Hurricane season traditionally runs from June to November, with August and September being the most volatile months for these violent storms. And with the potential of high winds, storm surges, rising sea levels, increased tides and more than two or three inches of rainfall per hour, it's absolutely crucial to plan ahead. The National Hurricane Center can help keep you up to date on any hurricane or tropical storm-related weather events.
Preparing your boat before the hurricane
Prepare your boat for the hurricane season well in advance. The National Weather Service urges boat owners to prepare early. Once a hurricane warning is issued, it’s too late to work on a dock safely. Start with a detailed written list that includes:
- An evacuation plan. Your evacuation plan should include the removal of all detachable items, such as canvas, sails, dinghies, radios, cushions and other equipment. If your boat is docked in a marina, talk to the operator so there are no questions or confusion when the time comes to tie up or pull your boat from the water.
- Boat evacuation drills. Practice drills frequently to help prevent panic in case an unexpected hurricane hits.
- Stocking of emergency supplies. Stock up on supplies ahead of time to avoid the likely shortages that occur once a hurricane alert is announced. Be sure to include enough food and water for three days, a flashlight, batteries, medications and other first aid supplies and some cash.
- Charging your boat's radio. Always charge the radio before your vessel leaves port so you can get up to the minute weather bulletins.
- Securing essential documents. Keep boat insurance policies, photos of your vessel, registration, equipment inventory, contact phone numbers and other essential documents in a safe, secure location on dry land.
When a hurricane is imminent
With global weather tracking, you generally have 12 to 24 hours of advance warning before a hurricane. Start implementing your plan as soon as possible after learning of a storm. But remember, follow any evacuation warnings that might be issued.
- Prepare the boat. Turn off the boat's electrical system and remove the battery. Detach moveable equipment (anything that’s not permanently part of the boat) to prevent breakage. Tie down anything that can't be removed, such as tillers, wheels and booms. Wrap protective covering wherever the ropes touch the boat to prevent chafing. Seal off all windows, doors and hatches, and make sure to shut off your boat's fuel lines. Apply extra fenders to protect the sides of the boat from hitting the pier.
- If you plan to keep your vessel in the water, anchor your boat with at least two anchors and position the boat's bow in the direction of the prevailing winds. Make sure anchor lines are 10 times the water depth at the mooring location to counteract the effects of a storm surge. Cover engine room vents and plug the stern's exhaust pipes to prevent water from flooding your motor.
- On dry land, for small, lightweight boats, it's best to trailer the vessel as far inland as possible. Tie the boat to the trailer securely, place blocks around the wheels and deflate the tires to prevent the trailer from rolling. For bigger boats, tie the vessel to its storage cradle with several heavy lines. Depending on the weight of the boat, consider pumping water into the bilge to hold the vessel down more securely. Never leave the boat on davits or a hydraulic lift.
Review your boat insurance policy annually
A hurricane can be a very frightening experience, but with the right preparation you can help minimize loss. Make sure you have sufficient boat insurance — it can help protect you against many of the risks of owning and operating a boat. For more information, contact your local insurance agent.
What to do after a hurricane
Even if you take the proper precautions before a hurricane, your boat still can be damaged. You’ll want to check on your boat after the storm has passed but you need to take precautions. Powerful storms can knock down electrical wires, create dangerous roads and spread hazardous debris. When local authorities say it is safe to get to your boat, keep an eye out for leaking fuel, missing dock boards, sewage backups and other dangers.
On your first trip to inspect your boat, wear sturdy boots and gloves and take along some basic tools such as:
- Duct tape,
- Extra line,
- Trash bags,
- Cleaning gear, and
- Anti-corrosion spray.
If your boat isn’t sunk or beached, your first goal should be to remove as much salt, mud and moisture as you can. Then you can get rid of any debris that may be in the bilges and pumps. Duct tape can temporarily secure broken rigging or railings as well as seal cracks and holes. You’ll also want to check the water level in the bilge to see if there was underwater damage and check the galley and engine fuel systems for damage.
If your boat is sunk, beached or needs salvage, contact your insurance agent for guidance on how to proceed. Salvaging a boat is difficult and best left to the professionals.
After the storm, your boat isn’t the only thing you should check, keep reading to help prevent additional damage to your property after a hurricane.