What to Know About Hurricane Prep
February 9th, 2023 by team
by B.J. Porter (Contributing Editor)
It’s the middle of the winter, so what better time to talk about…hurricanes?
Hurricanes show up in June and plague the east coast until November, and can affect your boat anywhere from Florida to Maine. These tremendous storms originate in the tropics and pick up power from warm water as they spin their way to shore, wreaking having over a path hundreds of miles wide. Even if one grazes your marina, your boat may see damaging winds and aggressive storm swell and waves.
Since no place on the east coast is 100% safe, what are a few things to think about in case a storm shows up next season? While there’s little to be done when your boat is covered for the winter, there’s no reason you can’t work out a strategy now and start scouring the spring boat sales for protective gear.
The chief dangers of a hurricane are high winds and storm surges.
Tropical storm and hurricane-force winds cause direct damage to loose items, and whips up waves and chop even in protected areas. Winds strip covers off sails, shred sails off boats, causing rig damage, rip loose objects off decks and rails, and set boats into violent motion that leads to lines chafing and breaking, causing more damage or even sinking.
Storm surges cause local flooding, but may also lift docks far beyond their design tolerances and damage boats tied to them. Floods can carry boats broken free of docks or moorings on shore, leaving them stranded and damaged.
Chafe is of the leading boat killer in a hurricane. If you tie your boat well but your lines aren’t protected, the powerful, repetitive motion of line against rough surface can wear through the stoutest dock lines. As soon as one line parts, boat damage is almost inevitable.
The first line of defense against a hurricane is keeping your boat in a protected location. A good hurricane hole is a protected harbor with land on the sides facing the approaching storm and expected winds. The land around the hole keeps down the fetch and cuts the breeze.
If you can’t find a known hurricane hole – and they fill up fast if they aren’t full of moorings already – then getting the boat in a spot with protection from the wind and waves is critical. The smaller the waterway, the better. You do not want an open stretch of water, especially from the south and east, where waves can build.
Location is more important than many things you can do, but you may have limited options if you’re leaving your boat in the water and you don’t have a better spot than your home marina.
Managing the risks
Whether you can move your boat to a hurricane hole or not, you still need to do everything you can to increase your boat’s chances in the storm. Do these for all boats, no matter how protected you feel. It takes time, so start early. Begin preparations as soon as it’s clear you have a serious risk of a storm strike.
Take off all sails, sail covers, Biminis, dodgers, and anything else above deck that isn’t bolted down. Get it all below or get it off the boat if it doesn’t fit. Furled sails are not safe, as they can blow loose. And they still add windage. In-mast furled mains are the only sails you can leave bent on.
Take all the throwable PFDs, cushions, life slings, etc. off and stow them. Remove as many lines as you can, and secure the rest as tightly as possible so they do not blow lose.
Fenders are a tricky question, because you might want some protection if something blows into you. If you’re in a slip, you’ll certainly want them. But on a mooring or at anchor out in open water, you’re more likely to lose the fender than protect the boat. If you leave fenders, tie them to the stanchion bases, NOT the lifelines.
The more windage, the more force on your boat, and the more chafe on your gear.
Guard against chafe
Any line that is in contact with a hard surface can chafe. Chafing doesn’t just saw at line, it heats it up. That heat can melt fibers and weaken the line even faster. So every dock line, snubber, and anchor rode needs chafe protection.
Commercial chafe protection can work, though it often only lasts one storm because most of it is for normal chafe. Alternatives include plumbing hoses, plastic tubing, or very strong tape like Gorilla Tape. One of the best chafe guards around is a section of old fire hose. If you know any firefighters or want to drop by some firehouses and ask, they replace fire hoses periodically and you time it right, you might get them to hold some for you.
Make sure you secure all chafe gear at both ends so it doesn’t slide. Use cable ties or stitching if you have time.
Specifics for your boat storage type
In a slip
In a slip, try to secure your boat so that it is floating free of the dock, suspended from the sides like a spider in a web. There’s going to be a lot of motion during the storm and keeping your boat off the dock will save you wear and tear.
Double up lines where you can, for backups in case one fails. And use every fender you own to protect the hull, tying them off to stanchions, not lifelines (which can break). If you have extra dock line on the ends, run a loop up around the mast as a backup in case a cleat rips out.
On a mooring
Double up lines to your mooring pendant, and inspect the mooring hardware as well as you can. Run a backup line from the pendant up around the mast, in case a cleat fails.
Do NOT put out any second anchors. You want your boat moving the same way as every boat in the field, and if you can’t swing, the odds are near certain you will hit another boat.
Snug up as close to your wind break as you can, leaving room to swing as the wind clocks. If you have a line rode, add extra chafe protection. For chain rodes, use two snubbers and put chafe protection on both.
Using multiple anchors is a tricky decision, because they can restrict your swinging, and your boat may not end up in the best position.
An alternative if you have a chain rode is to put a second anchor on the same primary rode. Put the largest anchor on the end, and the second anchor several feet ahead of it. This gives extra setting power, but doesn’t restrict your swinging and motion.
To haul or not to haul?
At every marina as a hurricane approaches, there’s a mad scramble to haul boats, with owners jockeying for position and squabbling over who gets hauled next and where they’re going to end up.
Hauling your boat can protect it. You can’t sink too easily on shore, though storm surges may flood your storage lot near the water and knock boats over. Your boat won’t be thrashing around in a slip, banging docks and pilings. So it can be an excellent option.
But consider that out of the water and on stands, your boat is more exposed to the wind, especially sailboats. And you’re stacked up like dominos between other boats. If one boat blows over, many boats can get damaged.
Hauling is a personal decision you have to make based on your geography and options for safe in-water storage. If your boat isn’t moored in a hurricane hole and you can’t get to one, hauling is a great option. But if it’s snug in a tight spot and protected for the storm, you might stay put.
There is a 0% chance that an insurer will write a policy for you with named storm coverage while a storm is closing on your boat. So take care of it ahead of time, and read the named storm coverage sections thoroughly, to make sure there are no requirements you don’t know about. It would be unfortunate to discover you’re only covered if you haul out, and you have no reservation to get the boat hauled.
And don’t skimp on liability, even if your boat is old and not worth much. If it breaks free in the storm and damages other boats, you may have insurers coming to you for damages as the responsible party.