they can't find a yard to take the work. Our repair facilities are already at capacity with work on Katrina affected boats," he added.
Barrie McCune of TowBoatU.S. Islamorada believes that most of the "old-timers" from the area did fairly well in protecting their vessels. A slightly higher than expected storm surge resulted in many cases of dock rash according to McCune, but she also said reports of sunken vessels in local anchorages were few.
In Miami, Cory Offutt of TowBoatU.S. Miami reports some complacency issues. "Our hurricane hole on the Miami River was not nearly as full as it could have been. Perhaps boaters are tired of storms," says Offutt. He says a lot of damages occurred in the "crash & smash" style where vessels broke loose and struck other vessels or fixed objects.
Larry Acheson of TowBoatU.S. Ft. Lauderdale also agrees that better precautions could have been made. "I think some boaters thought this would be a weak storm," he said.
And on the state's west coast, TowBoatU.S. Charlotte Harbor operators Jerry and Cheryl Smith report plenty of canvas and accessory damage but very few total losses as the storm largely spared the area. "However," said Jerry Smith, "I believe that we had even fewer boaters prepare for Wilma than last year's storms. For those who did take advantage of the advance warning and made basic storm preparations, this didn't harm them at all."
Some lessons learned from the TowBoatU.S. salvors are that basic preparations such as doubling of dock lines and removal of all biminis, dinghies and sails make a big difference. Boats at the end of T-docks can be significantly more exposed than boats in a slip, and boaters should take advantage of long-range forecasting information. Above all, treat every hurricane as though it were the first of the season and don't get complacent in your storm preparations.
TowBoatU.S. companies provide recreational boaters towing and on-the-water assistance as well as post-hurricane salvage recovery services for boaters, insurance companies, local governments and marinas. For more information, go to BoatUS.com/towing