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Boat Severe Weather Preparations
By Past Vice Commodore John MacDonald

Anyone who had boated or sailed in treacherous conditions, usually unpredicted, knows how dangerous wind and sea can be. Experienced and responsible boat owners already know the following information, so to some extent we are preaching to the choir. Don't take it as an insult to your intelligence. After Hurricane Isabel, we felt a checklist of things to do to secure boats for severe weather and the possibility of a flood surge might be helpful. Much of the information below applies to a worst-case situation, but most is commonsensible and prudent for all weather conditions. Use your judgment. Err on the side of caution.
Hurricanes are categorized 1-5 with winds from 74 mph to above 155 mph and storm surges from 4 feet to 18 feet and above. Tropical Storms sustain wind speeds of 39 to 73 mph. Tropical Depressions sustain winds of 38 mph or less. But, even with less that these winds, with heavy directional winds blowing water out of bay creeks, particularly in the winter, it is a good idea to insure that your boat is secure.
Follow the news. Tune in to the weather channel or Internet the National Weather Service to be aware of storms brewing in the Atlantic heading this way. A hurricane watch is issued when hurricane conditions pose a possible threat to the watch area within 36 hours. A hurricane warning is issued when sustained winds of 74 mph is expected within 24 hours.
Before a hurricane or severe weather threatens analyze how you will remove valuable equipment from the boat and how long it will take so you will have an accurate estimate of the time and work involved. Stripping sails, derigging and moving equipment in 35 mph winds is extremely difficult; impossible in 45 mph winds.
Marine Facilities and insurance companies consider it reasonable to expect a boat owner to take the time and effort to plan necessary actions to secure and protect the vessel. Make sure your insurance policy is current. Read it carefully. Understand the coverages, exclusions and your duties as a vessel owner. If damages are incurred to the vessel, immediate action should be taken to save the vessel and/or equipment to prevent further loss or damage. This action is a requirement of all insurance policies. A vessel owner is expected to take those actions that a "prudent uninsured person" would take to save and preserve his property.
Each boat owner is responsible for the safety of his or her boat. Boat owners are also responsible for any damage caused by your boat if it breaks loose. If you plan to be away during this time, be sure to have made arrangements for someone else to take care of your boat. It is prudent to PLAN AHEAD.
Enhance the water integrity of your boat. Seal windows, doors and hatches if necessary with duct tape. Shut seacocks, except cockpit drains, and plug unvalved through-hull fittings such as sink drains. Plug the exhaust with a rag. Red tag the engine with a message to reopen sea cocks and remove the exhaust rag before starting.
Inspect the vessel's hardware. Assess the size and structural attachment of the primary chocks, cleats, bitts, bollards and winches. These high load/high stress points should have substantial backing plates and be secured with bolts of adequate size.
Owners of boats up to 25 feet should consider having their boat hauled and stored. If that is the way you plan to go, you should make reservations well in advance with a storage yard.
Larger boats must tie off for safety. Remember you have to keep your vessel AWAY from the piles and docks - that's a must with extreme high water pounding, the boat will be badly damaged. Dock lines, the longer the better, should be secured to the pilings with chafing gear such as hoses, tape, cloth to protect every place that a line will rub either the boat, dock, seawall or even other lines. Two or three hours of rubbing in a pounding sea will cut through the best of lines. Storm mooring at dock should have doubled lines. Install fenders to protect the boat from rubbing against the pier, pilings and other boats.
Batteries should be fully charged and checked to insure their capability to run automatic bilge pumps for the duration of the storm. Consider backup batteries. Cut off all devices consuming electricity except bilge pumps.
Double all lines. The second set of lines should be a size larger than the normal lines, including spring lines at the dock. Rig crossing lines fore and aft. Attach lines high on pilings to allow for tidal rise or surge. Inspect pilings and choose those that seem strongest and tallest and are properly installed. Make sure lines will not slip off pilings. Preventers should be installed at the top of pilings so lines cannot slip off the top. Note that nylon line will stretch five to ten percent of its length. If you have concerns about the stability of the pilings, tell the Dock Master. Do not attach lines to cleats on the docks - these are not strong enough to hold your boat in heavy weather.
Remove and/or secure all deck gear, portable gear, radio antennas, outriggers, fishing chairs, deck boxes, horseshoe rings and other safety devices, bimini tops and side canvas/curtains, dorades, canister rafts and dinghies. If cover plates are available, remove dorade cowell scoops and install covers. If not, turn scoops leeward. Make sure you secure all hatches, ports, doors, lazerettes and sailboat rudder. Tape over covers of topside electronic displays. Safety wire topside lockers shut. For sailboats you should lash the main to the boom at the least and consider removing the sail and boom. A roller-furling jib should be removed. You can stow these below. Put the helm brake on. Coil all halyards and tape halyard tails to the mast or handrails.
Also remove equipment and supplies that could be damaged by flooding from dock boxes - tools, wire, etc. Remove or secure fuel cans and anything else that could float if loose. Remove or secure dinghies to the dinghy rack. Never leave a boat or dinghy in davits or a lift.
If the vessel must remain dockside, heavy-duty fender boards (2" by 6") should be used on a bare wood center piling or otherwise installed to prevent damage. Lines should be doubled or even tripled to hold the vessel in the center of a berth or off seawall or dock pilings.
Do not stay aboard. First and foremost, safeguard human life.