by Tim Smith
The advice for boat owners ahead of a hurricane is simple: be prepared and expect the worst.
During a storm, boats can break free from their moorings, they can sink, get hit by another boat or suffer serious damage to their pump or battery – a lot of avoidable heartache.
Stephen Cox, a marine analyst at PW Marine, encouraged owners always to err on the side of caution.
“Prepare early and vigilantly,” Mr Cox said.
“Preparing for a storm is like insurance. You don’t want to do it, until you need it. Hurricanes are unpredictable and can change in the blink of an eye.
“It is incredibly important to have a plan of action. While a hurricane may seem like something you have time to prepare for, it is imperative you are prepared long before hurricane season.”
Mr Cox warned many people end up “scrambling at the last minute” because they fail to get ahead of the curve.
He explained: “It is important to consider the chaos that occurs prior to hurricane.
“Consider that all marine service companies are in overdrive, hence why it important to have a plan in place.”
Mr Cox suggested boat owners follow these steps before a storm happens:
- Make sure your mooring has been inspected. Your mooring should be inspected on a yearly basis by marine service providers such as Bermuda Marine Service & Supply, Atlantic Mooring Maintenance or Stayput Mooring and Marine. Mr Cox said: “These companies provide general services for your moorings to make sure they are ready for any weather Bermuda throws at you.”
- Check that your ropes are in good condition. They take on a lot of stress and face a multitude of weather conditions throughout the year, so it is imperative you ensure they are in good working order. It is also advisable to have back-up bridles on board. If you are leaving your boat in the water, make sure they are attached to the moorings.
- Secure all loose items. Take canvas covers down, remove any water toys, cushions or trash. Mr Cox said: “Anything that has the chance to blow away, will blow away. Secure it or remove it.”
- Have your batteries checked. Your bilge pump will be working in overdrive to keep up with the rainwater. You should be sure that your batteries are fully charged to reduce the risk of failure.
- Make sure your mooring neighbours have also prepared for the storm. Under maritime law, a breakaway vessel with no captain at the helm is not liable for any damage caused. Mr Cox said: “If a boat breaks free from its mooring and damages your vessel, the owner of the vessel hit is liable for the damage.”
- Contact your insurance company before the storm to make sure everything is up to date.
Of course, you can put your mind at rest by having your boat pulled out of the water in advance of a storm.
PW Marine and other marinas offer a hurricane haul-out service for its customers.
“This is the best way to minimise risk during a storm. It is again, important to get on that early,” Mr Cox said.
“In the event of a storm approaching Bermuda, we will make a judgement call as to when all our customers’ boats need to be hauled.
“From that point onward, it is all hands on deck to make sure all boats are hauled and safely secured in our yard for the storm.”
Mr Cox had key advice for anyone whose boat comes off its moorings in a hurricane.
“Do not try to save the boat during a storm,” he said.
“Once the boat comes off the mooring, it is in mother nature’s hands. Life over boat! Many people have died or been seriously injured trying to save a boat during a storm.
“Therefore, it is imperative to be prepared going into a storm.”
If your boat does break free, you should contact a marine services company such as Bermuda Marine Service & Supply or Atlantic Mooring Maintenance.
Mr Cox said: “They will assess the damage of the boat as well as complete any salvage work that needs to be done. Do not try to salvage the boat on your own, as there is likely damage you are not able to see.”
After the storm, Mr Cox suggests following these steps:
- Search for visible cosmetic or structural damage. Look for cracks or strain in certain parts of the boat.
- Clean the bilges. Make sure they are not full of water. If they are full of water, your bilge pump has probably quit and may need to be replaced.
- Check for debris across the boat. Debris in the bilges could have stopped them from working properly.
- Check the cleats and bow eyes. They were likely under a fair amount of stress throughout the storm. Check the areas around them to make sure there is no damage.
- Clear scuppers and drains. Make sure there is no debris. If these are not cleared, the boat will likely fill up like a bathtub.
All of this may seem a little daunting to anyone who is new to boating.
Mr Cox recommended people in need of extra advice should seek out industry professionals or local seamen.
If your boat is in a marina, your dockmaster should be your go-to person for all storm-related queries.
If you are on a mooring, speak with your mooring service company who will suggest where the boat should be stored in a storm.
“Not all moorings are safe for storms,” Mr Cox said. “It is important to make sure you are in the right place.”