The weather prognosticators are predicting an active Atlantic Hurricane Season and with a low pressure system having already formed off of the African Continent and is 500 miles east of the Lesser Antilles as of last night. So once again the US Coast Guard has strongly urged the maritime community and boating public to monitor the progress of each and every tropical storm and hurricane and take early action to protect themselves and their vessels.
Here are a few tips to help mariners protect themselves and their vessels while in marinas:
- Maintain a “Weather Eye.” This means paying attention forecasts It means for tropical storms/hurricanes, updating yourself (and your dock mates) regularly on potential trouble in the tropics. You should be loosely tracking each low pressure area in the Caribbean/Gulf of Mexico. You should be tracking each tropical wave coming off the coast of Africa. You should be paying attention to the “sea surface temperatures” in the Atlantic/the Caribbean/the Gulf.
- Recognize that your marina manager has his/her own “Action Plan.” While they’re there for advice on the fly, lending a helping hand may stretch their resources and restrict their ability to secure their facility. Each boat owner should be “independent” with pre-arranged resources (crew, friends, materials, etc.) to be self-sufficient.
- If not already in a marine, contact local marinas to ask for advice about securing your vessel.
- Be Action-Oriented. Don’t wait until a full hurricane warning is in effect before arriving at your boat. Take action NOW, while the wind is still manageable and the waves are low.
- Plan Ahead. Planning means having a written hurricane plan completed to remind you what steps you need to take. (Give it to your crew, family, friends and your marina’s dockmaster.) It also means having the basics of hurricane prep done at the start of the season; storm lines in place in order to double-up your dock lines, chafe gear in place on your dock lines, fenders and fender boards in place to protect your topsides. Even these basic precautions will allow me, as your dockmaster, to sleep better at night.
- Have backup supplies on hand, like spare dock lines, spare fenders and fender boards can be expected to be used in almost every storm. Various tapes (e.g., duct tape, masking tape and electrical tape) are likely to come in handy in the aftermath of a storm. It’s good to have several nylon straps w/ratchet adjusters available for securing dock boxes to the deck, for securing boats on lifts (heavy duty straps, please) and for securing dinghies.
- If you’re new to boat-ownership, hold a hurricane drill, preferably at the start of the storm season. It’s important to have a plan of action for preparation, with specific assignments. If you walk through the process when conditions are calm, it gives you a chance to ask questions, make adjustments, note additional tools and/or supplies and, in the end, feel more confident about your ability to deliver your boat safe on the other side of a storm.
Use fenders and fender boards. They do a good job of protecting your boat, when positioned properly. (If tying from the lifelines/railings, twisting the hanger lines will help keep them in position.)
Try putting a length of chain (say, about 4-6 feet) around your dock pilings. (See Fig. 1). These act as chafe gear for your storm lines. That way the chain-not your dock lines-rub against the pilings. Needless to say, the pilings should be stronger than the dock cleats. (Cleats can pull out of the dock and fasteners may shear, setting boats adrift.)
Stagger the position of your sailboat in the slip so that your mast or spreaders are less likely to get caught on your neighbors’ masts or outriggers.
Check with local authorities before entering any storm-damaged area. Do not rush to your boat. Boaters should not place themselves in danger to get to a boat.
Remember – Storms move quickly and are unpredictable. You can always replace a boat; you cannot replace a life.
The Coast Guard requests that the public not call Coast Guard facilities for weather information, but to listen to weather broadcasts. Important storm information can also be viewed at http://www.nhc.noaa.gov/.
Hopefully, these tips and techniques will help you to come through the next storm(s) with minimal or no damage to your boat or your marina. Hurricane preparation is a state-of-mind that includes planning, purchases and practice well before the first storm looms on the horizon.
Here are tips for prepping your boat on a mooring from BoatSafe.com:
- Tie down or remove loose objects.
- Wrap lines around sail covers to prevent ballooning.
- Stay, if possible, on a secure mooring so that the boat can turn into the wind. Mooring all round puts a great deal of strain on the boat, however, if there is no swinging room it can’t be helped, much of what follows still applies.
- ALL connections to the mooring should go through a swivel. Lines without a swivel that have become twisted can break very easily under strain. I have seen it happen.
- When securing the boat, secure each line to a separate cleat/sampson post. DO NOT secure all lines to the same point on the boat. If the mast is stepped below on the keel, use the mast as well if necessary. DON’T if stepped on deck.
- Add chain to the mooring/boat connection, with a loop in the chain with a nylon spring attached to the boat to take the shock of snatching together with a swivel.
- Add 2 nylon rope lines from the mooring to the boat, making a total of 3 lines to the mooring.
- Make sure that the lines from the boat to the mooring are longer by at least 50% than is normal, more if considered appropriate, to allow for any tidal surge.
- Check all hatches and port holes and dorade boxes for potential leaks.
- Check the engine for easy starting in an emergency.
- Stock up with plenty of fresh food and water and fuel.
- Secure or remove all loose items in the tender.
- Secure the tender BEHIND the main boat by at least 2 separate lines to the main boat.
- Check bilge pumps, hand and electric, making sure all are working.
Put out the fenders all round the sides of the boat, you never know when the other person’s UNATTENDED boat is going to cause havoc.
- Check all unusual sounds immediately when you hear them.
ANCHOR your boat in a protected harbor where the bottom can allow a good anchor hold. An advantage to anchoring is that the boat can more easily respond to wind and water changes without striking docks or other boats than when moored. Heavy and extra anchors are needed for this option and enough line should be on hand to allow a scope of at least 10:1 for each anchor.
HURRICANE HOLES are ideal locations to moor your boat during a hurricane. These are deep, narrow coves or inlets that are surrounded by a number of sturdy trees which block the wind and provide a tie-off for anchor lines. The best location for a hurricane hole is one far enough inland to avoid the most severe winds and tides, yet close enough to reach under short notice. You may want to scout out a satisfactory hurricane hole ahead of time!
Never stay with your boat. Your boat should be stripped of anything that can become loose during the storm. This would include unstepping the mast in sailboats. Boat documents, radios and other valuables should be removed from the vessel prior to the storm, since you never know how long it will take for you to get back to your boat once the storm passes.
Hurricanes are among the most destructive phenomena of nature, their appearance is not to be taken lightly. Advance planning cannot guarantee that your boat will survive a hurricane safely or even survive at all.
Planning can, however, improve survivability and is therefore certainly worth the time and money to do so.