Storm Preparations: At the Dock

As the first winter storms of 2010-2011 descend on the nearby North Atlantic, I am reminded that we are all subject to furious storms. There is no greater relief after a major storm, whatever the season, than making that final turn to come within view of your boat and seeing it floating and/or undamaged.

Hurricane Bob 1991

Boats washing ashore during Hurricane Bob in 1991

While many may chalk up a storm to an act of God, where their boat’s fate is based on pure chance or perhaps a higher power, I have a different perspective. If you prepare your boat for the inevitable blow thoughtfully and carefully and it still gets damaged, then a call to your insurance agent is guilt-free and you won’t have to blame yourself while your boat is being repaired.

Given my many years as a boat owner and boat yard manager, I have firsthand dealings with storm damage—and more importantly, some advice on how to avoid it. This advice falls into three basic categories: your boat is afloat at a mooring or dock; your boat is ashore; and finally, your boat is at sea with you onboard.

I’ll start with your boat at a dock or mooring. In a blow, the most important thing you can do for your boat is to reduce windage. Take off any canvas enclosures, biminis, or sails that will catch the wind. This especially includes sails on roller-furlers—get everything off and safely stowed.

Next, double up your lines. Use a second mooring pennant, anchor, or more docklines to take up added strain. If your boat is tied to fixed pilings instead of a floating dock, you may need to adjust those lines between extreme high and low storm tides. Chafe protection for dock and mooring lines should be in place.

During storms, I advise removing electrical cables. The last thing you want to deal with is a tangled live wire near water on a violently moving surface. Most of the time the power will go out and a power cord is useless anyway. Make sure the bilge pump is working and switched to auto. Take note of the settings for any security alarms onboard and advise the dockstaff. Secure all hatches.

The biggest threat if your boat is on a mooring is for some other boat to break away and foul your boat, putting double the pressure on a mooring not designed for the load. If this happens, as it did in Marion, MA during Hurricane Bob, the entire harbor can become a bowling alley of destruction. Marion now requires Helix moorings.

Unfortunately, some other boat dragging down on yours is beyond your control. What you can do is reduce windage, add extra lines, secure or remove loose gear and batten down the hatches.
Most marinas have a hurricane or storm procedure. It is a good idea to understand the policy and get on any haul-out list before the season even starts. Storm prep should not be a last-minute panic, but a well-planned defense to protect your boat.

Next up, we’ll look at storm prep for boats ashore.

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