Protecting Your Boat in a Hurricane
Hurricanes are enormous cyclonic storm systems covering thousands of square miles which
usually develop in the tropical or subtropical latitudes during the summer and fall. To be
a hurricane, the system must be producing winds of 64 knots or more. Less intense storms
are designated tropical depressions or tropical storms. Tropical storms and hurricanes are
named to aid in identifying them. Each hurricane is, essentially, an organized system made
up of hundreds of individual thunderstorms. The core of the hurricane is called the eye,
an area of relatively benign weather several miles across surrounded by turmoil. All of
the severe weather conditions produced by individual thunderstorms (heavy rain, hail,
lightning, tornadoes, downbursts, etc.) are produced and magnified within the hurricane.
Working together, such storms generate tremendous tidal surges which can decimate coastal
Historically, individual hurricanes have caused the loss of thousands of lives and
billions of dollars in damage as they ran their course over populated areas. If you know
that a hurricane is approaching your area, prepare for the worst. The important point is,
GET OFF THE OPEN WATER AS FAR AWAY FROM THE STORM AS POSSIBLE! If this is impossible, keep
in mind that the right front quadrant of a hurricane usually, but not always, produces the
most violent weather.
With todays modern communication net to warn them, people have a better chance to
reach safety before a hurricane hits their area. Even so, you may have little more than 24
hours advance notice to get your boat secured against the storms full force.
If your boat is easily trailerable, store it ashore, far from the danger of high water.
Follow these tips:
- If you must move your boat, first inspect the trailer to ensure that it is in proper
operating condition. Check tires (including spare), wheel bearings, tow hitch and lights.
- If you can, put your boat and trailer in a garage. If they must be left out, secure them
to strong trees or a "deadman" anchor. Strip off every thing that could be torn
loose by a strong wind.
- Increase the weight of your trailered outboard boat by filling it with fresh water and
leaving in the drainplug (inboard boats must be drained to avoid motor damage). Insert
wood blocks between the trailer frame and the springs for extra support with the added
If your boat must stay in the water you have three options:
- BERTH at a dock which has sturdy pilings and offers reasonable shelter from open water
and storm surge. Double up all mooring lines but provide enough slack so your boat can
rise with the higher tides. Cover all lines with chafe protectors (double neoprene garden
hose cut along the side) at points where the line is likely to wear and put out extra
fenders and fenderboards (the more the better).
- ANCHOR your boat in a protected harbor where the bottom can allow a good anchor hold. An
advantage to anchoring is that the boat can more easily respond to wind and water changes
without striking docks or other boats than when moored. Heavy and extra anchors are needed
for this option and enough line should be on hand to allow a scope of at least 10:1 for
- HURRICANE HOLES are ideal locations to moor your boat during a hurricane. These are
deep, narrow coves or inlets that are surrounded by a number of sturdy trees which block
the wind and provide a tie-off for anchor lines. The best location for a hurricane hole is
one far enough inland to avoid the most severe winds and tides, yet close enough to reach
under short notice. You may want to scout out a satisfactory hurricane hole ahead of time!
Never stay with your boat. Your boat should be stripped of anything that can become
loose during the storm. This would include unstepping the mast in sailboats. Boat
documents, radios and other valuables should be removed from the vessel prior to the
storm, since you never know how long it will take for you to get back to your boat once
the storm passes.
Hurricanes are among the most destructive phenomena of nature, their appearance is not
to be taken lightly. Advance planning cannot guarantee that your boat will survive a
hurricane safely or even survive at all. Planning can, however, improve survivability and
is therefore certainly worth the time and money to do so.
General Weather Tips
Before Setting Out:
Obtain the latest available weather forecast for the boating area. Where they can be
received, the NOAA Weather Radio continuous broadcasts (VHF-FM) are the best way to keep
informed of expected weather and sea conditions. If you hear on the radio that warnings
are in effect, dont venture out on the water unless confident your boat can be
navigated safely under forecast conditions of wind and sea.
- Keep an eye out for the approach of dark, threatening clouds which may foretell a squall
- Check radio weather broadcasts periodically for latest forecasts and warnings.
- Heavy static on your AM radio may be an indication of nearby thunderstorm activity.
- If a thunderstorm catches you afloat:
- Put on a Personal Flotation Device. (if not already wearing one)
- Stay below deck if possible.
- Keep away from metal objects that are not grounded to the boats protection system.
This information from the U.S. Coast Guard Boating Education Branch