Every year, even before the calendar nears June 1st, boaters are thinking about hurricane season. It seems that no matter how many hurricane seasons you and your boat have made it through, you still harbor a healthy fear of, and respect for, Mother Nature. That’s a good thing! A smart boat owner knows to be prepared well before the start of season. The key to keeping you and your boat safe is planning and preparation. Waiting until the last minute can be detrimental, that’s why we want to share with you just what you need to know to be ready for hurricane season:
Westshore Yacht Club, Tampa, FL, 2022
When is hurricane season?
Hurricane season officially begins on June 1st. It runs all the way through November of every year. August through October are the peak months for tropical cyclone events, especially in South Florida and the Gulf regions.
Now the Atlantic and Caribbean have some of the nicest summer weather in the world. Even so, the threat of hurricanes and other tropical cyclones should never be underestimated. That’s precisely why, when boating between the months of June and November, you must keep an eye on the weather forecast. The best way to stay on top of the weather is with NOAA Weather Radio. It’s a prime resource for advisories for all 50 states and island territories in the Caribbean and the Pacific.
Even though hurricane season in the Atlantic Ocean and the Caribbean runs five months through the summer and fall, there are always exceptions to this general rule. A hurricane can certainly surprise us and form before or after the typical season.
Where do hurricanes come from?
Hurricanes seem to come out of nowhere. The truth is, they form off the coast of Africa over the equator. From there, they make their way across the Atlantic Ocean and head north. But hurricanes are tricky. They can turn in the middle of the ocean and head south into the Caribbean Sea, or farther north and make landfall in North America. The fact is you can never take your eye off them. Hurricanes have been known to hit as far south as Trinidad and as far north as Canada.
Things you need to have on hand when boating during hurricane season
The National Weather Service urges boat owners to begin preparing their boats for the hurricane season well in advance. You don’t want to get caught unprepared. Once a hurricane warning is issued, it's actually too late to work safely on a dock.
Where do you start? With a detailed written list that includes:
Your evacuation plan - including the removal of all detachable items, such as cushions, canvas, sails, dinghies, radios, and other equipment. If your boat is docked in a marina, talk to a member of the staff and ask questions, so there is no confusion when it’s time to tie up or pull your boat from the water.
A boat evacuation drill – Practice your drill frequently to prevent panic in the event an actual hurricane hits.
Emergency supplies to stock up on – Plan for enough food and water for three days, a flashlight, extra batteries, medications and other first aid supplies, and cash. Do this as soon as you find out a hurricane is coming to avoid inevitable shortages.
Charging your boat's radio - This should always be done before your boat leaves the slip so you can get up-to-the-minute weather bulletins.
Essential documents – Documents like boat insurance policies, photos of your vessel, registration, equipment inventory, contact phone numbers, and other essential documents should be placed in a safe, secure location on dry land.
How to choose a hurricane-safe marina
For most boat owners and marinas, hauling boats ashore is the underpinning of their hurricane plan. They’ll pull as many boats out of the water as possible whenever a storm is approaching, and secure the balance in the largest available slips. That being said, not all marinas have the same plan. Here are eight things you should look for when choosing a hurricane-safe marina:
1. A plan
Every marina should have a comprehensive hurricane plan. It should outline exactly who does what when a storm approaches. There may also be a list (often with a deposit) that you would need to go on if you want your boat hauled out among the first. In addition, slip holders may have to sign a guarantee to secure their boats properly, whether ashore or in the water. This prevents one boat from damaging another.
2. Protection from wind and waves
During a storm, open water is the biggest enemy of boats in a marina. Ideally, you’ll want tall breakwaters and small openings to the big water outside. Breakwaters that are on the smaller side may end up underwater during a surge. You want tall and sturdy bulkheads that are in good condition. Also, high banks around a marina can help keep winds at bay.
3. Fixed docks
If the docks are fixed, make sure they are sturdy and in good shape. Look for taller pilings that make it easier to attach longer lines that help with a surge. Cleats should be thru-bolted through a sturdy structure in wood docks. Planks should be in good shape and tight - loose planks get carried away in the surge making getting to your boat after the storm difficult and dangerous. Lastly, look for generous slips that allow more room for movement without banging into the dock.
4. Floating docks
If a marina has floating docks, make sure the pilings are tall enough to keep the docks from floating away during a high surge. Even a Category 2 hurricane can have a surge of 6 to 8 feet or more. Also, make sure the cleats are heavy and well-attached.
5. Haul out facilities
Boats are almost always safer ashore than in the water during a storm. If your marina can't haul your boat out when necessary, you may find yourself forced to make a last-minute move to another marina that can. This may be hard to do when a storm threatens.
6. Ashore on higher ground
You want a marina that has higher ground to store hauled boats. It means there’s less chance of being toppled by high water – or washed away. Even better, look for a marina that has anchors in the ground that boats can be securely strapped to.
7. Hurricane-proof high-rise storage
Only recently have high-rise storage buildings been designed to withstand real hurricane-force winds. Even so, ask the marina.
8. Marina office on higher ground
You want a marina whose office is on high enough ground to survive the surge. If not, it could take management months to clean up, access records, and get back to business as usual.
If you can’t get to a marina
If you find yourself in a position where you can’t get to a marina, find the nearest hurricane hole. It’s a protected area located far inland where you and your boat can be protected from surge and winds.
If you are caught in a hurricane while on the water, put on a life vest and stay below deck. It is much safer than staying above deck where the wind and rain could wash you overboard.
Written by: Jo Montgomery