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Storm Tips


Lessons Learned That You Don’t Always Find in the Magazines

In the beginning of every hurricane season magazines come out with their traditional hurricane preparation articles. This is good. We can’t say too much about this. But here are a few of the extra things which I’ve learned which don’t often appear in the boiler plate prep stories. These aren’t hard to do and they may help to save your boat and your bank account.

Check for Pencil Pilings

You may not know what these are because, by definition, you seldom see them. Some pilings look quite robust above the water, but a short distance below the surface are very narrow and full of holes. They look like a sharpened pencil. This is because of underwater worms, barnacles and other piling predators. When that piling that’s strong and heavy on top breaks under the surface, it may topple onto and damage your boat with very little wind or surge, not to mention set your boat free to wreak havoc. Check for these by looking for piling wobble, feeling beneath the water with your boathook and asking those who’ve seen them at unusually low tides.

Check for Security of Cleats and Other Tie Points

Don’t trust some dock builder whom you don’t know and who may never have tied a boat in a storm. Some marinas have big strong looking cleats through bolted to dock planks. These can be pulled out. Cleats should be bolted through the supporting timbers or massively backed under many planks. It’s usually best to directly tie around good pilings. If your pilings are too short for the surge you expect you should get out regardless, in my view.

Take Extreme Measures for Extreme Water Levels

Tide Minders on Tom’s boat.

Very low levels can sometimes cause damage as well as very high levels. For some years I’ve been using and loving TideMinders ( for this. They’re essentially round balls of very tough synthetic material. You string your line through them (like stringing large beads), tie figure eights to keep them in place, and tie the line with the balls around the piling. You’re using the strength of the piling itself and your lines, nothing less. You seldom have to adjust lines. The balls roll up and down the piling with water level and surge. They float, but they’re also heavy enough that they pull the line down. When a swell or gust hits the boat it must pull the weight of the string of balls up, rolling them up the piling, absorbing energy before stressing the line or boat’s cleat. I’ve never experienced any line chafe from these balls. I haven’t tried out every method but I personally prefer the TideMinder concept to equipment that attaches to pilings by bolting through the pilings. This could possibly weaken the pilings. Also either regular or crevice corrosion can set up, unseen, inside the pilings. Also these methods, in my view, may add a “weaker link” as compared to tying directly around the pilings as you do with TideMinders. Also some methods may lack the degree of gust absorption, and you can’t take them with you when you leave the dock. I also wouldn’t want to use any method which fastens the boat too tightly to pilings. You’ve got to have some play when the gusts and waves hit.

Many insurers and other experts strongly recommend having your boat hauled and well secured for the best preparation. None of this is to denigrate that advice, but unfortunately this may not be something that you can do and, depending on certain specific circumstances, it may not be the best thing to do.

Turn Off Anything (Not Necessary for Safety) that Will Compete with Your Bilge Pump for Battery Power

Assume your boat will lose shore power and any battery charging source. For example, often people leave on inverters. They may show little or no battery consumption when you’re plugged in. But as soon as the power goes these begin inverting and can draw heavily on the batteries even if they aren’t powering an AC user. This increases as the battery voltage lowers. Consider replacing old weak batteries with new heavy duty fully charged ones. Don’t just wire a new one into the bank. The old battery will deplete the new. You may find that a battery equalization is due, depending on battery type and manufacturer instructions, or just a good charge from a smart charger.

You can have all the battery power you need, but that bilge pump isn’t going to do you much good if there’s debris around its automatic float switch. It should be protected by a cage (they make them for this purpose). Auto pump switches integral to the pump body may operate by electronic sensing or a float switch. Even if the auto switch is within a cage, it’s free operation can be impaired by debris. And electronic sensors, as well as floats, can fail. This is why you need at least two good bilge pumps with power sources independent of each other.

If you’re on a lift and can’t get hauled ashore (this is the best thing to do) take special precautions, depending on your circumstances, to keep the boat as safe as possible if the water level comes up to the hull. Many boats have been ruined by banging into the lift structure when this has happened. Also, wind has considerable extra power to throw a hull about when it is out of the water. You may want to tie it down tight, but then waves can swamp you. Study the situation and do what seems best. Also be sure the rainwater will drain out … no junk in the scuppers now or during the storms. Sometimes a piece of screen set upstream from the scuppers to trap junk floating down the deck to the stern may help. One little screen right over the scupper will just get blocked itself. Use a lot of screen arranged in a way that there will still be passages through to the scuppers even if a lot of leaves blow aboard.

If you’re at a private dock, whether in the water or on a lift, you may want to depower the dock. Some marinas will do this anyway. A high voltage dock circuit arcing into the water can cause not only electrical shock to you but also many other problems to nearby boats. And, let’s face it, that power is going to probably be killed by Mother Nature anyway.

If your boat is on a trailer you’re still not out of the woods unless you’re out of the woods. Move it out from under trees that may fall on it. Also move it to ground high enough so that storm surge won’t try to float it away. This seldom goes well with a heavy trailer attached. Also tie the boat down (not just the trailer) with appropriately sized anchors which have been screwed into the ground or secured in some other good manner.

While you’re doing all these things, keep an eye out for your neighbors. Are they also preparing? If not, be concerned. Check their boats for loose things that could fly your way (such as an upside down unsecured dinghy on their deck). Check also to see how well the boat is tied. If you see problems, notify the marina and/or call the neighbor. Some have the childish cavalier idea that “Oh, well, that’s what insurance is for.” It isn’t, and why should you suffer the hassle because of boaters like this.

Some of the most important advice I’ve save for last, because it’s a thought you should be left with. Carefully go over your insurance policy, including its wording, well before the storm. It may require that you take certain steps, the omission of which could lessen your coverage or obliterate it all together. It may also offer you options to better prepare, such as sharing the costs of having a professional move your boat. For years I’ve used¬†BoatUS insurance. I’ve found that they can be very helpful if you go online or call them when you have questions about your coverage under particular circumstances. I’ve heard much praise about their claims handling. Also, they’ve added many interactive sections to their website so that you can go online and take care of much of your insurance business, such as checking out your policy, changing the name of your boat, updating certain information or getting answers to many of your insurance questions. But it is important to check your insurance now, not at the last moment. For obvious reasons, companies are loath to add coverage a day or so before a huge storm is scheduled to reach your area and there may be some insurance concerns that you can prepare for now before it’s too late.

Tom’s Tips About YOUR Storm

  • When it comes to storm prep, one glove doesn’t fit all. You must figure out what’s best for your circumstances and the specific facts for your particular storm.
  • In so doing, rely on the experience of others experienced with storms in the area, as well as your own. And never forget common sense.
  • Don’t ever think that you can out-muscle a strong storm or hurricane. This is a bad way to die. Prepare and then get yourself to safety.
  • You normally won’t know all the facts that will determine your best course of action until shortly before the storm hits. But by then it’s often too late to do some of the things that may be needed. Plan for contingencies.

Tom Neale

Technical Editor, BoatUS Magazine