How to Prepare Your Boat for a Storm
Don’t wait till the hurricane flag flies to ready your boat. Here’s a checklist...
Nylon line is well known for its ability to stretch under loads. Under severe loading, however, friction from stretching increases the internal temperature of the line to the point of meltdown. Heat from increased chafe accelerates the wearing process. Normal chafing gear is totally inadequate under hurricane conditions. Chafe protectors must be strong and longer. Remember, you’ll be using longer lines, increasing the percentage of stretch over a given distance. You can make your own protectors using heavy canvas (rubber or neoprene hose may cause trapped heat to melt line). If your chocks will accommodate two layers, add a second layer over the first. Heavy-duty canvas can be purchased through industrial vendors. Check with your local fire department -- they sometimes discard used fire hose, which can be fabricated into high-quality, low-wearing chafe protectors.
Secure the chafe protectors to the docking lines. Canvas protectors can be sewn or tied to the line in a similar fashion.
Lines should also be larger in diameter to resist chafe and excessive stretching. Generally you should use 1/2-inch line on boats up to 25 feet, 5/8-inch line for boats 25 to 34 feet and 3/4 to one-inch line for larger boats. Double up on critical lines. Use chafe gear wherever the line comes in contact with anything such as chocks, pulpits, pilings or trees.
Longer, larger and more numerous lines will require larger cleats and chocks. In addition, the extra forces exerted during a hurricane will require stronger attachments of the cleats to the deck. Determine the size of lines you’ll be using and, if necessary, add bigger cleats to accommodate them.
Beef up your dock cleats by adding backing plates if your boat doesn’t already have them -- unbacked cleats may pull out of the deck under heavy loads. Use stainless steel plates. Make sure you use the largest size screws that will fit through the mounting holes in the cleats. Use cleats with four mounting holes for added strength. Don’t overload a single cleat -- two lines per cleat should be the maximum. If your docking plan calls for more lines than there are cleats available, install additional cleats. Check windlass mounting points as well. The windlass should be mounted solidly with appropriately sized hardware and backing plates.
Boats with keel-stepped masts can also use the mast as a line termination point. Don’t run a line attached to your mast through a deck chock -- the extra line length between the mast base and the chock will allow excessive stretch between the two points, increasing chafe at the chock.
Reduce windage! Remove everything to reduce wind resistance: Biminis, antennas, deck-stowed anchors, sails, running rigging, booms, life rings, dinghies and so on. Besides reducing windage, you eliminate the probability of these items being damaged or blown away.
Remove furling headsails. Even when furled, they offer a sizable amount of wind resistance and additional load on the headstay. And despite your best attempts to secure properly the furling line, the ravages of hurricane force winds most likely will unravel your efforts, allowing the sail to unfurl during the storm with disastrous consequences.
Arrange your halyards to reduce flogging and damage, both to the fittings on the halyard and to the objects in their path. One method to eliminate halyard slapping and windage is to tie all halyards off to a common messenger line and run the halyards to the top of the mast, reducing the number of lines exposed to the wind from as many as three or four to only one. Tie the messenger off on a rail.
Prevent water damage. Rain during a hurricane flies in every direction including up. Remove all cowl ventilators and replace with closure plates or tape off the vents using duct tape. Make sure Dorade box and cockpit drains are clear of debris. Close all seacocks except those used for drainage. Put bung plugs in unused thru-hulls and one in the exhaust to prevent water from flooding your engine. Deck drains and pump discharges located near the waterline can back flow when wind and waves put drains underwater.
Use duct tape and precut plywood panels to cover exposed instruments. Examine all hatches, ports, coaming compartments and sea lockers for leaks. Use duct tape to seal them off. Make sure that all papers (magazines, books, catalogs) are high enough in the boat to prevent them from getting wet if the cabin is flooded. Wet paper can turn into a pulpy mush, clogging bilge pumps. Prepare two lists: one listing all items to be removed from the boat prior to moving it to where it will ride out the hurricane and another listing all equipment needed to prepare your boat for the blow.
Electronics are particularly susceptible to water damage; if they can be removed from the boat quickly, add them to the list, along with clothing and other personal effects. Other items that should be removed include: outboard engines, portable fuel tanks, propane tanks, important ship’s papers and personal papers, as well as any other essential personal effects.
The list of items to be taken aboard include everything you’ve assembled beforehand to prepare your boat. Many times, the extra "hurricane only" items will be stored ashore -- a well-organized list ensures nothing is missed when the hurricane package is taken aboard: extra lines, chafing gear, fenders, anchors, swivels, shackles, duct tape, bung plugs -- all the items identified during your planning session. Include a dinghy or some other method for getting ashore after you’ve secured your boat.
Make sure your batteries are fully charged. If needed, take additional batteries aboard to boost available capacity.
If you’re planning to move your boat prior to a hurricane, take the boat there on a trial run, noting how long it takes as well as any problems you might encounter under actual emergency conditions. Are there any bridges? Many communities require drawbridges to be "locked down" when a hurricane watch is issued. During Hurricane Andrew, many boat owners were prevented from moving their boats to more protected locations because bridges were locked down.
If you plan on moving a trailerable boat out of the hurricane area, get out early. Many communities prohibit cars with trailers on the road after issuing a hurricane watch. Before the season arrives, inspect your trailer for defects and fix them.
During your test run, make a diagram of how your mooring/docking lines will be arranged. Note any additional equipment you’ll need to secure your boat and add it to the list.