Preparing the port for a hurricane

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 8, 2003

This week we’ll continue our series on preparations for hurricanes, since we are a full week into the season which is predicted to be much worst than last year. This week we’ll explore how to prepare for a hurricane if you are an &uot;import,&uot; whether your boat is pierside or kept on a trailer in your backyard.

As a hurricane approaches all recreational boat owners ask the same questions, in one form or another: How do I best approach this threat to my vessel? How do I best protect it?

To make the planning for this event easier, especially during a stressful time such as the few days before a hurricane, I offer a three-stage plan to readying your vessel to &uot;ride out the storm&uot; in port. Additional precautions and courses of action should be obtained from insurance companies, boat manufactures and state boating administrators.

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With the incredible capability of Doppler radar, round-the-clock television coverage provided on programming such as the Weather Channel, and the Internet, information is available from everywhere. It is also provided by radio most boat owners who will have a good idea when and in some cases where the hurricane may hit. This means you should have, at the very least, 48 hours to make your vessel ready. However, if you consider this issue NOW there is one incredibly important bonus: it leaves you more time to ready your home and family.

Stage One – Initial Assessment. This is perhaps the most critical preparation time, as you should have time to be both deliberate and meticulous in your efforts. Initially, as you work on your vessel tune your radio station and then monitor the National Weather Service broadcasts. Initial indications from the newspaper or normal TV broadcasts should give you an idea several days out that we have a chance for impact.

The first thing that you need to do is look all around the vessel topside and start a list of all removable items. Things like spare rigging, life rings, pads for the cockpit, portable fuel and oil storage containers etc should be removed. Items such as bimini tops, dinghies and even a ship’s bell should be taken ashore and stored. Remember, winds accompanying a hurricane can take these items and turn them into serious &uot;missile&uot; hazards.

You should also confirm with your insurance company the exact parameters of your policy. In addition to your vessel see what your lease or rental agreement says involving a storage shelter, if you have one, at the marina. These calls will allow you to have a clear understanding what your policy covers and what it does not. It is better to be as informed as possible before the storm hits.

Stage Two –

Move Below Decks. Moving below remove all important ship’s papers (i.e. registration, log books, passports, etc) and place them in a safe place away from the water.

Have a complete list of all the equipment, both on the vessel and in the storage shack. It makes the insurance claim easier. One good recommendation, to keep all these lists and if you have them pictures, is to buy a portable lock box and keep that with you. (This is actually a good idea for hurricane preps in general and not just for your vessel.) Nowadays some &uot;boxes&uot; are even designed to float. Moving about the vessel you should shut off the fuel tanks, leave the bilge pumps on and use enough line to allow for storm surge in your mooring lines. However, don’t provide to much slack. This length can only be determined by sailors who understand the boats well. If you are not comfortable call the local Coast Guard Auxiliary Flotilla and ask them this as a &uot;Boating Safety&uot; question. You’ll find the Auxiliary to be one of the best sources in the world for boating safety issues!

You should ensure that the battery is charged and the bilge pumps are operational. Clean the bilge of any material that would clog the pump. Both of these devices will be imperative.

I would actually go one step further regarding important papers. Make a copy and have them notarized. If you have friends or relatives that are outside Hampton Roads, mail this duplicate set to them for safe keeping. Lessons learned from past hurricanes indicate that, especially in Category Five storms, the devastation can be near total with the loss of all-important paperwork. Use this &uot;back up&uot; approach for your piece of mind.

Stage Three – A Final Look. This final stage of your hurricane preparations actually involves getting the vessel itself ready to ride out the storm. Start by setting good chaffing gear in locations where mooring lines will rub. A number of materials, even radiator hose, can be used for this purpose but this may be one occasion where a small investment will pay off. Look to place chaffing gear near deck edges and chocks. Next start a methodical search of all openings to the vessel should be completed. After you complete your first deployment of chaffing gear, do another round of the boat and make sure you are &uot;covered&uot; everywhere!

As you move from bow to stern make sure that the vessel is as watertight as possible. You can secure hatches and doors (yes you can have a door on a vessel; I can hear all the &uot;salty dogs&uot; out there jumping out of your seats stating that I have made a gross mistake.) with tape, such as air conditioning duct tape, from the inside.

You should also make sure that the &uot;self-bailing&uot; cockpit drains are open. Set your storm anchors, and then triple your bow and stern spring lines. As your walking off the vessel make sure your electrical connection to the shore is disconnected. I can’t tell you the number of vessels the Coast Guard found in the Virgin Islands following Hurricane Marilyn that were still electrically connected.

The final thing you need to do is take off the valuables and easily removable electronic devices such as radios, GPS, etc you may have onboard. Find a safe dry place to store these.

Obviously this three-step approach is not an &uot;all-inclusive&uot; list but should at least serve as a foundation to build your own list, which I strongly recommend. This list needs to be something you spend a few minutes on before you start executing it!

In addition to all of the above, have a back-up plan in case you are caught in a situation where you can’t do these actions yourself. Identifying a neighbor, relative, or friend who has a good working knowledge of your vessel and can get all the actions done before the storm hits.

Perhaps the best advice I can give you, even if you are the most experienced sailor is don’t remain on your vessel during a hurricane. This is a very bad idea and may cost you your life.

Your life is too valuable. Property can always be replaced. You can’t be! Remember that a Category Five hurricane for example, packs speeds above 156 MPH and storm surges of 18ft. You don’t want to be in any boat pierside in weather like that. This is one time when &uot;Mother Nature&uot; should not be challenged.

Next week we’ll look at how to prepare for a hurricane if you’re caught under way.

Until next week, Boat Safe… and Boat Smart!

LCDR Joe DiRenzo III is a resident of Suffolk and a regular News-Herald columnist.