Storm Warning: Getting Your Boat Ready to Safely Survive a Hurricane

BY Lee Lowrimore

There’s a storm in the Atlantic. You’ve been checking the Weather Channel for days. Now it’s a hurricane and the projected path has it heading straight toward the Cape Fear region.

As your stomach goes flip and your heart goes flop you need to know what to do with your boat and when.

If Jim Cantore is standing in his slicker in front of cameras down by Johnnie Mercer’s Pier you’ve definitely waited too long. “Have a plan ” says Sam Clary dockmaster at Wrightsville Beach Marina then “You’ve already worked out the details. You don’t have to panic.”

An excellent starting point for your preparations is to speak with your insurance agent and find out what your marine policy requires. Clary recommends making your boat’s haul-out plans by no later than June 1 which is the beginning of hurricane season. “You should know what when and where ” says Clary. “If you know what you’re going to do you don’t have to think about it. You just do it.”

“Get your boat out of the water and into secure storage ” says Atlantic Marine dockmaster Carl Hiatt. “We take our customers’ boats to an inland storage facility. Other boats that are larger we bring onshore and chock up and tie up.” Atlantic Marine also offers dry storage to transient boat owners who only need space during storms.

Advance planning is crucial. “We start a good three days in advance ” says Hiatt. “It takes us two days to get all the boats out and secure. When we think a storm is imminent then we start. And likewise it takes the same amount of time to put them all back regardless of whether we have a storm or not.”

When a boat must remain on land outdoors first strip it of everything that the wind can pick up and carry away. Lash it securely in all four directions away from the trees and poles that will be the first things downed in a storm. If you do not already have lash points drive steel rebar at least 2 feet deep into the ground and lash to that.

If your outboard’s hull is strong enough as most fiberglass hulls are plug your drain holes and partially fill the boat with fresh water to make it harder to move. Insert wooden blocks between the trailer frame and springs to support the extra weight. On boats with inboard engines or hulls of plank or plywood make sure the drain holes are clear and hope for the best.

Some boats must stay in the water. If you’re at a marina contact the dockmaster and get familiar with its guidelines. “We have a friendly and experienced staff ” says Chris Brock dockmaster at Seapath Yacht Club. “We’re glad to discuss with boat owners what to do with their boats in the event of a storm.”

Floating docks with tall secure pilings offer the best protection against storm surge. Once again strip down all canvas and curtains and store or tie down everything the wind can pick up and turn into a projectile. Take important papers and other valuables ashore. Then tie your boat securely. Double tie it. Spread the load over as many cleats on your boat as you can manage. If it looks like a spiderweb when you’re done so much the better. Allow extra line for the rise and fall of storm surge. “Put out enough fenders ” says Brock. “You can spend $50 on new fenders and save yourself $25 000 on a new fiberglass job.” Brock recommends putting them on the side away from the dock as well since other boats might pull free and be blown into yours.

Chafing gear as simple as split hose is essential and can keep lines from parting under stress. Flexible marine water line or even insulated garden hose slit along the length can be used. You can also use leather or in a pinch wrap towels or other fabric around the dock lines and secure with duct tape.

Don’t stay onboard. Remember: Boats are expendable people are not.

If your current berth does not offer tall sturdy pilings floating docks or reasonable shelter you’ll want to arrange a place to take your boat when the weather turns nasty. Here again planning is crucial. Many places do not allow boats to remain at the dock. “You may have to pay several hundred dollars to get on a list ” says Brock. “Money you spend before a storm is money you save after the fact.” Waiting until the last minute to find safe harbor may mean that one cannot be found. “That’s how a lot of people come to leave boats in a bad spot ” says Clary “because they didn’t plan ahead.”

Whatever you do you must do something. Doing nothing is irresponsible to yourself and others. “First off you’re probably going to lose your boat ” says Hiatt “or it’s going to be damaged. Then if it damages somebody else’s property and you made no move to restrain it you’re going to be responsible for the damage it does ethically and perhaps legally.” And your insurance will not cover your loss.

Hurricanes are a fact of life here on the North Carolina coast. But a good hurricane plan implemented properly can mean the difference between filing an insurance claim and being back on the water after the storm has passed.

This article is for entertainment purposes only. Be sure to contact your insurance agent attorney and dockmaster for information advice and guidance.

Hurricane Holes

by Lee Lowrimore

he United States Coast Guard Web site explains that “hurricane holes are ideal locations to moor your boat during a hurricane.” It defines such a secure location as being a deep narrow cove or inlet surrounded by sturdy trees which block the wind and goes on to say that “the best location for a hurricane hole is one far enough inland to avoid the most severe wind and tides yet close enough to reach under short notice.”

Often situated up rivers and canals hurricane holes afford safe haven when the storm hits. Tie up or haul out in one of these and the odds are that your boat will make it through the storm relatively unscathed.

But where can local boat owners find such a place? The Wilmington Marine Center on River Road and Bennett Bros. Yachts are two of the best holes around according to many long-time local boaters..

“We’re kind of buried here with the lay of the land ” says Patricia Donovan Bennett president of the company. “Protected. We’re on the lee side of this hill which keeps the worst of the wind off of us.”

That’s the wind but what about storm surge? “The river mooring helps with that ” says Brian Donnelly general manager of Bennett Bros. “The Brunswick shore is so low and it’s all marsh land. We’re sitting 16 feet above mean low water at the moment so we’re never going to see a 16-foot flood here. So from the yard point of view we’re safe. From the marina point of view the piling caps are at that same height 16 feet. Five thousand feet of floating docks and the highest we’ve come is about 4 feet above normal water.”

“That was during Floyd ” adds Bennett “a hundred-year flood. And the pilings are steel. So they’re not going to snap off. The actual construction of the marina is very very heavily built.”

The Wilmington Marine Center is Wilmington’s “original hurricane hole ” according to Skip Fry general manager for the past 20 years. Founded in the late 1950s it’s a classic hurricane hole perfectly fitting the text-book definition of such a safe haven. It’s a high ground marina with one entrance and a narrow 70-foot wide excavated channel. “A hole dug out of high ground ” explains Fry. “We get no wave action whatsoever no matter how hard the wind blows.” And just to accentuate what so many locals have known for so long Fry adds “I don’t think we’ve ever had a scratch on a boat as a result of a hurricane.”