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Hurricane Preparedness Common-Sense Style
The Who’s, What’s, and When’s of Sensible Hurricane Season Planning

The following article by Jim Kalvin was published in the May 2009 issue of “Waves.”

I hear it all the time: “Florida is nice, but you’ve got no change of season…”

I beg to differ. Though we don’t have the stark changes that folks see up north, we do, in fact, have different seasons that are so noticeable, locals don’t need a calendar to tell which time of year it is.

For example, we have Tourist Season, Wildfire Season, Rainy Season (also referred to as Mosquito Season), and – then there’s the kicker – Hurricane Season.

This is the time of year in which Floridians have the Weather Channel programmed in the favorites on their desk-top, along with crownweather.com or undergroundweather.com. We make sure that we have plenty of stuff in the pantry – like batteries, canned meat, rice, beans, sardines, crackers, and other nonperishable items.

Words like “cone of uncertainty,” “convection,” “out-flow,” "upper level low," and “rain bands” creep into our daily conversation. Jim Cantore gets a new spray-tan, and the other hurricane-media stars make their last calls to their image consultants before leaving to whatever part of the globe holds the best hope for tropical weather activity.

During this season you, as a boat owner, should be concerned more than most. What you have to consider depends on what type of boat you have, where you keep it, what type of facility you’re in, whether or not you own your docking facility, the exposed quadrant of your mooring, proximity to the coast, etc.

BE AWARE
For those of you who rent a slip or keep your boat in a condominium facility, there is one very important thing you must do – READ YOUR DOCK LEASE!!!!!!

Dock leases differ greatly as to the responsibility of the boat owner in the event of a tropical weather event. Since the ‘04 & ‘05 Hurricane Seasons (Charley through Wilma), there have been numerous attempts to change the law regarding the responsibilities of the slip owner and the vessel owner.

The reasons for this were many and varied. With the Exception of Hurricane Andrew in 1993, Florida had gone for a very long time without a massive strike to a major population center, let alone multiple strikes to numerous population centers. Insurance companies, marina facilities, and boat owners had little experience in preparing for the storm or moving forward with recovery afterward. Insurance claims became boondoggles pitting facility owners against boat owners, and claims dragged on for years.

Did the lack of maintenance to the facility contribute to the destruction of the vessel? Or did the lack of preparation by the boat owner contribute to the destruction of the marina? These were real questions asked throughout Florida in the aftermath of multiple storms in all corners of the state. One thing was clear: boat owners, insurers, and facility managers had a lot to learn.

People are now required to prepare their boats in the face of an approaching storm. This might include removing all canvas, securing antennas, removing all “blowable” items (seat cushions, chairs, etc.), and properly securing (and doubling) the mooring lines to allow for the rise and fall of the extreme storm tides. The responsibilities are real and so is the liability. If your vessel comes loose and damages someone else’s property, you – along with your insurance company – will be targeted for compensation.

The responsibilities of the facility owner might include making sure that the dock amenities are stable and will not be a liability in a storm. The manager of the facility should be in contact with the vessel owners, or the vessel owners’ service provider, to make sure proper storm preparations have been tended to as outlined in the lease agreement.

One thing that came out of the ‘04 & ‘05 “season” involved more attention from insurance companies as to what, specifically, they were insuring and what they would be covering. Yacht survey requirements were either enforced, or in many cases, added. Depending on the size and value of the vessel, one may be required to hire a licensed Captain to tend to the needs of the vessel. Inspections were stepped up, and vessel owners, in some instances, are now required to submit a Hurricane Plan to be approved by the insurance company prior to June in order for the insurance to remain in force during a storm event.

Should an insurer require such a plan, and it is either not submitted or it is submitted but not adhered to, you will not be in a good position if you sustain damage during a blow.

OPTION TO FLORIDA RESIDENTS
Given that all of coastal southwest Florida is subject to a storm surge, boaters have searched for alternatives to the traditional “storm prep” – as we are all used to it – in order to achieve some peace of mind during the five-month hurricane season. One new option available to local boaters is River Forest Yachting Center. Located in LaBelle, just east of the Ortona Lock on the Intracoastal Waterway, River Forest Yachting Center is a state-of-the-art storage facility that caters to those boaters who may be away all summer.

Their facilities include an 82 metric ton travel-lift, climate controlled storage for vessels up to 75 tons, outside storage for those that may be too tall to get into the massive storage barns, and a protected basin which will not be subject to a storm surge. A sister facility on the east coast has been well received and is filled to capacity each summer. One thing that area boaters have to keep in mind, however, is that the RFYC is located roughly 40 miles inland, and requires navigation through two locks. This is not a facility that one can go to once a strike is imminent – it requires planning ahead and putting the vessel up before the panic button has been activated.

One additional benefit of the facility is that it's located on fresh water. By the time a boat gets to the haul-out slip, the engines, generator, and air conditioning systems have been purged of all salt water.

River Forest Yachting Center can be reached by calling 863-946-0005, or go to www.riverforestyc.com.

If you have concerns about getting through the locks to get into this facility, consult a professional maritime firm to help you get “up the creek” or deliver your vessel for you.

PREVENTATIVE MEASURES
Back to the coast – what should you do if you keep your boat at your private residence and you want to make sure that you vessel is as safe as it can be in the event of a storm?

Common sense things are easy:

  • Make sure that your cleats, the planks they are secured to, and your lines are strong and workable.

  • Make sure that you double your lines and have enough scope to ride out the surge without hitting the dock. If you have no outer pilings, an anchor can be set on the canal side of the boat to bring her away from shore if the water rises. Caution should be used here as you don’t want to restrict vessel traffic up or down the canal. Some folks set two anchors – one off of the bow and one off of the stern.

  • In some areas, “cross-canal” mooring is utilized, where a vessel would be suspended between two sea walls by lines that traverse the canal. This should be used only as a last resort following clear and concise communication with those in your neighborhood. One owner utilizing this method could keep all others from getting into or out of the canal.

  • Check your batteries. Studies show that, in a typical hurricane, more vessels are lost after a storm passes than are lost during the weather event itself. Aging batteries that have been on “life-support” from shore power won’t last if the power goes out, so your batteries should be inspected and serviced now.

  • Make sure that any noncritical 12 or 24 volt systems are turned off – refrigerators, fans, head systems, electronics, etc. during your preparations.Save all stored battery power for your bilge pumps. If the power does go out, it will be a good idea to run your vessel as often as you can after the storm to keep the batteries “up”. If you have a generator on board, and your vessel survives the storm, you may be counted as one of the “lucky ones”. Many were those who were without power or air conditioning at home, while the generator aboard their vessel gave them a cool place to stay until their neighborhoods came back on line.

  • Fill your fresh water tanks as a part of your final preparations. You may need the fresh water after the storm passes, and this will minimize the risk of getting bacteria in your water tanks.

  • Make sure that your fuel tanks are full prior to the storm. This should be common practice all year – as the exposed inner surfaces of your tank will invite condensation and result in contamination of your fuel. But it’s even more critical before a storm as fuel service after a major tropical event will be reserved for law enforcement and other emergency management activities.

As an observer & participant of hurricane seasons for over 45 years, I can offer a few tips about the forecasts that we know are coming:

  1. Remember that the landfall location is where the eye of the storm is projected to come ashore. In the scheme of the storm, it’s a pin point. The winds and rain around the eye are every bit as dangerous as that one small point on the weatherman’s chart, and they can stretch for hundreds of miles from the center of the eye.

  2. Follow the storm progress on any number of real-time web sites. (I mentioned two reliable sites previously). Don’t rely solely on the “top o’ the hour storm update” by any forecaster. Any insider who says that the official forecasts of the major networks don’t have a social/political slant is either not paying attention or they are not being forthright.

The bottom line is to be prepared – have a plan. It’s a sinking feeling (no pun intended) when the storm that was supposed to go “somewhere else” shows up on your door-step, and you are caught flat-footed. Remember that your marine service professionals will be busy assisting those who DID prepare, and getting help at the last minute will be a hard thing to do.

Utilize any public service seminars that may be offered by your municipality or any emergency services division, and research your options now. There is no such thing as being “over-prepared”.

Jim Kalvin is a native Floridian and a career mariner with 25 years in the Marine industry in Southwest Florida. He has been a contributing editor for Scripps-Howard, Southern Boating Magazine, and Marine Business Journal. He is currently the General Manager of Diversified Yacht Services, Inc.

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