If your boat is moored, docked, or stored in a recreational harbor on the East Coast, the threat of hurricanes is a very real concern. Even the least severe Category 1 hurricane can have devastating effects in today's crowded harbors. These high density areas can be disasters waiting to happen because of the close proximity of vessels to one another, faulty mooring maintenance, and lack of hurricane preparedness.
Although the harbor manager, harbormaster, or port director tries to ensure that boats in their harbor are safe, the final responsibility falls upon the boat owner. Owners are ultimately responsible for their vessel. In order to protect personal property and the vessels around them, owners must: (1) know their boats and their own skills; (2) know the surrounding area; and (3) have a plan.
Creating a plan and being ready for a hurricane starts well in advance of the boating season. When vessel owners prepare their vessels for the boating season, they should also prepare a hurricane plan. This plan should review all the options available. Prior to the hurricane season, decisions should be made as to where the safest place for the vessel would be, the adequacy of the present mooring or dock, and what type of equipment is necessary to have on board.
The following are options for safeguarding recreational boats. Only the vessel owner can decide which is best.
OPTION I: Get Out of the Water
If the vessel is small and trailers easily, it should be taken out of the water and moved to higher ground. This is the safest means of protecting a vessel. Getting a vessel out of the water, however, does not automatically mean that it is safe. It is only protected from the storm surge and wave actionrain and wind must still be considered. The best solution is to store these vessels in a covered area, such as a garage. If this is impossible, then all equipment, including oil and gas cans, personal flotation devices, oars, paddles, and other loose gear, should be removed and stored indoors. The trailer frame should be placed on blocks so that the frame will carry the boat's weight instead of the axle and springs.
The drain plug should be installed, and the boat should be partially filled with water if the hull is strong enough to withstand flooding (as are most fiberglass hulls).
If the hull is not strong enough to hold water (plywood-or wooden-planked hulls), use multiple anchor tie downs to hold the boat and trailer in position, and remove the plug. Consider large tent pegs (2 feet) or house trailer tie-downs for this anchoring system.
OPTION II: Stay In the Water
Staying in the water assumes that the vessel will either: (1) stay on the mooring or dock; (2) go to a hurricane hole to anchor; or (3) head out to sea. Each of these options should be considered and accurate information collected well in advance of the hurricane season.
One of the drawbacks of staying at the mooring, like staying at the dock, is the threat of a storm surge. If the water level rises even moderately above present conditions, the mooring scope may not provide aufficient holding power. This can be combatted by checking with expected storm surge reports prior to the hurricane.
Regardless of whether you choose to stay at the dock or mooring, there are some fundamental steps that need to be taken. The first is to minimize windage, or the amount of surface area that the wind can act against. The more surface area for the wind to act on, the greater the strain on your vessel and the dock or mooring. If possible, remove sails entirely and stow them below decks, especially roller furler jibs. If it is not possible to remove sails, then it is imperative to fasten them as securely as possible. Next, look around for other possible objects that could result in added windage, including flags and pennants, and store them properly. Make sure that all ports are closed securely and that all funnels are removed and capped. Using stiff lines from both sides, secure the tiller or wheels that operate the rudders; do not leave coils of line on the deck without proper stops or other means of rendering them immovable; and take out all the slack from any running lines on the deck or mast. Finally, you must face the possibility that your vessel, or a vessel nearby, may break loose. In order to minimize the impact of loose vessels in a crowded harbor, it is important to remove and stow all protruding objects and set fenders on both sides, if at a mooring, or outside of a docked boat.
Arrive at a hurricane hole at least 12 hours prior to landfall, and set your anchor with at least a 7-to-1 scope (i.e., in 30 feet of water, 210 feet of anchor line is needed). Nylon is the best anchor line because of its elasticity. Chafing protection should be used where the anchor line passes through the anchor chute chocks. Experts recommend that you leave by means of a small boat once your vessel is securely anchored, and that all automatic switches have been double checked.
If you elect to stay aboard, stay in touch with all weather advisories. It is important to have stocked up on fuel, water, food, ice, clothing, a portable radio and flashlight with extra batteries, and any prescription medicines. It might be necessary to put the engine in gear during the worst part of the storm to ease the strain on the anchor line, as well as to have someone stay awake on anchor watch at all times to prevent the boat from drifting. To help maintain your position, use a spot light and/or radar at night. To see if water or debris is accumulating, and to make sure the pumps are operating, check the bilge regularly. Finally, traditional markers or navigation aids may have been rearranged by the storm. It is important, therefore, not to rely solely on those aids to guide you.
Do Not Go Offshore
For Further Reading:
to Deal With the Aftermath of a Hurricane," Rhode Island Sea
Grant, April 1992.
Source: South Carolina Sea Grant.
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