Hurricane season presents a unique set of risks and challenges for boat owners. These natural disasters wreak havoc and can even wreck boats if owners aren’t prepared. But, there are plenty boat owners can do to help protect their vessels from damage. We want you and your boat to get through safe and intact— here’s our advice for prep and safety when a hurricane is brewing.

A hurricane can take boats to places they were never meant to be— follow these tips to help avoid situations like this. Image via FEMA.

Determine the Best Location for Your Boat

The first thing to access when prepping for a hurricane is your boat’s location and how safe it will be there. Determine how protected your boat is from wind, waves, and storm surge. This applies to boats in their slip, as well as on land. Ensure your boat isn’t under any tree limbs or free-standing objects that may be blown or swept into them. If it’s at the marina, access their plans and the environment your boat will be left in to determine if it can stay in the water. If you’re planning on utilizing a mooring, try to assess if it will hold. Windage is reduced on moorings because the boat swings with the wind, but high gusts could cause it to break free.

Scout the Area and Note Other Boats

Note how crowded your marina or boatyard is, and check out other boats in the area to see if and how they’ve prepped. Your neighbors' preparedness can affect your own efforts to defend your boat. Very often, people who have done a good job preparing their own boats for storms are undone by the boats of others breaking loose and sweeping down on them, taking out mooring lines, dislodging anchors, ripping out cleats, and causing hull damage and even greater losses.

Likewise, learn if your marina, boatyard, or harbormaster has a plan in place to safeguard the boats, or if it's every boat for themselves. If you decide to keep your boat on land, determine how far the storm surge is likely to reach and move your boat outside that zone. There have been cases when boats hauled out in advance of a storm have then floated off their stands and been damaged in the boatyard.

Have a Backup Plan

The cyclone Catarina, which made landfall in March 2004 in Brazil, was the first hurricane observed in the South Atlantic. Note the clockwise rotation. Photo courtesy NASA, from the International Space Station
Hurricane holes are protected areas with lessened winds and storm surge. Image via NASA, from the International Space Station.

Best practice is generally going to be hauling your boat. It cuts down the possible unexpected factors that could damage your boat, and it is less likely to be swept away. If this isn’t possible or advisable in your case, have a backup plan on where your boat will go in case of a hurricane. Identify hurricane holes, alternative marinas, and safe-harbor areas where you’d be able to get your boat. Having a short list of options will cut down on valuable decision-making time when a storm does arise. 

Prep Gear and Insurance Information

Similarly, you can prep gear ahead of time: all lifejackets and valuable equipment that could float away should be labeled with names and phone numbers. Gather and photograph all of your on-board physical records (like the insurance) and have recent photos of your boat and its Hull Identification Number. You should also ensure your insurance is up to date and see what it covers for hurricanes. 

Remove, Secure, and Reduce Windage

An Atlantic Coast marina in tatters after the passage of a hurricane. Photo courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard.
Removing canvas and other items with high windage can help prevent sticky situations like this. Image via the U.S. Coast Guard.

When a hurricane is brewing, you’ll also need to remove items from your boat that could blow away or cause damage to the boat if left onboard. All boats with canvas should have it stripped to reduce windage. Simply folding down the bimini isn’t enough— when the wind gets up above 60 knots or so, it seeks out even the smallest weakness in canvas, exploits it, and almost methodically goes on to destroy the whole cloth structure and usually any metal framework holding it together, inevitably putting enormous stress on the whole boat.  Dodgers, awnings, mainsails, roller-furled jibs, and any other fabric onboard is a risk factor. 

Anything else unsecured should be removed or locked down, too. Fishing rods, tackle boxes, throw cushions, your medical kit, flags, grills, cushions, and water toys should come off the boat. Items that can be secured in a cabin with a door sure not to blow open can be moved there, but it’s best to take them off the boat. Anything that can’t be removed, like tillers and the boom on a sailboat, should be locked down to prevent movement. Additionally, secure your hatches, ports, cockpit lockers, bow and stern lockers, and anchor locker. Any areas that are prone to leaks may be taped over, as should places with slats (like the engine vent).  

Adjust Lines and Rigging

If your boat is riding out the storm in the water, you’ll need to adjust lines and rigging to keep it in place. Boats left on a mooring or at anchor should have doubled or tripled attachment points, spreading the loads between two or more cleats, using a bridle if necessary, to make attachments to through-bolted fittings, around masts at their partners, through bow-eyes, and other sturdy locations. Whenever possible, tie to heavy fixed objects on the land-side – bollards, pilings – and remember to allow slack for the maximum expected storm surge. Leaving your boat at anchor? Use two or more large anchors depending on the size of your boat to keep it in place. If your boat is staying on a trailer, it should be lashed to the trailer, with tires slightly deflated and blocks placed around wheels to take on additional weight and prevent movement. 

The type of line you choose for this endeavor matters, as you’ll need to account for more stress than normal. Dacron and polyester lines resist chafe better than nylon and have a higher breaking strength. Nylon is stretchier. Use polyester for bow and stern lines, nylon for spring lines and anchor rope.

Account for Storm Surge

Always attach lines high up on pilings to account for storm surge. Too little rope, and your rigging may break or cause damage to the boat. In the slip, use spring lines to pull your boat away from the dock, and work with the yard management and your neighbors to set up grids of lines that will help keep boats away from surging finger piers and neighbors.

Employ Chaffing Gear

fender covers
Fenders like these will help protect your boat from hitting or rubbing up against the dock during a hurricane. Image via Maine Coast Marine Products.

You should also employ chaffing gear at this stage of storm prep. Any place a mooring line or anchor rode runs through a chock or fairlead, or over a roller will require chaffing gear. Traditional leather or heavy cloth chaffing gear works very well, although there is some debate regarding if hard rubber or reinforced water hose work better. In a pinch, any type of natural cloth works. Finally, hang fenders everywhere you can. 

The Final Electronics Check

At this stage, you’ll also want to ensure your boat’s automatic bilge is functioning and the battery is charged to keep it going. Depending on the expected duration of the storm, you may want to have a backup battery ready. Before you step off for the final time, disconnect all electronics aside from the bilge and take photos of your work for potential insurance needs.

Things to Avoid

We’ve given you some steps you can take to protect your boat in case of a hurricane, but there are also some things to avoid for your safety and the boats. First and foremost, refrain from spending the hurricane aboard your boat. Ultimately, there’s not a whole lot you can do once the storm hits. Staying aboard will seriously compromise your safety, and no matter how much we love our boats, it isn’t worth the risk! If your boat is in the water or on land, avoid tying your boat to a tree or other object that may fall onto it, and position the boat away from any branches. Likewise, next to a house isn’t a great spot to leave boats during a hurricane— boats are generally lighter than cars and thus more prone to being blown over. If possible, move them inside a garage or away from any structures. 

You also should consider moving your boat if it’s on a lift, davit, or storage rack. Lifts and davits may swing or break, and boats may rub against surrounding structures. Similarly, while storage rack tech has come a long way in recent years, boats kept on older racks may be better off moved to an alternative location.  

Boat Sinking - Boat Buyers Beware Of These Dangers
Hurricanes can be destructive for boats— follow these tips to help make sure yours comes through above water! Image via Simon Dannhauer on Pond5.

While hurricanes and other natural disasters always bring along the unexpected, there are some things we can prepare for. Utilize these prep tips to keep yourself and your boat safe when a hurricane is coming. Have an outboard motor? Learn how to pickle an outboard in case it gets swamped in the storm.