It's Hurricane Season: Is Your Boat Prepared?

Hurricane Irma tossed this sailboat into the maritime forest of the Florida Keys in September 2017. 

As a boater in the southeastern United States, it’s critical to know how to keep yourself safe in the event of a hurricane or major storm. Nearly two months into the the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season, we’ve already seen a number of named storms threaten the region. With NOAA’s National Hurricane Center predicting another “above-average” year for hurricane activity, now is an opportune time for boaters to ask themselves if they are prepared for a major storm. Today, we’re sharing a few reminders to help guide you.

1. Have a well-thought-out hurricane plan

The best protection for any boat is devising a thoughtful hurricane plan, which provides a blueprint for boat owners to follow when a tropical system is heading their way. An effective hurricane plan must be prepared well in advance so that it is ready to be executed when an emergency is declared. These plans should be created in consultation with any other people who will take part in your boat’s hurricane preparation, such as a dockmate or your marina management staff.

A good hurricane plan includes information such as where a boat will be stored, what equipment will be needed, and who can serve as back-up if you’re not available. The Boat U.S. Foundation offers an excellent hurricane preparation worksheet that can help you formulate a basic hurricane plan for your boat.

When a severe storm is approaching, boaters should monitor weather reports and abide by advisories issued by the National Weather Service for their local area. The following VHF radio stations broadcast NOAA weather reports in South Carolina: WX-1  162.550 MHz; WX-2  162.400 MHz; and WX-3  162.475 MHz.


2. Consider location, location, location

Boaters have three options for storing a boat during a hurricane:

  1. Land storage

  2. Tying off to a dock or marina

  3. Anchoring or mooring

When in doubt, take it out. Taking your boat out of the water should always be considered the preferred option in the event of a hurricane. If your boat is trailerable, take it out of the water and move it to a predetermined safe location. Ideally, this location will be as far away from trees and tidal waters as possible. If you will be storing your boat on its trailer during the storm, it is critical to strap it to the trailer as securely as possible. Additionally, deflating the trailer tires and placing blocks beneath the frame on either side of the trailer wheels can help to keep it from rolling in the event of high winds or floating away with storm surge. To go one step further, helical anchors can be used to secure your boat and trailer rig to the ground (see below for example):

In-water option 1: Dock or marina storage. If your boat is too large to trailer, make plans to keep it in a marina. While docked, be sure to double all lines and attach lines high on pilings to ensure your vessel will have enough slack to adjust with storm surge and rising tides. If docking your boat in a slip, always place fenders around the gunnel to protect it from contacting the pier and other vessels during the storm. Many marinas do not maintain full capacity during a hurricane, so remember to discuss your hurricane plan with your marina to ensure that they can accommodate you in the event of a storm.

In-water option 2: Anchoring or mooring out. Mooring your boat in a sheltered area can be a good alternative to crowded marinas. Mooring out should always be done in combination with at least two anchors, ample line and space from other vessels to ensure your boat has enough room to adjust with storm surge and changing water levels during the storm. Always ensure your anchor lines are in optimal condition and protected from chafe, which can cause them to break during a severe storm.

Regardless of where you decide to situate your boat during the storm, be sure to remove all loose and valuable items above or below deck. Not only is this the best way to ensure your valuable items are protected, but it will also reduce the impact of high winds on your vessel, protect others around you and minimize your vessel’s contribution to marine debris after the storm has passed.


3. Understand your insurance policy

Oftentimes, home and boat owners are unfamiliar with the limits of their insurance policies until after an emergency has occurred. Knowing exactly what types of damage your policy covers — how much would you be on the hook for a fuel spill or wreck recovery if your boat sinks during a storm? — can help you better prepare for hurricanes and avoid being blindsided by denied claims. Review your boat’s insurance policy to ensure you understand who is liable for what in the event of a hurricane or severe storm.

Remember – it is best to act early, BEFORE a hurricane watch is issued. Even the best hurricane plan is useless if you don’t have enough time to implement it! It only takes one hurricane to make it a bad season.

About the author: Guest writer Perry Fennell works with boaters and marinas across South Carolina through SCDNR’s Clean Boater Program. He grew up boating on the Potomac River and around the Chesapeake Bay in his uncle’s 1989 Boston Whaler 17’ Montauk. Today, his favorite place to boat is through the beautiful tidal marshes and barrier islands of South Carolina.

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