By Douglas Gregory, Sea Grant Extension Agent, Monroe County
With Tropical Storm Isaac churning in the Caribbean, boat owners need to examine their hurricane plan.
A detailed action plan should include options to secure your boat, either in a marina, out of the water, or by anchoring out. Your best protection from damage is to get your boat out of the water. History has shown that boats and yachts stored ashore on blocks and tied down survive storms virtually unscathed. Whereas nearly 100 percent of boats left in the water at docks suffer major damage or sunk. Taking your boat on shore may not be an option, so here is look at what to do, depending on your situation.
If you can secure your boat on a trailer. . .
Trailer boats should be lashed to their trailer and blocks placed between the frame and axle inside each wheel to prevent damage to the suspension from accumulation of water in the boat that may occur from rain (see Figure 1). In fact, owners of smaller lightweight boats may want to make them heavier by partially filling the boat with water or installing the drain plugs so rainwater can accumulate in the boat. Trailer tires should be deflated to about half the normal amount of air to lower the boat and to accommodate the heavier loads that will result from the accumulation of water. Finally, the boat should be secured to a fixed object with heavy lines, preferably in four directions to account for wind shifts. Screw anchors secured in the ground are excellent for this purpose.
If you are securing your boat in the water. . .
. . . at a dock (see Figures 2 and 3). Docked boats are susceptible to wind, waves and tidal surge in a hurricane. Past hurricanes have shown that concrete pilings are more susceptible to breaking in two than more flexible wood pilings. Boats at floating docks fair better than ones at fixed docks, but only up to the height of the pilings they are attached to.
During the 2004 Florida hurricanes, in areas of high tidal surge, floating docks floated right over their pilings and sailed away with the attached boats in tow. Now many marinas with floating docks that had 6- to 8-feet-high pilings, have replaced them with 18-feet-high pilings.
. . . at anchor. Anchoring out, particularly in a known hurricane hole such as a canal, river or waterway, can be safer than staying tied to a dock(see Figure 4). An anchored boat needs multiple extra-large anchors with the outmost anchors about 90 degrees from one another. An anchor typically used for regular overnight and short-term anchorages is not sufficient for hurricane protection. One interesting aspect of anchoring is the type of anchor line used and how it is attached to the anchor and boat. An anchor with an all-chain anchor rode does not stretch and is not recommended for hurricane anchorage. The best anchor rode has proven to be an extra-large nylon line attached to a generous length of chain at the anchor end and to a polyester line that extends from the cleat through the chock to just over the side of the boat. The nylon line stretches and provides stability in high waves while the polyester stretches less in the chock and provides great resistance to abrasion and chafing than the nylon line.
What if you live aboard?
Given the speed and erratic nature of hurricanes, it is probably not feasible for live-aboards and other large boat owners to try to avoid a storm by going to another port. It would be safer to secure you boast as well as possible, leave it behind, and evacuate yourself to a local shelter or, if necessary, to the mainland. If you feel you must evacuate your boat you should depart at least 72 hours before the hurricane is estimated to strike the area. If you are going to a marina, be sure to call ahead to assure there is room for your boat. Hurricane moorings should be located in advance with permission obtained from appropriate persons to install and use them. Plan how you will remove valuable equipment from the boat and determine how long it will take so you have plenty of time. Lash down everything you cannot remove. Remove sails, Bimini tops and other portable canvas coverings. Seal all openings with air-conditioning duct tape to make the boat as watertight as possible. Check your lease or rental agreement with the marina or storage area. Boats in dry storage should be lashed to their cradle with heavy lines.
When to take action
Boaters should have pre-hurricane pictures of their boats for insurance purposes and these pictures, along with registration and insurance papers, should be kept in a secure place. If you must trailer your boat to a safe location, make sure the tires, axle and bearings are in good condition. Now is the time to perform a complete check of your trailer. A flat tire, frozen bearings or a broken axle could not only prevent your evacuation to a safe location, but could also cause an accident on the highway. Boat trailers must be evacuated, along with RVs, early in the evacuation process when high-profile vehicles are ordered to evacuate. Later, when officials announce a general mandatory evacuation for the remaining population, no boat trailers or other high-profile vehicles will be allowed on the highway. If you are caught in traffic with a boat trailer when this mandatory evacuation is announced, you will be forced to leave your boat behind.
More information you can use
University of Florida IFAS publication “Hurricane Preparedness for Boat Owners.”