Emily and her family waited until the last minute to prepare for the impending hurricane. Her children were only two weeks into school, and she had high hopes that the storm would pass with little consequence.
All that changed two days before the storm made landfall when her state governor got on the morning news and announced a mandatory evacuation for all people living in the storm’s path. In less than 24 hours, she filled up her gas tank, secured her aluminum fishing boat, loaded up the car with her family’s belongings, and was stuck in deep evacuation traffic headed out of the city. As she looked out across the interstate bridge with the air conditioning on full blast, she wondered: “Will the boat still be there when we get back?”
For people living around the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coast, June 1st marks the beginning of the most unpredictable and tumultuous time of the year: hurricane season. For boat owners, developing a hurricane plan is two-fold. You must consider protecting yourself and your family in addition to your vessel, be it on a trailer or in the water. This guide will address all aspects of hurricane preparation, from vessels on a trailer or in water to hurricane holes and insurance policies, so that you are equipped and ready for this upcoming season.
A vessel on a trailer
If you’re able to take your boat out of the water before a hurricane hits, do so. First, conduct a full trailer inspection, starting with the trailer rollers. These rollers should be free of any large cracks or missing hardware. Then check the bumps, ensuring they are securely mounted and not worn with the potential to break under hurricane-force winds. Check bearings and tire pressure, along with the winch snap hook and safety chains. Even the trailer hitch coupler should be checked twice.
Once the trailer inspection is complete, you will need to secure your boat to the trailer using at least ½-inch thick lines. Then you will need to choose a storage location (if the vessel is not going with you to an evacuation site). A garage or large indoor space is ideal, but not always possible. If your trailer and boat will remain outside, secure them to strong trees.
Note: selecting a tree for boat security is always a gamble. Strong hurricane gales have the ability to take down trees of any size. When picking a tree, look around the base for any roots at the surface. In areas prone to hurricanes, many trees have already been slightly uprooted or have a tilt to them. You want to avoid these trees as they are more likely to be unstable in the next hurricane. Instead, look for trees with thick trunks. Any exposed roots should be thick and the end should be buried below ground, not sticking up. You can also consider using concrete deadman anchors, either as a replacement for the trees or in addition to them.
Before departing, remember to remove all electronics and anything of value to you. Anything has the potential to be lost or destroyed during a hurricane. Take photos or a video to share with your insurance company should you need to file a claim (more on that later). You should also hang fenders or old tires to protect your boat from flying debris.
Vessel staying in the water at a marina or mooring location
The process for vessels remaining in the water is more complex than for vessels on land. The first thing the informed mariner must do is decide whether or not the vessel needs to be moved from its slip or mooring. Vessels located on or near open water are the most at-risk during a hurricane. If you’re a liveaboard, you need to consider moving your vessel to a hurricane hole (skip to the next section). If you are going to leave your vessel tied up in the marina while you and your family evacuate, continue reading here.
Here is a checklist, in no particular order, of things that should be done before leaving your vessel in the marina with an impending hurricane:
- Remove anything outside that may get lost or cause injury in a hurricane, both on deck and on the dock. This might even include removing your solar panels or wind generator, depending on where they’re mounted.
- Double up on your dock lines, rig-cross spring lines fore and aft, and cover the lines with chafe protectors. Consider adding even more lines, taking full advantage of all cleats.
- Attach the lines higher up on the pilings to account for tidal surge
- Double or even triple the number of fenders on your boat. You can even tie used tires as replacement fenders
- Charge batteries to full for bilge pumps
- Inspect all hatches and portholes for potential leaks
- Optional: Drop an anchor fore and aft, ensuring the anchor is properly set. Have extra ground tackle (rope and chain) on the line for when the water rises
Hurricane holes and staying onboard during a storm
If you are a liveaboard or plan to stay on board your vessel during a hurricane, then it is crucial that you identify a hurricane hole at the start of the season and are prepared to move your vessel there at a moment’s notice. The best hurricane holes are located at least one mile inland; the further inland you are, the better protected you will be from storm surges and winds. Consider features like good holding and a surrounding landscape that blocks wind, while also surveying for pilings, docks, or other structures that may collide with your boat should it begin to drag. Consult a navigational chart for depth and have your depth sounder ready when scoping out a location.
Once you have a location selected, you will have to decide how to secure your boat. There is a lot of information available in books and on the internet about setting storm anchors. As captain, you know intimately the dimensions of your vessel and the different ways she holds in water. You should therefore review a myriad of setting options and pick the one best for your situation. Some options include:
- Dropping an anchor fore and aft
- Dropping two anchors at the bow in tandem on the same rode, with about ¼ of the total rode between the two anchors and ¾ to the bridle
- Dropping two anchors 90 degrees apart off the bow
- Dropping two anchors 90 degrees apart off the stern while tying dock lines to trees and/or other sturdy land features
Whichever option you select, ensure that the anchors are properly set and that the area around you is clear.
Boats weathering the storm in hurricane holes should clear the deck of anything that could be lost in hurricane-force winds and secure anything that cannot be removed. They should also double or even triple the number of fenders in order to protect the vessel from potential debris. Have available extra ground tackle, rope, and chain, and inspect all hatches and portholes for potential leaks before the storm hits. As with vessels staying in marinas, vessels in hurricane holes should allow enough slack in the lines to account for the expected tidal surge. For example, last year’s Hurricane Ida ushered in a 16’ tidal surge in southeastern Louisiana, while waves offshore measured 38’ high.
Note: If you have a car but are moving to a hurricane hole with your boat, make sure you move your vehicle to high ground so that it doesn’t flood.
Debris and loose vessels
No matter where your vessel weathers a storm, you should survey the surrounding area for any potential debris. Debris poses a large danger to vessels as any collision could result in an emergency situation, which you don’t want during a hurricane when first responders will have difficulty reaching you. If there are abandoned boats in the marina, consider throwing an extra line or two on them–it means protecting your vessel, too. If your vessel will weather the storm on a trailer, move it away from trees and power lines (if possible, move it indoors).
Evacuate to a safe location and stock up on supplies
Your safety and the safety of your family is your principal concern during a hurricane. Regardless of whether or not you decide to evacuate, you must collect supplies for the emergency. Here is a list of must-have supplies for hurricane season:
- Water (in large quantities, think 5-gallon tank or packs of bottled water. Recommendation is typically 1 gallon/person/day)
- Canned goods (tuna, veggies, beans, anything that will hold well and cook on a gas stove)
- Flashlights (If you have empty gallon jugs or bottles, you can tape them to the end of the flashlight, converting it into a lantern for when the electricity goes out)
- Batteries (C and D are most common for flashlights. Also consider a portable charger for charging phones)
- Ax (if you decide to stay, you must keep an ax available in case the floodwaters overtake your home and you are forced to break through the roof to escape)
- First aid kit
- Matches and lighters
- Radio (battery, hand crank, or solar is the best option. Radio is essential as it will be the principal method of staying informed once the power goes out)
- Instant cold packs (the heat will be brutal when the electricity goes out and these provide some relief)
- Non-electrical entertainment (cards, board games, coloring books, crayons. You will want something to pass the time, especially if there are children with you)
This list is not all-encompassing and should be adapted to your family’s special needs. You should also strongly consider a propane option for cooking if your home is not already equipped with one or a 110V stove if in an evacuation situation and staying in a motel (eating out will quickly add up and evacuation is not cheap).
Staying safe with a generator: Protect yourself against carbon monoxide poisoning
Many people who decide to ride out a hurricane at home do so because they have a generator for when the electricity goes out. Carbon monoxide poisoning is the largest risk associated with generator use. Having a carbon monoxide detector is useful, but the most important thing is to never run a generator inside the home, garage, basement, or any partially enclosed area. They should be placed outside, well away from doors and windows that could allow carbon monoxide to enter. CO has no smell and cannot be seen, so if you start to feel weak or abnormal while a generator is in use, make haste outside where you can breathe fresh air.
First and foremost, review your insurance policy closely and ensure that you have hurricane coverage. If not, contact your insurance company and take the necessary steps to update or upgrade your policy. This should be done as soon as possible, and not when a hurricane is already on its way to you.
Contact your insurance company after reviewing your policy if you have any questions so that there are no surprises after the storm hits. Many insurance policies require mariners to create extensive documentation of their boats before the arrival of a hurricane. This inventory should include all items, both those on board and those removed for the storm. Taking pictures or even a walk-through video of the state of the boat before you leave will lessen the headache of making a claim later. Be sure to take all important insurance and registration documents with you when you leave the vessel.
Stay informed, keep a cool head, and take deep breaths
“Early preparation and understanding your risk is key to being hurricane resilient and climate-ready,” said US Secretary of Commerce Gina M. Raimondo. Regardless of whether you live on land or water, preparation is key to making it through a hurricane. Sit down with your family sometime in June (the beginning of hurricane season) and create a plan together that meets all your needs. Scope out various hurricane hole options and select the one best for your vessel, should the need arise. Have extra ground tackle, rope, chain, and dock lines on hand. Most importantly, make a habit of checking the weather and activity in the Atlantic every day, so that you have ample time to monitor the storm and execute your plan should the need arise–and don’t forget to take deep breaths and keep a cool and calm head. You have a plan and that’s really all you can do in these situations. The rest is up to Mother Nature.