Hurricane Ian demonstrated what many in the marine industry had feared for some time; the huge influx of new boaters in Florida were largely unprepared for a real hurricane. Many hard lessons were learned in that storm. So what could many boaters have done differently? It starts well ahead of a storm, with a proper Hurricane Haul-Out Plan.
Where to keep your boat?
The first step of a hurricane haul-out plan is determining if you want to keep your boat on a trailer or in dry-dock. There are pro’s and con’s to each, as well as special considerations to take.
Taking your boat to a drydock facility takes some of the guesswork out of major hurricane prep. Most haul-out facilities store your boat on a rack in an enclosed building. This ensures your vessel is well above storm surge and shielded from any high winds. While this might sound like a no-brainer, drydocks do have their downsides. They are not immune from hurricane damage and past storms have seen some destroyed completely. Always check both the facility’s insurance and your own to make sure you are covered if the worst is to happen.
The biggest issue that most boaters encounter with dry storage is simply being able to schedule a haul-out in a time of need. These facilities become flooded with clients and phone calls ahead of a major storm. Even if you have a spot reserved, you may have trouble getting in when every other client is trying to do the same thing. If dry rack storage is your plan make sure you have a spot reserved well ahead of hurricane season. Then, early on in a hurricane’s development, go ahead and haul out to play it safe. Waiting too long will have you scrambling for a backup plan and maybe even stuck on the water.
If you have a secure spot for your trailer already, or if your boat lives on a trailer most of the time, staying on the trailer is a great option. This allows you more leeway in when to enact your hurricane plan, as you can likely haul out any time with your own vehicle. If you plan on evacuating, you might even opt to take your boat with you and out of harm’s way completely.
Some boaters may have a captain or maintenance company that takes care of their boat. If they offer a haul-out, keep in mind that the same issues about advance scheduling apply here as well. Always make sure to schedule your haul out early on to ensure you don’t run out of time waiting behind a list of other clients. Storing your boat on a trailer means taking responsibility for its safety, and there are a few considerations to look out for.
Where you park your boat and trailer cannot be overlooked. For one, try and get outside of the predicted storm surge. A boat floating off a trailer or both floating away together can lead to some interesting recoveries after the storm, not to mention the damage that will result. Also take a look at the surrounding area. Your boat might not move, but what about everything else? Park away from any potential debris, especially overhead tree limbs. Try to get as close to a hard wall or windbreak as possible to reduce flying debris.
Prepping the Boat
It’s good practice to remove as much “stuff” from your boat as possible. Empty your hatches of anything that can’t get wet. Remove any detachable accessories. Sideways rain can force water into some tight places so don’t count on your electronics or hatches staying dry. Remove all canvas, especially bimini tops. These are loose and wind-resistant and can easily shred or tear out mountings in high winds. Don’t be tempted to put the cover over your boat, more often than not it will wind up destroyed or in your neighbor’s tree.
Once everything is out of your boat, it’s time to make sure it can’t go anywhere. This begins with chocking the trailer. Wedges or cinder blocks should be behind and in front of every wheel to make sure the trailer cannot roll or shift. While a boat helps weigh down a trailer, an empty trailer has a chance of moving around. Adding weight to an empty trailer is always a good idea. Sandbags piled up on the bunks or cinder blocks on a cable draped over the frame are both creative options. Just make sure you aren’t adding potential debris to your yard!
Small boat owners can opt to fill their hulls with water. This adds a great amount of weight and insurance against wind movement. Just make sure to not flood any electronics. Moving your bilge pump higher but still hooked up can be a good way to ensure rain doesn’t flood the boat completely. Once you have done all this, lash your boat to the trailer with mooring lines or lightly tightened ratchet straps for extra security.
Always call your insurance company or consult your policy for any hurricane requirements. Many companies will outline specific steps you must take to prove an effort was made to secure the boat. Take pictures of the vessel before the storm and detail all of the efforts you made to keep it safe. If the worst happens and the boat is damaged, you’ll be able to clearly show that you secured the boat to the best of your ability and to their standards.
Hurricanes will always be a part of the boating life here in Florida, and as they say “failing to plan is planning to fail”. Having a hurricane haul-out plan doesn’t have to be complicated, but is essential to ensuring the safety of your boat when the time comes. Don’t let the next storm catch you unprepared!