Preparing Boats And Yachts For A Hurricane

Properly preparing a boat or yacht before a hurricane strikes is critical in order to minimize or even eliminate potential damage.

On average, there are two hurricanes each year which affect coastal areas of the U.S. Hurricanes have a tremendous affect on watercraft. Properly preparing a boat or yacht before the hurricane strikes is critical to minimize or even eliminate potential damage to your watercraft.

Studies have found that boats stored ashore receive much less damage than boats stored in the water during a hurricane. Hauling a boat to safer ground is the foundation of a good hurricane plan. It is important to be aware of your marina's hurricane plan. Some marinas and yacht clubs have evacuation plans to pull as many boats out of the water as possible and secure the rest. Some types of boats must be stored ashore in order to survive. Waves spray, and rain during a hurricane will likely overcome smaller, open boats and high performance powerboats with low freeboard. Transporting these types of boats inland is usually simple.

If you plan to store your boat ashore, it should be stored well above the expected storm surge. Boats tipped off jack stands and cradles by rising water; generally sustain less damage than the damage to boats left in the water. Windage, the part of the surface of a watercraft exposed to the wind, should be reduced as much as possible and make sure your boat has extra jack stands, at least three or four on each side for boats under 30 feet and five or six for larger boats. Support the jack stands with plywood and chain them together. To help reduce windage in sailboats, you can dig a hole for your sailboat keel. Smaller sailboats can be laid on their side. High-rise storage racks can be vulnerable in a hurricane's strongest winds. Take your boat home if possible.

If you have to store your boat in the water, secure it in a snug harbor. Which harbors will be snug if a hurricane comes ashore and which will be vulnerable? Storm surge and the direction of the strongest winds are major considerations. Storm surge is an abnormal rise in sea level accompanying a hurricane or other intense storm, and whose height is the difference between the observed level of the sea surface and the level that would have occurred in the absence of the storm. Storm surge is usually estimated by subtracting the normal or astronomic high tide from the observed storm tide.

Storm surges can be as high as 15-20 feet in extreme cases so a seawall or sandy spit that normally protects a harbor may not offer any protection. Crowded, rock strewn harbors are not a good place to keep your boat in a hurricane. Rocks can easily damage boats. Should your boat break loose in a crowded harbor, there is a chance of another boat breaking loose and banging into your boat. Finally, what is the bottom of the harbor like? If you plan to anchor, check your charts for the water depth. The best anchoring is usually in sand, followed by clay, hard mud, shells, broken shells, and soft mud. In addition, water can be blown out of the harbor, leaving boats stranded briefly. If this happens, your boat would rather settle onto anything but rocks.

The strongest winds of a hurricane are near the center (eye) and usually on the eastern half of the storm. The greatest storm surge usually occurs where the eastern section of the eye makes landfall. The greatest risk of tornadoes in hurricanes is in the northeastern quadrant of the hurricane. If possible, position your boat or yacht where there is an obstruction in the direction where the strongest winds will likely come from. This will serve as a windbreak and reduce the amount of force placed on your boat by the wind. It may also reduce the amount of storm surge the boat endures.

Making preparations before a hurricane hits is important. In fact, it is a very good idea to have plan of action ready before each hurricane season begins, including precautions for things other than boats. Making last minute preparations can be dangerous.

The National Hurricane Center (NHC), when sustained winds of 74 mph or higher are expected within 24 hours or less, issues a Hurricane Warning. This is too late, in most situations, to prepare a boat or yacht. Securing the house, gathering emergency provisions, and evacuating the family will need greater attention.

NHC issues a Hurricane Watch when hurricane conditions are expected to threaten coastal areas, within 36 hours. Waiting for a watch may be too late to head for the marina or to move the boat to a safer location. There will likely be thousands of others making hurricane preparations at that time.



The best advice is to prepare or move your boat when a hurricane is a possibility, even before a watch. Hurricane forecasts are not precise but can give a general idea of the path and strength out to five days. If you wait too late, and your plan includes relocating the boat, you may encounter locked down bridges and the location you choose may be inaccessible. Alternatively, if you planned to have your boat weather the storm ashore, you may find the marina is too busy to haul your boat.

One of the most dangerous mistakes one can make is to stay aboard his or her boat during a hurricane. There is little, if anything, a skipper can do to save a boat when winds are blowing 100 mph, tides are surging, and visibility is only a few feet.

When a hurricane is approaching, you should certainly do everything you can to protect your boat: secure extra lines, set out anchors, add chafe protection, strip the boat above and below decks, etc. Make your preparations and then head inland. You can replace your boat but not people.

Boat owners should remove any expensive equipment from the boat before the storm. After the storm, marinas will contend with downed power lines, blocked roads, and stacks of wrecked boats. Widespread looting is a problem after a storm, and personnel may not be available to protect the marina and boats.

Seal broken ports and hatches to prevent further damage below. Engines should be pickled, treated in a proper chemical bath, as soon as possible. In addition, if a boat is underwater, do not raise it until someone is available to pickle the engine.

Another thing to consider before a hurricane hits is you may have legal obligations for what happens to your boats, or what your boat does to other's property, during a hurricane.

There is a well-established legal doctrine that almost everything, which happens during a hurricane, is an "Act of God." If your boat blows into someone else's house, you are not responsible for that damage unless you are negligent in taking reasonable precautions to secure your watercraft.

Boat and yacht owners, who fail to take reasonable precautions to secure their vessels, are liable for damages caused by their vessels despite the storm. Thus, a boat owner who decides to abandon his boat to an insurance company, risks not only a possible denial of an insurance claim, but a lawsuit for any damages the vessel caused. A boat owner is legally required to take "reasonable and prudent" actions to prevent his property from damaging others. Reasonable and prudent actions are those any experienced boater would take, not a half-hearted effort for appearances sake.

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