May 16, 2011
If a storm heads your way, make sure your boat is ready.
Marinas aren't always the safest places for boats in a storm--and boats aren't always the safest things for marinas (Fort Pierce City Marina, shown after Frances). This spring there were attempts in the state legislature to hold boat owners liable for vessel damages to marinas, but the bills did not pass. Still, it's likely we'll see more boaters moving from slips to safer waters this go-around.
If we have another storm season like the last, odds are you're going to be trying to protect your boat, along with all your other property.
First, of course, if your boat is stored on or around the water, the best bet is to get it inland, as far as possible. Storms are always most severe where they make landfall, and if you move your boat 20 miles inland the potential for damage will drop significantly.
Boats stored on hoists or outside racks should be pulled off, put on a trailer and taken to a safer location. Because extreme tides are a part of many hurricanes, there's a good chance boats will be floated off the cradle and maybe even crushed into the supports or the roof of your dock if you leave it in place. And open storage racks often crumple in extreme storm winds. (Large steel storage buildings with inside racks, by contrast, provide pretty good protection.)
If you trailer your boat, find a secure place to store it. Last fall, I found a storage lot out of the flood zone where there was a highway overpass on one side and tall buildings on two others. My rig weathered the storms without damage in this wind-protected location.
Canvas is highly vulnerable; it's worth the time it takes to fold and securely tie down Bimini tops and anything else that might catch wind when the big blow comes through. The same obviously goes for outriggers, tall radio masts and anything that projects much above deck; lay it down and tie it in place with strong nylon rope. Or, if you're in the direct path of a big storm, go ahead and remove all the gear and store it in a secure garage.
Rain can be a big problem, as well. You'll need to be sure the drain plug is out of your boat and debris cleaned off the decks and out of the bilge so that torrential rain won't fill up the boat and perhaps overweight the trailer, damaging the springs. Or, if you're in the way of a big one, it will pay to take the boat off the trailer and set it on foam pads on the ground, with the bow into the direction from which the strongest wind is expected. Put the drain plug IN, and add a foot of water; the added weight will help hold the boat in place.
Wind driven rain and debris will get inside consoles, cabins and storage boxes if not protected. Best bet, experts say, is to use duct tape to cover all instruments, all door and window frames, the ignition slot and anywhere else that 150-mph water might penetrate. A strong console cover might help, but don't depend on this alone; the wind may get under it and rip it away, so you need the tape as a backup. Hurricane experts say that extreme winds will actually bow Plexiglas windows and doors enough to allow rain to pass through the frame, so again, use plenty of duct tape. Tape the fuel filler overflow vent; fire-hosed rain may get inside the tank otherwise.
Any upholstery that can be removed should be stored in a garage, as should all electronics and tackle.
The trailer itself requires attention; in really strong winds, it may be sent rolling along on its own. Use cement blocks around the tires to make sure this doesn't happen—or deflate the tires. It's not a bad idea to tie trailered boats to trees or other solid objects to help keep them in place.
If your boat is too big to trailer, you have to seek a “hurricane hole.” The farther from the coast, the better, and the earlier you head for it, the better. Remember that drawbridges will stay down to allow auto evacuation as soon as the storm gets close, so if your boat won't fit under the bridges, you have to take action very early.
In protected marinas, experts suggest tying only to driven pilings—not to cleats, which may fail under extreme loads. Run extra long and extra strong dock lines to allow for the storm surge, and use plenty of spring lines to keep the boat centered over its slip—much damage occurs to docked boats from pilings slamming through their bottom as they leap up and down on top of the storm tides.