Hurricane! The word is both feared and respected by knowledgeable mariners along the U.S. coastal areas of the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean. Residents of the Southeast are constantly alert to the news of tropical storms developing in or headed for the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea or the Gulf of Mexico. Interest is at its highest during the official hurricane season, which runs from June 1 to November 30.
A hurricane is a violent tropical cyclone, with winds of 74 or more miles per hour, which spirals counter-clockwise around a relatively calm center known as the “eye” of the storm. At full strength, hurricane winds can gust to more than 200 miles per hour as far out as 20 to 30 miles from the eye. Tropical storm winds of 39 mph and greater can extend 200 miles or more in advance of the hurricane and trail hundreds of miles behind. One of the greatest threats from hurricane wind is flying debris. Winds also may disrupt electrical power, telephone service, gas lines, fresh water supplies and transportation. Tornadoes are also possible as a spinoff of the hurricane’s wind.
The greatest danger of the hurricane, however, is from the storm surge. As the storm approaches from the sea and moves across a coastline, a storm surge of water may rise 10 feet or more above normal high tide and usually is accompanied by battering waves that will overcome coastal lowlands. In addition, extensive rainfall associated with the storm may cause widespread flooding further inland. More than 23 inches of rainfall within 24 hours have been recorded in association with a hurricane.
During the hurricane season, the National Hurricane Center (NHC) in Miami maintains a constant watch for tropical disturbances which could develop into destructive storms.
When it appears that a storm is developing, an Air Force reconnaissance aircraft, or one of the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) research aircraft is sent to the area to make a thorough investigation. Once a disturbance becomes a depression, the National Hurricane Center will begin issuing advisories. When the depression reaches tropical storm strength, it will be given a name. Advisories then are issued every six hours and indicate the storm’s location, intensity, speed and direction of travel. As a hurricane moves toward the mainland, the NHC may issue advisories more frequently.
Key factors to protecting your boat from hurricanes or any severe weather include planning, preparation and timely action. The following precautions and checklists are meant as guides only. Each boat owner needs a unique plan that takes into consideration the type of boat; the local boating environment; the severe weather conditions likely to occur in that region; and the characteristics of safe havens and/or plans for protection. The following preparations and precautionary suggestions are issued as guidelines to be used by the marine community. While these suggestions may not be applicable to everyone in all instances, it is hoped that common sense and good judgment will prevail. Should even one of these suggestions save a life, prevent an injury or reduce property damage, our purpose will have been served.
Prior to the Hurricane Season
- Make sure your vessel is in sound condition. This includes the hull, deck hardware, rigging, ground tackle, machinery, and electronics. Absentee owners should arrange for a boatyard haul out, or a supervised inspection of the vessel prior to, and in preparation for, the
hurricane season. This includes making sure that batteries are charged, bilge pumps are operable and all equipment is secured.
- Enhance the watertight integrity of your boat, both above and below the water line. Seal
windows, doors and hatches with duct tape, if necessary. Shut sea cocks and cap off or plug unvalved through-hull fittings such as sink drains.
- Inspect the vessel’s deck hardware in light of planned mooring arrangements. Assess the size and structural attachment of the primary chocks, cleats, bitts, bollards, and winches. These high-load/high-stress points should have substantial backing plates and be secured with bolts of adequate size.
- Special attention should be given to avoid chafing of mooring lines. Chafing gear that has been proven successful is a double neoprene hose arrangement.
- Storm moorings, whether at a dock or otherwise, should have doubled lines. The second set of lines should be a size larger than the normal lines, including spring lines at a dock.
- Purchase necessary materials ahead of time such as additional lengths of mooring lines, screw anchors, fenders, fender boards, chafing gear, and anchors. These items may not be readily available during the hurricane season, or just prior to a hurricane.
- If the vessel is to be unattended during the hurricane season, the vessel should be hauled at a storage yard or on its trailer, if trailer-able. Making arrangements for wet storage at a protected dock, mooring or marina is another alternative.
- Make up an inventory of all vessel equipment. Note items to be removed from the vessel. Keep a copy of the inventory list both on board and ashore.
- For wet berthing locations, ensure that seawalls and docks are sound, mooring bitts and cleats are secure and dock pilings and dolphins are in good condition.
- At private berthing and dock facilities in residential areas, check with neighbors and other vessel owners in the area. Coordinate safety and mooring arrangement plans. Make sure your insurance policy is current.
- At marina facilities, find out their hurricane plans and/or procedures with regard to vessels left at the facility from the dock master or marina management personnel.
- Check with local marine and law enforcement organizations for local plans. This is especially important in coastal areas with barrier islands such as South Florida, where access to inland protected rivers and canals is limited. Bridges may be closed permanently for land evacuation routes when a hurricane warning is issued.
- If your plan calls for moving your vessel from its current berthing location to an inland waterway location, know your route, your vessel navigation requirements at different tides and the restrictions along the route such as bridges (auto and train) and channels. This is especially important for sailboats.
Prior to the Hurricane
- If your plan calls for moving your vessel, and you have sufficient notice, do it at least 48 to 72 hours (or earlier) before the hurricane is estimated to strike the area. This may be before a hurricane watch is issued.
- Make sure that:
- fuel tanks are full;
- fuel filters are clean;
- batteries are charged;
- bilges are clean;
- seacocks are closed;
- cockpit drains are free and clear;
- fire-fighting equipment is in good order;
- life-saving equipment is in good condition, in place and readily accessible. These items will be secured later.
- Remove and/or secure all deck gear, portable gear, radio antennas, outriggers, fighting chairs, deck boxes, bimini tops and side canvas/ curtains, sails, boom, dorades, extra halyards, canister rafts and dinghies. Make sure that you secure all hatches, ports, doors, lazarettes and the sailboat rudder. (The dinghy may be required to take lines ashore.)
- If your vessel is moored at a dock on a canal, a river or in a marina near the ocean, it is possible that with an additional 5 to 10 feet or greater storm surge, the vessel could be battered against the dock or even impale itself on the pilings.
- The best offshore mooring location for a vessel to ride out a storm is in the center of a canal or narrow river where at least doubled mooring lines can be secured to both shores, port and starboard, fore and aft.
- Do not raft vessels together at moorings or docks, especially if larger and smaller vessels are involved. The probability of damage to the vessels is greater than if they are moored individually.
- If the vessel must remain dockside at a private dock or marina, heavy-duty fender boards (2” x 6”) should be used on a bare wood center piling, or otherwise installed to prevent damage. Lines should be doubled and even tripled where necessary to hold a vessel in the center of a berth, or off the seawall or dock pilings. Preventers should be installed at the top of the pilings so lines cannot slip off the top. Note that nylon line will stretch 5 to 10%of its length.
During the Hurricane
- Do not stay aboard any vessel during a hurricane.If you have taken all the preliminary precautions previously outlined, you have done all that can be done in anticipation of the storm.
- Stay in a protected and safe place. Attend to the safety of family, home and other personal property.
- Stay tuned to news broadcasts and weather advisories concerning the hurricane so that you will know when the danger has passed.
After the Hurricane
- After the hurricane has passed, there may be extensive damage in the area. While checking the condition of your vessel is an important concern, there may be limitations such as flooded roads and downed power lines. A check of the vessel should be made as soon as practical to determine its condition and security.
- Other vessels may be upriver behind your vessel’s mooring location. This may require that you modify your mooring if you are in the center of a canal or stream so other vessels may navigate past you. If you don’t, others may just cut your mooring lines and let your vessel drift, causing more damage than the hurricane.
Important Points to Know
- Develop your hurricane weather plan early.
- Make all arrangements for moving and securing your vessel prior to the hurricane season.
- Do not stay on your vessel, or attempt to move or secure your vessel after small craft warnings have been posted. Marine agencies will pull their vessels from the water when wind and seas warrant. They do not risk their lives to rescue careless boaters.
- Stay tuned to all broadcasts and official bulletins until the storm has fully abated.
- Do not return to your vessel until the hurricane has cleared your area and you are told that it’s okay to return.
- Do not allow yourself to become a hurricane statistic!
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