Securing boats when hurricanes threaten

So, how do you secure boats properly when a hurricane threatens?

I’ll be general and proceed with the understanding that protecting against debris and rain are up to your own common sense and maintenance practices.

I shouldn’t have to tell you to check your bilge pumps and batteries and clear your scuppers.

On the yard: If you are lucky enough to have your yacht hauled for a storm, install, or commission the yard to install some anchors. This doesn’t need to be fancy or expensive. For concrete pads, simple lead anchors and ring bolts work well. An expansion bolt with three links of chain works even better.

For soft ground use some augers commonly available at home improvement stores. Install one at each corner at a steep angle and tie off using a truckers knot or ratchet straps.

Put as many blocks and stands under the boat as you can. And remove the garboard drain plug if equipped.

Private dockage: Tighten those mooring lines a little. Maybe more than a little. I have seen zero damage from insufficient scope on spring lines and plenty from boats bashing against sea walls and pilings.

Rope gets wet and stretches, especially nylon. So make sure it is secured off the dock for high tide plus just a little extra (not 10 feet extra).

Why allow scope for 10 feet of surge when that much surge will take out the whole island anyway? Add just a little and keep it off the pilings.

Any spare ground tackle you have should be deployed to the direction of open water and bridled tight upon two cleats.

This will act to pull the boat away from structure as the tide rises.

For most local docks that would mean setting an anchor abreast and possibly fore or aft. Set them long and deep with a small boat and mark the rode with a buoy or jug. Neighbors helping neighbors makes this task much easier.

Trailer: If your boat is trailer-kept outdoors, you can follow the same guidelines as outlined above, but using three anchors, two aft and one forward. The tow vehicle if left hitched counts as one.

Tie the boat to the trailer short and tight, and then tie the trailer to the ground. Again tie it steep and tight, remove the bilge plug and turn off the battery switch.

Lift kept: Tie the boat tightly to the lift. Then tie the lift to the dock. I’ll say it again. Tie the boat to the lift with short tight lines. Then tie the lift to the dock to limit sway.

Surge is the least of your concerns. Don’t lift the boat 10 feet over the dock. Allow for a couple extra feet of surge tide and pull the plug.

Try to orient the lift for good drainage and make sure the hatch drains and scuppers are clear.

Barns and marina wet slips: When faced with leaving the boat in her normal disposition, you must first and foremost adhere to the facilities guidelines. Ask the dock master or manager for a copy and ask for his or her input regarding your boats particular situation. But please remove your canvas.

Additional hints: No matter where your boat is secured you must remove your canvas. If you can pull all the side panels and window panels, do it.

Rolling the window panels up doesn’t count. It takes less than an hour and less than $20 to relace an awning.

Remove the mooring covers and store all loose gear below or ashore. Drop all sails and store below. I guarantee that if you leave your head sail rolled up in a hurricane it will eat itself alive and trash your boat and your neighbor’s boat in the process.

I walked some marina docks the day before Wilma and saw more than one owner actually installing camper canvas, and the majority of head sails were still aloft.

On my management yachts, after pulling all canvas I duct tape a piece of 0.006-inch plastic over the dash, which works well.

You may also use painters tape to seal door jams and secure loose hatch covers. Just remember to get that tape off as soon as you can while you still can. Sun and water will make it permanent in less than a week.

Get your insurance policy set early: No underwriter will write a boat policy when there is a named storm approaching.

Can you prove what your boat is worth? Many policies are Actual Cash Value and will only pay what they estimate your boat was worth before the incident, regardless of coverage limits. Appraisals are available and cost less than a full survey.

Get a professional survey at least every two or three years: A survey on any vessel will help you identify any problems with structure, self bailing or de-watering, as well as give you a current document outlining the pre-storm condition and value of your boat and its equipment issued by an objective professional.

Secure your boat early, take a few photos, board up the house and get away. Take your loved ones as far from harm’s way as possible. Think, I can replace my boats but not my family.


Capt. John Campbell AMS has been a full time resident of Marco Island since 1992. He is also available for selected yacht management and speaking engagements on a wide variety of marine-related topics. He may be reached at or 389-9769

© 2008 All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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