Boatsetter's Hurricane Prep Guide

September 2019 Multimedia By the Boatsetter Team

Sooner or later, anyone who keeps a boat for long in a hurricane zone will have to deal with the threat of a major storm, and possibly the reality of the storm itself, whether as a direct hit or a glancing blow.  In 2017 alone, according to the Boat Owners Association of the United States, the boating industry in the U.S. took a whopping 655 million dollar beating that saw more than 63,000 boats that were either partially damaged or completely destroyed from the impact of both hurricanes Irma and Harvey alone. 

The experts at Boatsetter, the world’s largest online marketplace for renting boats, have taken a deeper look into what boat owners could do to help prevent this national tragedy from happening again with Hurricane Dorian, just as it had with Hurricane Sandy back in 2012 where 655,000 boats had been damaged or destroyed. From some of the nation’s boat owners and fishing captains that had built their American Dream on the boating industry to marina operators, we’ve an investigation of sorts to protect boat owners and captains alike from the inevitable hurricanes that will hit the U.S. in the future. 

  1. Strategic thinking

  • How protected is your boat in its normal berth from wind, waves, and storm surge? This question applies just as much to a boat that lives on a trailer in a low-lying area, or under a big tree, as it does to a slip-dweller or a boat that lives on a mooring in a big harbor with an open fetch to the sea.

  • How crowded is the place where you keep your boat, and even more importantly, how do your neighbors keep their boats – are they squared-away and seaman-like, or are they slobs, or ignorant, or absent? (Very often, people who have done a good job preparing their own boats for storms are undone by the boats of others breaking loose and sweeping down on them, taking out mooring lines, dislodging anchors, ripping out cleats, and causing hull damage and even greater losses.)

  • If you can have your boat hauled out, what will the conditions be like on shore? How high above high water could a storm surge reach? (There have been cases when boats hauled out in advance of a storm have then floated off their stands and been damaged in the boatyard.)

  • Does your boatyard, marina, or town harbormaster have plans in place that will help to safeguard everyone, or is it every boat for itself?

  • Are there changes or requirements in your insurance coverage in the event of a named storm?

Safety Tip: According to Boatsetter, if you do decide to store your boat ashore, it’s important to make sure the boat is strapped down properly to prevent it from falling over as a result of the jack stands that support the hulls being moved out of position from constant rocking. If your boat must be stored in the water and not in a protected marina, a residential canal or narrow waterway is the best place

  1. Essential storm tactics

  • Strip off all canvas to reduce windage. This means biminis, dodgers, awnings, mainsails, roller-furled jibs – anything made of fabric. It’s amazing how many people think they’ve done their prep work simply by folding down their bimini or taking a few wraps of line around a furled sail. When the wind gets up above 60 knots or so, it seeks out even the smallest weakness in canvas, exploits it, and almost methodically goes on to destroy the whole cloth structure and usually any metal framework holding it together, always putting enormous stress on the whole boat.

  • While you’re at it, also remove flags, ensigns, pennants, fishing rods, grills, life-rings, cushions  – anything not screwed down that could present a surface to the wind.

  • If your boat will be riding out the storm on a mooring or at anchor, double or triple your attachment points, spreading the loads between two or more cleats, using a bridle if necessary, making attachments to through-bolted fittings, around masts at their partners, through bow-eyes, etc.  Whenever possible, tie to heavy fixed objects on the land-side – bollards, pilings, trees – and remember to allow slack for the maximum expected storm surge.

Safety Tip: The choice of locations is the single most important decision a boat owner has to make before a storm.” That means that a well-protected, “stormworthy” marina is the best option. After all, merely leaving one’s boat in a harbor will not guarantee safety and neither will a seawall which boaters learned the hard way from Hurricane Katrina.

  1. Storm tactics

  • Remove electronics – at least the displays if not the antennae.

  • Remove other valuables and loose gear that might get ruined, and that insurance might not pay for – binoculars, galley equipment, bedding, clothes, fishing gear, etc.

  • On sailboats, halyards should be replaced with thin messengers.

  • Make sure your batteries are topped up so that they can keep up with your bilge pumps.

  • Take photos of your own preparations, in case an insurance company needs them. Also it will help you remember for next time.

  • If you’re an outboard engine owner, be ready for damage-control by knowing how to “pickle” your two-stroke or four-stroke motor if it gets swamped in the storm.

With the help of BoatUS, the Boatsetter experts created a chart detailing the dollar damage amount to boats in the U.S. from all of the major hurricanes since Hurricane Isabel in 2003. The following damage is to recreational vessels only and these estimates do not include the wider boating industry, marinas, boatyards, boat storage facilities, drystacks, boat clubs or any boating infrastructure, only boats.

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