Hurricane Boat Prep
Reflections on the most expensive hurricane season on record.
By Capt. Jen Copeland
We were glued to the TV. That invest we had watched for the last week just got a name and according to the forecasters, the storm was heading right toward us.
?Now faced with the daunting task of spending hours watching the damn thing, we began to get the storm gear out, inventoried and sorted. The storm will probably take a turn and stay far away, but due diligence pays in these situations.
Securing the boat is the number one priority. Preparing the boat early will leave you with enough time for final adjustments as the storm changes. It's also nice to know if you have extra gear, in case your friend needs to borrow anything. In this business, we help one another.
It is absolutely necessary to know what gear you've got and inspect it. Check each line for chafe or an unravelling splice. Pull all of the equipment out so you know what you may need to purchase and don't wait till the last minute, or you will be battling the frenzied crowds. If you have to move the boat, having a complete inventory will avoid the possibility of finding gear in an unfamiliar place.
WHAT YOU NEED
Three lines per cleat, minimum, varying lengths plus two very long lines.
One storm anchor and rode in addition to your boat's day anchor.
Two small buoys to mark anchor location(s).
Various pieces of hose to use as chaffing gear.
Large round fenders, with substantial rope.
White shrink-wrap tape.
Blue painter's tape.
A couple of friends.
Before you put on even one extra rope, you need to get the boat prepped. The first thing you must consider is "windage." Windage refers to anything that might blow away, up, off, or be damaged by flying debris: covers, enclosures, outriggers, antennas, helm chairs, rocket launcher/fighting chair, etc. Remove and safely store anything that can blow off the boat.
I usually leave the chair pedestals on depending on time and storage availability. I cover the open tops of the pedestals with a one or two Ziploc bags and tape them to the pedestal with electrical tape, reinforcing the tops with blue tape. Electrical tape stretches, sticks to itself, and will stay put in a moderate storm, as long as you stretch the tape tight on the bag, not the pedestal itself.
Inspect your "hurricane space." Analyze what you are working with, and what your options are. I remove all of the fancy dock lines and replace them with three-strand nylon ropes. Nylon stretches and will keep your boat from snapping around in her slip which causes stress on your boat as well as the dock, cleats, pilings (or trees) that you are tied to.
Distribute the energy so that one line, or one cleat, is not taking the brunt of the force. Remember, it's all about distributing the force. When completed, your boat should literally look like it's held in place by a spider web. Always offer to help a neighbor, especially if you see anything on their vessel that could damage yours.
After removing your windage, set your storm anchors. You can do this before or after adding your extra lines depending on your location. If you are on a busy waterway, you may want to drop the additional anchors last so boats in the marina or canal can move around without you blocking off areas of navigation.
Start by setting your boat's day anchor first, then the storm anchor. You can set the anchors with the boat or a tender, making sure the anchors are set in a "V" pattern, with the bottom of the "V" being your boat. Doing this will allow the anchors to absorb pressure from two or more wind directions.
Always cleat off your anchor rode, don't let it sit on the windlass drum. Use chaffing gear where necessary, especially if you have a pulpit or fairlead. Once you are set, mark your anchor lines with two small buoys so other boats don't hit them and you can find your anchor should the line separate during the storm.
Next, set your fenders. I use a minimum of six fenders for my 50-foot boat. I have a slip neighbor, and tie on two very large fenders in case one of us breaks loose. On a floating dock, tie the fenders directly to the dock using chaffing gear to reinforce the rope setting on the edge of the dock. Rough water and moving floating docks could easily make the fenders jump up and onto the dock itself, which offers no protection to your hull. Tying your fenders to the dock will also free up much-needed cleat space, which you'll need as you begin to add lines. Always keep your fenders off your engine room vents to avoid damage and away from tower legs or rod holders that can bend.
WEAVE THE WEB
Think about the wind directions likely to occur with the storm and start off with one line per clear to account for all the wind directions in relation to your slip. I leave the loops of the ropes on the boat and the bitter ends on the dock, unless I double back the ends. This leaves optimum room for extra lines, and because it is too dangerous to board a bucking boat in 75mph winds, it is much easier make any adjustments during the storm (which I do NOT recommend) from the dock. I always stash a small hatchet in case I need to cut lines in an emergency such as fire.
Any rope through a hawse pipe, laid on a chalk, tight on an edge or rubbing another rope needs chaffing gear. I use any hose that is slightly larger than the diameter of the rope I'm dealing with. The hose can be duct-taped or zip-tied in place if you are worried about it slipping off its intended position.
It is likely that you will tie and untie, move and adjust the storm lines a few times before you are satisfied with their positioning. I always start at low tide, if possible, and adjust as the tide comes in. Depending on your area and the storm path, the water level will fluctuate immensely so don't make the ropes too tight or too loose. As I add lines, I constantly check the tension. Is one pulling too hard? Is one rope coming tight before the other when tied off to the same cleat? Are two lines rubbing against one another when the boat moves this way, or that way?
After the boat is tied up to your satisfaction, you'll want to begin the final preparations. Turn off any breakers that are not needed or breakers for equipment that could be damaged by a power surge or lightning strike. I turn off the DC side of the panel. All bilge pumps should be hard-wired and not affected. I then turn off items like satellite TV, bridge electronics, heads, A/C, engine breakers and anything else DC that is not on the main panel (windlass, bow thruster, etc.), which could drain the batteries. It is important to know that if your batteries go completely dead, the fire suppression system may not work beause this system usually runs off your S/S battery bank.
Depending on the storm's location, consider unplugging your boat. Not only could a nearby lightning strike be transferred through your shore cord and into boat, it could also become dangerous should the dock pedestal break and live wires be exposed to water. Additionally, if the power goes out, and comes back on, it could send a surge to to all of your systems. I then close all thru-hulls, except the generator, if I am running it during the storm. I will run the generator to keep the batteries sufficiently charged as long as I can.
Next, start the exterior taping process. I have used blue painter's tape, but found the white shrink-wrap tape works just as well. Tape down everything that could possibly fly open -- cabinet doors, bench seats, console lids, electronics covers, teaser reel boxes, tackle centers, etc. The tape will not stick to teak, so I don't bother with the cockpit deck hatches, but I tape down the engine room hatch to avoid water intrusion and make sure all of the other hatches are locked. Secure Bomar hatches, anchor locker, transom door and any other door that may open. On the way off the boat, lock your salon door. Either take the key with you, or hide it in a place that is easily accessible in case someone has to board the boat in an emergency.
The last thing you'll want do is take lots of pictures. Should you have to make an insurance claim post storm, your underwriter will undoubtedly ask for proof of your storm prep, so be sure you have the photos to back up your claim. You should also consult the insurance policy before the storm and make sure you meet all of the requirements for coverage.
Hurricane preparation is stressful, but manageable. By staying organized and ahead of the game, you can safely and properly prep your boat for storms with confidence.