Protect Your Boat in a Hurricane: Making a Plan (Part I)

May 2015

Hurricanes can wreak all kinds of havoc on boats. Powerful winds can scatter boats ashore, and smashing seas can sink or damage them. Storm surges can even lift entire floating docks above their pilings or knock boats off their cradles. Therefore, prudent boat owners need to dedicate special attention to securing their boat as part of their overall hurricane plan.

Bear in mind, there is no such thing as a generic hurricane plan – individual circumstances determine where to secure your boat and how much prep time you will need. Nonetheless, two general pieces of advice apply to everyone. First, never plan to ride out the storm in your boat! Second, do not return to check on your boat once wind and waves pick up. Sadly, many deaths attributed to hurricanes are boaters that drowned while riding out the storm or trying to save their boats.

When to Plan, When to Act

Docked boat battered by waves. Identifying where to secure your boat and planning ahead is the key to protecting it. Source: Monroe County

Create or update your plan well before a storm has even been spotted in the Caribbean basin, such as during National Hurricane Preparedness Week or when Atlantic hurricane season starts in June. If your boat is in a marina, learn their plan, give them a copy of your plan, and have a clear understanding about your responsibilities. Some marinas may not be able to haul your boat out as the storm approaches or may have their hands full in the chaos. Out of town boat owners may need to delegate a local captain or caretaker to help carry out or oversee some aspects of their plan.

Identifying where to secure your boat is the key to your plan. Consider your options based on several potential storm intensities and tracks. The location dictates many of the specifics in your plan, including supplies, actions, and the lead time for preparing when a storm is approaching. Estimate travel time by boat if it’s an on-water location, or by car if trailering it to higher ground. Factor in traffic congestion and any bridges or low-lying roads that may close as storms approach. You should start moving your vessel 48-72 hours before a hurricane is estimated to strike, which puts it before the time when a Tropical Storm or Hurricane Watch is issued.

Securing Your Trailer and Boat

Pulling your boat to high, dry land is more secure than the water, especially for small, open crafts and high performance powerboats. If you can trailer it, store your boat well away from low-lying coastal areas. Plan to tie down, weigh down, and strip the boat for transit, and inspect your trailer and keep it in good operating condition throughout the hurricane season. Low elevation and small lot sizes in Monroe County limit local options, so consider other options on the mainland. Do you have friends with land or a garage that you can use? Be sure to have alternative options in case they, too, are in the cone of the oncoming hurricane. If you need to rent a dock or storage space elsewhere, make arrangements early.

Small boats that must be left in the open must be well tied down, with heavy line or chain to screw anchors in the ground, in a location that is as safe as possible from wind in all four directions. Keep it away from trees and power lines. The leeside of a building may be a good spot, as it will protect the vessel from at least one direction. Drain plugs must be removed. Some small vessels may be handled differently, by filling them 1/3 to 1/2 with fresh water and placing directly on the ground.

Any boats exposed to wind onshore, during transit, or on the water need to be tied off and stripped of potential flying debris. Learn more about these steps and what to do if you are securing your boat on the water in Part II of our series.

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