Safe Boating – Hurricane Season Is Upon Us – Part I

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, July 10, 2002

How soon we forget. Over the past two years I have found that recreational boaters in Hampton Roads are becoming increasingly complacent with regards to hurricanes. The past two summers have been very mild with no major hurricanes making landfall. Newcomers to the Suffolk area may have been lulled into a false sense of security.

Please consider this column as a gentle reminder that we are indeed in hurricane season. If you are new to the area ask your neighbors about Sept. 16, 1999. Hurricane Floyd raced across the Virginia-North Carolina border dumping between 10-20 inches of water. I remember the pictures of Franklin — these things you never forget.

In my 18 years of wearing a military uniform, I had the chance to experience four Category Five Hurricanes while serving in Puerto Rico. (A Category Five hurricane, on the Saffir-Simpson Scale is the most destructive. Hurricane Andrew is an example of such a storm.) The two storms that bring back the most vivid memories are Hurricanes Luis and Marilyn, which destroyed large portions of St Martin and St Thomas, respectively. The sheer power of these storms cannot fully be comprehended regardless of the number of times you watch the Weather Channel’s reporters get soaked while reporting from the shoreline as a storm comes ashore. Riding a hurricane out under way, even if you are on the very edge of the &uot;good&uot; quarter of the storm, is also something you never forget. Taking 60-degree rolls is an unbelievable experience regardless of how salty or experienced you are.

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Trust me, folks: you do not want to take a hurricane lightly. They are nature’s purest form of fury that when unleashed are merciless. In addition, the National Hurricane Center is predicting that this year we will have an &uot;above normal&uot; season predicting between nine and 13 storms. Of this group the center further predicts that two to three of these will become &uot;major&uot; storms. A major storm is one in which has wind speeds of greater than 111 mph!

There are a number of issues that run through recreational boater’s minds when they hear the turn hurricane. What are the basic terms you hear forecasters use and what do they mean? What is the best way to attempt to protect a boat if inside a marina? How should you try to &uot;ride a hurricane&uot; out if caught unexpectedly under way? Over the next three columns we will address these questions and many more.

I have been impressed with our local TV forecasters updates on tropical conditions. Each makes a point of looking south and giving an update, especially if there is activity well in advance. Equally impressive are Web sites such as &uot;; or any of the local stations that provide updates. This kind of advanced warning was unheard of 20 years ago.

What defines a hurricane? The National Hurricane Center says that this is a storm which climbs to speeds of 74 mph. What two terms are normally used by forecasters when the word hurricane is mentioned. These are &uot;Hurricane Watch&uot; and &uot;Hurricane Warning.&uot; What is the difference? A hurricane watch describes a condition that is present which could support a hurricane usually within about 36 hours. A hurricane warning is a little different. This warning indicates that hurricane formation is expected within the next 24 hours.

What actions should you take initially? First and foremost, do not panic. You still have time to take proper, immediate and critical actions. That’s a good thing!

Initially start gathering as much information as you can. Listen to the radio or TV stations to get updates on tracking and force. Ensure that you have checklists created to secure your boat, then start the process. (We will discuss some specific ideas next week.) Considerations for personal emergency equipment needs to be made including batteries, food, fresh water and valuable papers. While you still have time sit down with your family and develop a checklist that anticipates contingencies. In addition to all the above read brochures and information on detailed preparations. The American Red Cross has a great workbook for working with children grades 4-6 called &uot;Jason and Robin’s Awesome Hurricane Adventure.&uot; Children should be included as you build your family plan.

The resources to develop an excellent family plan that includes your vessel are out there, especially on the world wide web!

Now that you have started thinking about how to secure your family we will explore securing your boat in-shore as the hurricane approaches. We will look at that topic next week. Until then: Boat Safe, Boat Smart!