Hurricane preparedness is the best “insurance” a yacht owner can have!
Hurricane season has arrived and runs through the 30th of November. Historically, the season doesn’t typically peak until late August, but with Hurricanes Isaac and Sandy still fresh in the memories of many coastal residents, savvy sailors and skippers are taking steps now to be prepared.
At Pantaenius America, we believe that planning, preparation and timely action are your best defenses for weathering the hurricane season. To learn what you can do to protect your yacht if a hurricane threatens, keep reading...
Brace Yourself For An Extremely Active Season
Predictions for the 2013 hurricane season are well above the seasonal average. Experts at NOAA say there’s a 70 percent chance of 13 to 20 named storms (winds of 39 mph or higher), of which 7 to 11 could become hurricanes (winds of 74 mph or higher), including 3 to 5 major hurricanes (Category 3, 4 or 5, packing winds of 111 mph or higher). But even a Category 1 hurricane can have devastating effects on your yacht. And it’s not just high winds you need to be concerned about. Hurricanes often spawn tornadoes and are frequently accompanied by 10- to 20-foot storm surges, rising sea levels, increasing tides, towering waves and drenching rainfall of more than 2-3 inches per hour. All of these elements pose a threat to your vessel.
Fortunately, there are ways to dodge Mother Nature’s fury. In a four-year study conducted at MIT—involving nearly a thousand boats and looking at the effects of Hurricanes Opal and Andrew—researchers found that vessels suffering the least damage were not just “lucky.” In fact, they had owners who were prepared. Overall, boat loss and damage could have been reduced by as much as 50 percent if owners were better educated about how to protect their vessels, researchers reveal.
At Pantaenius America, we believe that hurricane preparedness is the best “insurance” a yacht owner can have. Here are steps we recommend you take—starting now—to keep your yacht and your family safe before, during and after a hurricane hits:
BEFORE THE WINDS BEGIN TO BLOW
• Have a detailed plan of action for securing your yacht. Whether you’re cruising, docked at your favorite marina, or your yacht is in storage in a hurricane-prone area, decide the safest place for your vessel to be if a hurricane is predicted.
Important: You should be ready to begin putting your plan into action at least 72 hours before the anticipation of severe weather and complete your plan at least 24 hours before a storm’s arrival.
If changing locations is your best bet, map out how you’ll get to where you need to be and how long it will take to reach your destination (taking into account that bridges usually close at least 3.5 hours before a storm is expected to arrive). If there’s a chance you’ll be out of town during hurricane season, designate an alternate skipper (a qualified and capable friend/family member or a licensed, professional captain) to carry out your plan. Once your plan is in place, keep a copy of it aboard your yacht and at home—plus share a copy with your alternate skipper.
• Stock up on supplies. Make a list of equipment and supplies you’ll need to carry out your plan—and don’t make the mistake of waiting until a hurricane is forecast to go shopping. Shortages inevitably occur once a hurricane watch or warning goes into effect, and you could find bare shelves in marine and hardware stores. When making a list of essential gear you’ll need, be sure to include these items:
- Duct tape
- Plywood (for plugging engine room vents)
- An extra set of mooring lines (lines for hurricane use should be 1/4 inch larger than normal size)
- Chafing gear (rubber hoses, used fire hoses, tape, rags)
- Extra cleats with backing plates
- Back-up anchors appropriate to the bottom of the location where you will secure your boat during a hurricane (at least two are recommended and they should be heavier than the ones you normally use)
- Extra rode (should be at least 20:1 ratio length to depth)
- Styrofoam or cork to keep water from infiltrating your engine
- Chains for anchors (should be 5/16 inch thick with 100 to 150 feet of length)
- Extra fenders and fender boards to protect your boat from rubbing against the dock, pilings or other boats
- Plugs for exhaust pipes
- Back-up batteries for your yacht’s main systems
• Take inventory. Make a list of everything on board your yacht, either by writing it down, taking photos or using a video camera. That way, you’ll have a record that will let you know if you’ve lost any items in the storm.
• Consolidate all records and place in a weatherproof container. Just as you have a ditch bag aboard in case of an emergency, storm planning calls for a similar package containing a copy of your Pantaenius Yacht Insurance policy, vessel registration, lease or rental agreements with marinas or storage facilities and your inventory. Also include telephone numbers of marine authorities (such as the harbor master, U.S. Coast Guard, National Weather Service) and Pantaenius America, as well as contact information for the person who will be responsible for your yacht if you’re out of town. Keep these records in your possession, as you may need them to check your boat after a storm hits.
• Check with the marina where your boat is moored to see what their storm plan is. Review your Slip Agreement, which should spell out the type of action your marina will—or will not—take to secure your yacht in the event of an approaching hurricane. If you have questions or concerns that are not answered in your agreement, ask. For example: What provisions are included in your marina’s plan to protect the facility from looting and other consequential damage following a storm?
As you review your Slip Agreement, it’s equally important to know your responsibilities and liabilities as well.
Important: Make sure the marina has your current contact information, including your cell phone number—as well as the contact information for your alternate skipper. Sometimes a marina doesn’t take action simply because they can’t reach you.
• Take time to give the marina a thorough inspection. Are gangways designed so they can be disconnected and secured ashore? High winds can cause these to fly loose. Are buildings and structures on the property maintained so that high winds don’t turn corrugated roofing and wall panels into flying debris? Are nearby dumpsters well anchored to the ground and secured shut to prevent them from floating away and becoming hazards? Determine if slip width is adequate to allow for tides that may rise or fall 10 feet. Also, keep in mind that much of the damage suffered in marinas stems from too-short pilings. The storm surge lifts the docks high enough to be freed from the pilings, leaving them to float about and take your yacht with them. Pilings should be 6 feet above the gunwale and be full-size and driven. Finally, determine if your yacht can be tied facing a westerly wind, and check the mooring of adjacent boats for proper placement, size and strength.
Important: Studies of past hurricanes have shown that concrete pilings are more susceptible to breaking in two than more flexible wood pilings. Also, boats at floating docks fare better than ones at fixed docks—but only up to the height of the pilings they’re attached to.
DETERMINE YOUR “SAFE HARBOR”
Once a hurricane is eminent, you need to decide the best way to have your yacht ride out the storm and take precautionary measures accordingly. Your choices include:
• Getting out of the water. If your yacht can be trailered easily, moving it to higher ground is probably the best way to protect it. Consider how far inland you want to go, how long it will take you to get there, and obstacles (like tidal restrictions) you may face trying to reach your destination. Identify a safe, accessible landing spot—preferably in a hurricane-proof storage facility. If possible, negotiate a storage contract in advance.
• Staying in port. If your yacht can’t be moved inland and is docked at a marina that could be affected by the storm, see if your vessel can be moved to a large slip. A yacht in an oversized slip with proper tie downs has less chance of chafing against the sides of the slip. Never leave your vessel on davits or on a hydro-lift. A severe tropical storm or a hurricane with a storm surge can lift it off of its cradle, and if that happens, your yacht may be driven into the lift machinery or pilings and suffer severe damage.
• Cradling up if your yacht is in permanent storage. Many marinas, particularly those in the Caribbean, now use special cradles to protect yachts during hurricane season. These one-piece cradles, usually made of galvanized steel, are built up under and around the vessel, and then bolted together. Used in conjunction with pad supports and sand screws strapped to both the cradle and yacht, vessels using these devices have been shown to withstand up to Force 12 winds and gusts up to 147 mph.
• Heading to a “Hurricane Hole.” These are deep inlets or coves that are usually surrounded by high bluffs and/or tall, strong trees and tend to be more protected from strong winds and rising tides. They also tend to be less crowded than most marinas. Check inland charts for hurricane holes nearby and plan to arrive at least 12 hours prior to the predicted arrival of a hurricane. Identify ahead of time all possible routes to get there, keeping in mind potential obstacles you could encounter en route—such as tidal or depth restrictions. Remember, too, that bridges over canals are locked in the down position 3.5 hours or longer before a storm is predicted to hit. This gives priority to ground traffic in the event of an evacuation. Once your yacht is secured, have a plan in place for how you (or your skipper) will get ashore.
• Casting out to sea. If you own a super yacht, it may be safest to ride out a hurricane at sea with lots and lots of miles to leeward (that’s the downwind side where you are likely to blow). Before leaving, stock your yacht in advance with everything you’ll need for a least a week: full tanks of fuel for your auxiliary engine, fuel for your cooking stove, drinking and cooking water, food and supplies, batteries and spare parts for all important systems on board. Also, before heading out, make certain you have a safe harbor in mind should any problems (mechanical, illness, etc.) occur.
Important: Unless your yacht is 100 feet or greater, experts do not recommend this option and strongly advise getting off your boat whenever a hurricane is predicted.
SECURING YOUR YACHT ASHORE
The safest place to store your yacht is in a hurricane-proof facility or in a garage or barn. If this isn’t an option, haul your vessel to a safe area and use heavy ropes or chains to secure your boat and trailer to fixed objects (such as large trees, utility poles, sturdy buildings). Lines should be tied, if possible, in four directions, for protection against shifting winds. Even inland, the winds and storm surge from a hurricane can be very strong. Let about half the air out of the trailer’s tires—to lower your boat and to accommodate the heavier load that will result from the accumulation of rain—and chock the wheels with cement blocks so they can’t roll.
If your hull is strong enough to withstand flooding (as are most fiberglass hulls), leave the drain plug in and fill your vessel roughly 1/3 (but no more than halfway) with fresh water to add weight and help hold it down. If your yacht is not strong enough to hold water (plywood or wooden planked hulls), use multiple anchor tie downs to hold the boat and trailer in position and remove the drain plug. Place blocks between the frame and axle inside each wheel to prevent damage to the suspension from accumulation of water that may occur from a downpour.
SECURING YOUR YACHT IN THE WATER
If your boat is docked…
Make sure the dock is strong and has sturdy pilings. Double up on mooring lines as you tie your vessel to the dock, and be sure to provide enough slack to compensate for rising tidal waters. Make sure chafing protection is in place where deck lines pass through fairleads and chocks, or over the side of your vessel. The best chafing protection is to cover the lines with a garden hose cut lengthwise, then tightly wind it with heavy fabric (rags, for example) and fasten with duct tape. For heavier lines, obtain used fire hoses to use as chafing gear. Install fenders to protect the boat from rubbing against the pier, pilings and other boats. Avoid tying too many lines to a single cleat. This creates too much stress to the cleat. And do not tie lines perpendicular to the cleat; tie at an angle across the face of the cleat.
If your yacht is anchored in a harbor…
Anchoring your yacht in water outside the marina allows for it to move around a little more than at the dock. There may also be less chance of damage because there are no docks or other boats to bump into. Anchors typically used for overnight or short-term stays, however, are not sufficient for hurricane protection. You’ll need heavier ones to do the job. Studies have shown helix-style anchors that physically “screw” into the bottom work better than any other design. You’ll need to set two to three of these about 120 degrees apart from each other, since the wind will likely blow your yacht in a 360-degree circle. Use anchors that are suitable for the bottom above which you will secure your yacht, and check your charts to see how much water your boat will be anchored in. The best anchoring is usually in sand, followed by clay, hard mud, shells, broken shells, and soft mud. Be sure to anchor your yacht with the bow into the projected wind direction. Anchor line length should be at least ten times—and preferably 20 times—the depth of the water to compensate for storm surge and swing. And remember to add chafing gear anywhere the anchor line crosses another line or a gunwale.
If you’ll be battening down the hatches in a hurricane hole…
Once there, secure your yacht with double lines in every direction to solid points on shore. Or, if anchoring, set multiple (at least 3-4) extra-large anchors with the outmost anchors about 90 degrees from one another. Keep in mind that an anchor with an all-chain anchor rode doesn’t stretch and isn’t recommended for hurricane anchorage. The best anchor rode has proven to be an extra-large nylon line attached to a generous length of chain at the anchor end and to a polyester line that extends from the cleat through the chock to just over the side of the boat. The nylon stretches and provides stability in high waves, while the polyester stretches less in the chock, providing greater resistance to abrasion and chafing than a nylon line. Still, be sure to use chafing protection where the anchor line passes into the anchor chute chocks.
IN THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
• Clear the decks. Take sails down; otherwise, they’ll snap in the wind. Also, remove and stow all canvas, awnings, tarps and any other loose items (extra lines, flags, radar deflectors, deck boxes, anchor lights, dinghies, oars, paddles, oil cans, fuel and water containers, dive tanks, Biminis and personal flotation devices). Take down antennas and tie down everything you can’t remove, such as tillers, wheels and booms.
• Do a clean sweep inside the cabin. Clean out the refrigerator, as well as all cabinets and drawers. Then tape these shut, because they will likely fly open with the violent motion of the boat. If possible, remove drapes, cushions, mattresses and other cloth items that will likely get soaked from leaks. Tape the seams of windows and hatches to keep wind from entering the cabin. Close and plug all sink drains. Disconnect and stow power cords. Turn off circuit breakers.
• Charge batteries and disconnect electricity. Make sure that batteries for automatic bilge pumps are fully charged. If necessary, install back-up batteries. Disconnect the electric, water and other dock connections, shut off fuel lines and close through hull fittings. Remove electronics and cover both the holes and instrument gauges with plastic and duct tape.
• Protect your engine. Water will find its way into every opening, so cover engine room vents and plug exhaust pipes at the stern. If the vents are small, you can use duct tape; otherwise, screw a piece of plywood over the vent and tape over the edges. Cover generators under open cockpit decks with plastic sheets. Close water intake seacocks, and plug exhaust outlets with wooden bungs, styrofoam or cork to keep water from infiltrating your engine. Use tape to seal fuel and water tank vents, as well as portholes and hatches.
ONCE THE STORM HAS PASSED
Safeguarding human life is more important than protecting or checking on your yacht, so find a safe place to stay until the storm blows over and local authorities give the go ahead that roads are open and driving is safe. Once you’re able to reach your vessel, be aware of hazards such as dangling wire, fuel leaks, weakened docks, bulkheads, seawalls, bridges, pilings and debris floating under the water.
If your yacht is damaged, call the Pantaenius Claims Hotline (1-914-381-4286) immediately. We have an experienced worldwide staff available to you 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and want to see you get back on the water quickly. To expedite a damage claim, you can help the marine surveyor we send your way by:
- Securing your boat from looters or others who may view your boat as abandoned. If your yacht has been broken into, file a police report with the local authorities.
- Taking immediate action to prevent further loss or damage. Just as you would place a tarp over your roof if your house were damaged by a hurricane, take steps to prevent your situation from getting worse.
- Refraining from making any unnecessary repairs to prevent further damages until the marine surveyor has had a chance to conduct his investigation.
- Recording damage. Document any loss or damage to your yacht. If possible take photographs of the damage as soon as possible after the storm, before the boat is moved,
- Having your paperwork (yacht registration and documentation) ready and in order.
- Notifying law enforcement of your mishap and filing a boating accident report.
- Having all parts of the yacht available for survey and keeping all damaged parts until your claim is closed.
Information provided by U.S. Coast Guard Officer BM1 Michael Thomas, Fort Pierce, Florida and Captain Mylan Duemmel, Naval Surface Warfare Center, Panama City, Florida.
Pantaenius America Ltd.
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