If you’re one of Florida’s many boat owners, you might be asking yourself, “How do I protect my boat from hurricanes?” There are a few ways to approach boat hurricane preparedness. First you need to decide whether you’re going to secure your boat on land or in the water.
Your decision may depend on how frequently you use your vessel. If you aren’t planning on taking it out between June and November it may make more sense to secure it on land. If you still plan on using it during hurricane season, you may want to make some preparations early in the season and save others for when a tropical storm or hurricane warning is announced for your area.
There are couple important things to keep in mind when choosing how and where to store your boat. For one, boats on a trailer are in some cases lighter or have more surface area than vehicles, meaning they can be easily blown over by high winds. You won’t want to leave your boat on a trailer in your driveway when high winds are likely.
If you have a relatively small boat, you may be able to fit it in your garage. Larger vessels may require a bigger storage solution. There are boat storage facilities all along Florida’s coasts. It’s very likely there’s one near your marina.
You should contact a boat storage facility ahead of time to find out what their procedure is for dry storage and how long it generally takes them to store a vessel. In some cases, you might have enough time if you start the process right away when a hurricane watch goes into effect, but you might also be competing with other boat owners in your area with the same idea.
Boat owners who are unlikely to use their boat during hurricane season may be best served by just putting it in storage early, so they don’t have to worry about protecting that asset if a hurricane is on the way.
You should also investigate the quality and security of the dry storage facility. Many advertise themselves as being enclosed with hurricane ratings of 130 mph or more. If hurricane protection is important to you, make sure your storage facility is sturdy and protected.
There are some hurricane-preparedness factors Florida boat owners should consider when purchasing a boat. For example, is the anchor adequately sized? Are the lines the proper size and do they have good chaffing gear? Are the cleats large enough not to pinch lines? Are the backup plates made of fiberglass or aluminum with stainless steel bolts?
Pulpit edges need to be rounded, as lines can be sliced in hurricane conditions if the edges are sharp. Dock mooring chocks should similarly be checked for sharp edges, and they should be firmly bolted with back plates for adequate strength.
Not every marina is ideal for hurricane protection. Slip width should be large enough for a tide rise or fall of 10 feet, with pilings that are at least six feet over the gunwale. Full-size pilings that are driven should be considered a must. If your boat is at a canal dock it should have a fore and aft piling on the waterside so the boat can be secured between the dock and the outer piling.
Wooden docks aren’t always a great place to tie your boat. You may want to look for an alternative, like large trees. Large pilings also need to be capped with a preventer so lines won’t slip off. If you’re using cleats on concrete sea walls check to make sure they’re securely attached.
You’ll want to secure your cabin and any electronics on your boat. Anything that’s breakable should be stored securely below. Electronics should ideally be removed. Take up carpet if possible to avoid water damage. Anything that’s loose, like furniture, bedding or cushions, should be stored. Clean out the fridge. You may want to duct tap the door jamb to prevent water intrusion.
Cover smaller engine vents with duct tape. You may want to use plywood to block larger vents and duct tape around the edges. Use plugs or inflatable balls to block exhausts, and close water intake sea cocks. Also make sure your bilge pumps are fully charged and set to automatic.
If you want to check your boat immediately after a hurricane you may need to visit the local law enforcement station and get a reentry decal that will allow you entry into the area in which your marina is located.
In a really bad Category 4 or 5 storm there may not be any amount of preparation that will truly protect your boat. Even tropical storms can potentially damage your vessel if events beyond your control conspire against your boat. Having adequate boat insurance that covers hurricane damage is important.
Keep in mind some policies will have a separate named windstorm deductible. If you’re worried about hurricane damage, you may want to get a policy with a hurricane deductible on the lower end, even if you end up paying a slightly higher premium every month.
Some sailboats might also have a separate mast deductible. Those deductibles are more likely if you have a carbon fiber mast. Although these masts are lighter and stronger, they generally can’t be repaired and must be replaced if damaged.
You may want to read through the Coast Guard’s more detailed recommendations on preparing your boat for a hurricane. If you do everything right and your boat is still damaged, your insurance company will hopefully honor your claim. If you believe your boat damage claim was wrongly denied, you may want to speak with a property claim adjuster who specializes in helping boat owners with claims. In some case you may even want to speak with a property damage attorney.