Preparing for hurricanes – Part One

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 16, 2005

One of the great things about writing this column is that I am afforded some flexibility on getting it to Jason Norman, my editor. Usually Jason doesn’t start worrying until about noon on Saturday as he is building the Sunday paper where the column resided for four years before its recent move.

Requiring the column to be done early doesn’t allow me to provide &uot;up to the minute&uot; information – the rest of the paper does that. But it does allow me a chance to sit and think ahead about what information my readers will need both near and long term.

As I write this week’s column, very early (4 a.m. Friday morning), I have been watching the Weather Channel for updates on currently Tropical Storm Irene. After experiencing Isabel a few years ago and watching the devastation from other storms we should never take any hurricane warning for granted, especially if you own a boat here in Hampton Roads.

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As a retired Coast Guard officer, just the mere mention of a hurricane possibility brings back some unique memories from my four years stationed at the then-Coast Guard Greater Antilles Section (GANTSEC), now Sector San Juan. I got hooked on the Weather Channel and other Cable News outlets that provide detailed weather information while a search and rescue controller in San Juan. This is a popular channel during hurricane season because the information flow is constant.

Trust me – you haven’t lived until you have experienced a Category Five hurricane. I experienced four of these in two years while stationed down in Puerto Rico in the mid-1990s. The power and devastation that comes from these monsters is beyond description. Remember hurricane Marilyn? When it got through with St Thomas the destructive path was significant. Hundreds of boats were destroyed. Thousands lost their houses.

Over the next few weeks the focus of this column will be hurricanes. I’ll look at the different categories, methods to help &uot;ride them out&uot; and precautions you can do to ensure your boat is the safest possible during one of these events. All things boaters need during the busiest part of the hurricane season.

Starting off this week I want to emphasize where to go for good information. This is especially important as we look at the current storm brewing off the east coast. I also want to mention up front that there are multiple good Web sites that provide this data; I just picked my favorite to use as a starting point. After reading this column take a few minutes to find the site that provides you the type of information you need in the best format and mark it as a favorite! Information is a powerful; tool getting ready for such an event.

I currently use the National Hurricane Center (NHC) – This site is a great on-stop shop. The Public Advisories are listed there, which include information on the storms movement, strength, pressure, position, and predicted path. The visuals are excellent. This site is easy to navigate and follows the national updates on a 24-hour cycle.

Additionally, the NHC provides a wonderful service on updating information to hand held devices for those on the go.

During hurricane season, especially as one gets closer to Hampton Roads I like to use this product on my personal PDA to stay updated on the storm’s path. Besides, it’s free if you have a cell-phone or PDA that has a microbrowser and account with a wireless ISP.

Here are the specifics directly from the NHC site: &uot;NHC/TPC Tropical Cyclone text advisories, aircraft reconnaissance messages, and TAFB text forecasts and discussions are available to Wireless Application Protocol (WAP) capable cell phones and Portable Digital Assistants (PDA).

To view the Mobile NHC/TPC home page, you will need a cell phone or PDA equipped with a WAP microbrowser and an account with a wireless ISP. Contact a cell phone or mobile (wireless) PDA service provider for more information. The URL for the Mobile NHC/TPC home page is;

When looking at ways to prepare for hurricanes boater and marina operators alike needs to take a macro view. You need to look at your boat itself, asking the question, &uot;How can I reduce my vulnerability?&uot; The next thing you need to look at is your moorings.

If you trailer your boat, the safety in this condition needs to be considered. If you are underway and get into a position where making a run for land is impossible you need to understand the techniques that can be used to approach a hurricane via its &uot;safest&uot; quadrant.

There are lots of things to consider, especially before the storm hits!

Over the next few weeks we will get into some additional issues involving hurricanes and boating. Until then…Boat Safe and Boat Smart!

Joe DiRenzo is a retired Coast Guard officer, and former cutter Commanding Officer, who currently works as a civilian for the Coast Guard. A nationally published author on maritime terrorism and port security issues he has written the Boating column for the News-Herald for the past four years.

He can be reached at .