As a yacht insurance company that insures all kinds of boats, Blue Water Yacht Insurance, Inc. not only cares about their insurable interest (the boat) but we care about our customer’s safety. We insure a lot of boaters in Florida, Bahamas and all over the Caribbean. We also insure boats in Mexico. These areas are prime storm locations as we all very well know. The best advice is to be prepared and if you think you are prepared, prepare some more.
1. Keep your boat in a secure marina with a dockmaster who has their own hurricane plan established. And be aware of your surroundings like the boater next to you, who may not be as prepared as you are. Hurricane holes are also a great place to hunker down.
2. Secure your boat properly. Hurricane force winds dramatically increase wear and tear on hardware (i.e., chafe, cleats and chocks, and windage). If the wind speed is doubled, the force impact is 4 times greater. As an example, a 20 knot wind exerts a force of 1.3 lbs per square foot; double the speed to 40 knots and you end up with 4 times the pressure at 5.2 lbs per square foot. Purchase and use chafe protectors on all lines as unprotected lines will chafe and sever within minutes under a hurricane. Wave surge is another danger to boater and can increase loading and these forces are also transferred to the mooring so be certain that all eye splices have thimbles.
3. Types of lines can also make a difference. Nylon will stretch under loads but under sever loading, the friction from stretching increases the internal temperature and the line melts. Use longer lines and large in diameter to resist chafe and excessive stretching. Double up on any critical lines. Use chafe protectors wherever the line comes in contact with anything like chocks, pulpits, pilings or trees. Also, chafe protectors must be strong, long and secured to the docking lines. Canvas protectors can be sewn or tied to the line as well. Backing plates are a great way to beef up your dock cleats.
4. Reduce windage by removing everything to reduce wind resistance. For example, Biminis, antennas, deck-stowed anchors, sails, running rigging, booms, life rings, dinghies, etc. This also drastically reduces the chances of those items being damaged or blown away. Also, remove furling headsails. Even when furled, they offer a sizable amount of wind resistance and additional load on the headstay. Arrange halyards to reduce flogging and damage, both to the fittings on the halyard and to the objects in their path. One method to eliminate halyard slapping and windage is to tie all halyards off to a common messenger line and run the halyards to the top of the mast, reducing the number of lines exposed to the wind from as many as three or four to only one. Tie the messenger off on a rail.
5. Prevent water damage by removing all cowl ventilators and replacing them with closure plates or tape off the vents using duct tape. Be certain Dorade box and cockpit drains are clear of debris. Close all seacocks except those used for drainage. Put bung plugs in unused thru-hulls and one in the exhaust to prevent water from flooding your engine. Deck drains and pump discharges located near the waterline can back flow when wind and waves put drains underwater. Use duct tape and precut plywood panels to cover exposed instruments. Examine all hatches, ports, coaming compartments and sea lockers for leaks. Use duct tape to seal them off. Make sure that all papers (magazines, books, catalogs) are high enough in the boat to prevent them from getting wet if the cabin is flooded. Wet paper can turn into a pulpy mush, clogging bilge pumps. Prepare two lists: one listing all items to be removed from the boat prior to moving it to where it will ride out the hurricane and another listing all equipment needed to prepare your boat for the blow. Electronics are particularly susceptible to water damage; if they can be removed from the boat quickly, add them to the list, along with clothing and other personal effects. Other items that should be removed include: outboard engines, portable fuel tanks, propane tanks, important ship’s papers and personal papers, as well as any other essential personal effects.
6. The list of items to be taken aboard include everything you’ve assembled beforehand to prepare your boat. Many times, the extra “hurricane only” items will be stored ashore — a well-organized list ensures nothing is missed when the hurricane package is taken aboard: extra lines, chafing gear, fenders, anchors, swivels, shackles, duct tape, bung plugs — all the items identified during your planning session. Include a dinghy or some other method for getting ashore after you’ve secured your boat.
7. Make sure your batteries are fully charged. If needed, take additional batteries aboard to boost available capacity.
8. If you are going to move your boat before a hurricane, take the boat there on a trial run, noting how long it takes as well as any problems you might encounter under actual emergency conditions. Are there any bridges? Many communities require drawbridges to be “locked down” when a hurricane watch is issued. During Hurricane Andrew, many boat owners were prevented from moving their boats to more protected locations because bridges were locked down. If you plan on moving a trailerable boat out of the hurricane area, get out early. Many communities prohibit cars with trailers on the road after issuing a hurricane watch. Before the season arrives, inspect your trailer for defects and fix them. During your test run, make a diagram of how your mooring/docking lines will be arranged. Note any additional equipment you’ll need to secure your boat and add it to the list.
9. LEAVE EARLY! DO NOT WAIT TO TAKE ACTION. A hurricane warning is issued when sustained winds exceeding 64 knots are expected within 24 hours. Winds may rise quickly. Securing a boat in 35-knot winds is extremely difficult; it’s impossible in 45-knot winds. A hurricane watch is issued when hurricane conditions pose a threat to a specific coastal area within 36 hours. Drawbridges may be locked down after a watch is issued. You may find your secluded hurricane hole or protected canal inaccessible or already filled with boats. Start moving as soon as you feel a hurricane watch is probable. Don’t rely on emergency services for assistance. Many harbor and marine patrols remove their vessels from the water or sequester them prior to the onset of storm and hurricane force winds. After you’ve secured your boat, double-check everything. Turn off all electrical power except the bilge pumps. Test bilge pump switches and pump intakes for debris.
10. DO NOT STAY ON YOUR BOAT! 50% of all hurricane-related deaths occur from boat owners trying to secure their boats in deteriorating conditions. Develop a well-thought-out hurricane plan, be prepared to implement it in the shortest possible time and, when completed, leave the boat to its own survival. There is absolutely nothing you can do when hurricane force winds are screaming across the deck.