The following information is presented as a public service by the Manatee Sail & Power Squadron, Inc., a unit of the United States Power Squadrons, Inc.®, in the hope that it will help you better prepare your boat in the event a major storm or hurricane approaches.  This presentation was developed to address the need for information lacking in the public media related to preparing boats for hurricanes and tropical storms. Members of the Manatee Sail & Power Squadron have presented seminars on this topic to various waterfront communities, local marinas, and other local boating related organizations.  The information provided is based on existing materials from various sources, such as BoatU.S. Boat Owners Association literature, numerous other pamphlets and articles, and our own members’ personal experience preparing their own boats for hurricanes and tropical storms. The Manatee Sail & Power Squadron and the United States Power Squadrons, Inc. do not accept any responsibility or liability for any error, omissions, or consequences ensuing from the use of, or reliance upon, the information as presented in this article.


Why should you prepare your boat for a hurricane?


Anyone near coastal waters needs to know how to prepare a boat for a hurricane or major storm for a number of reasons.


Obviously, the primary reason is to prevent damage to your boat. While there is never any guarantee the boat will be spared and escape damage, there are many things you can do to be reasonably sure the boat will be protected.


The second reason is to avoid having your boat cause damage to other boats or property. A review and analysis of past storm experiences indicate that most boats are not prepared or just minimally prepared for such storms. This may be due to ignorance, not knowing what to do, or the attitude, “I have insurance so what do I care?” Either way, the result is boats breaking loose and causing damage to other boats and nearby property. We’ve all seen pictures in the media of scores of boats jammed up in marinas and canals caused by a chain reaction when one or more of the boats break loose.


Another important reason is the potential legal liability for damages caused by your boat. People who fail to properly prepare their boat when a major storm approaches may be found legally liable for the damage their boat causes! Yes, you can be sued for your negligence. Furthermore, if your insurance company determines you were negligent, they may reject your claim. You might not receive any insurance money for your loss and be facing a lawsuit to boot!


What can we expect from a hurricane?


In addition to all the information provided by the news media during Florida’s hurricane season, beginning in June and continuing through November, a quick review of this presentation will be helpful in determining how to react to a major storm approaching the immediate Tampa Bay area.


The National Weather Service has provided us with some interesting statistics listing the yearly probability of experiencing hurricane force winds in several Florida cities.


1. Miami 1 in 6

2. Palm Beach 1 in 7

3. Key West 1 in 8

4. Pensacola 1 in 8

5. Apalachicola 1 in 17

6. Melbourne 1 in 17

7. Bradenton 1 in 25

8. Tampa 1 in 25

9. St. Petersburg 1 in 25

10. Daytona Beach 1 in 50

11. Jacksonville 1 in 100


As you can see, we appear to be relatively safe in Bradenton and the Tampa Bay area in comparison to other Florida cities. Once in 25 years is pretty good odds. But when you consider the last major hurricane to

make landfall in this area was in 1921 when a category 3 storm came ashore just north of Bradenton, it appears we are overdue. The 1921 hurricane destroyed Passage Key and inundated Anna Maria Island with a storm surge in excess of 10 feet.  The point then is not whether a storm will hit us, but when, and how bad will it be?  And, it will be bad!  We are in a low probability, but high consequence, scenario because of our geography. The west central part of Florida is particularly vulnerable because of the shape of the gulf floor off our coast and the shape of Tampa Bay. These geographical factors combine to create extremely high storm surges and massive flooding.  For example, a major hurricane hitting Palm Beach on Florida’s east coast might produce a 15 ft storm surge. That identical storm approaching Tampa Bay from the west could produce a 25 ft storm surge.


The most dangerous location in the United States with the highest risk of a severe storm surge is New Orleans.  Southwest Florida and especially the local Tampa Bay area is rated second in the nation.  We also have to consider the effects of extreme tidal action and wind driven waves adding to the force of a storm surge.


Hurricane Season Forecasts


Each year, as the hurricane season approaches, we look at the forecasts from the tropical storm experts. The hurricane official season begins in June and continues through the end of November.  Our state got a huge wake-up call from the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons after 5 major hurricanes hit us! A new sense of awareness and urgency is apparent as to what can and will happen.  Looking ahead, the coming years provide us with a nasty picture. Hurricanes are and will continue to be bigger, meaner and more numerous. We are in the busy part of a heightened activity cycle, and virtually all forecasters predict increased hurricane activity in the Atlantic for the next 10 years or so. Therefore, 2006 and beyond could easily mirror the last several years.  Where these monster storms will go depends on large steering currents; therefore how many will hit our area is up to nature.



Storm Surge and Flooding


Storm surge and flooding are the most destructive aspects of a hurricane on coastal property. A storm surge, which is a huge dome of water, could easily be 50 miles wide with intensive wave and tidal action. Surges causes 90% of all fatalities associated with hurricanes Hurricane Ivan had an 18 ft surge when it hit the Florida panhandle. Waterfront communities located on inland rivers and canals will not be spared when this occurs.  Weather experts hypothesize that a storm the size of Donna, a category 5 hurricane making landfall in 1960, hitting Tampa Bay would pull the water out of the bay as the center of the storm approached, then drive the water back into the bay as the hurricane’s eye passed over the opening to Tampa Bay. The water levels would rise by more than 19 ft in just 30 minutes!  Due to the geography of the Tampa Bay area, almost all boating locations along our gulf coast are considered to be Category “A” for flooding.


Violent Winds


Storms become designated hurricanes when winds reach 75 mph. Category 5 hurricanes can have winds exceeding 155 mph! The strongest hurricane in history is believed to be Hurricane Gilbert, making landfall in Mexico with 218 mph winds.  We all have seen the pictures in the media about wind damage in Florida locations.  But, consider that we have yet to really experience hurricane force winds in this area. We should understand the change that takes place as the wind speed increases. There is a big difference between wind speed and wind force. When the wind speed increases, doubling from 20 to 40 mph, the wind force on your boat and equipment increases exponentially. It quadruples in this example. Imagine a wind speed of 150 mph and the amount of force it would produce! Consider the impact of accompanying wind gusts that can exceed sustained wind speed by up to 50%.


Heavy Rains


While the average rainfall attending these storms could be 6 to 12 or more inches, there have been instances of over 24 inches falling.  As seen with Hurricane Frances, a slow moving hurricane or tropical storm can produce severe rainfall and flooding. In canals and rivers, heavy rain and runoff can create swirling currents which can have destructive power if boats are not secured properly.




While we can all expect to deal with tornadoes when we are faced with hurricanes, our area deals us another

nasty weather surprise compared with other locations. 70% of the hurricanes coming out of the Gulf of Mexico making landfall here produce tornadoes. This is a much higher percentage than those making landfall in other locations of the United States, including the Florida’s east coast. While few achieve the wind speeds of 300 mph that could result, these phenomena could deal the final blow in a survival situation.



What equipment is needed?


The most important item needed is a detailed, written hurricane plan. BoatUS has a boat preparation brochure that includes an excellent planning sheet that can be downloaded from their website. List all the items you plan to use in the preparation plan so you won’t have to  scratch your head and try to remember what, where and how you will proceed when the “big one” comes along.  You will need lots of duct tape (they even make a removable version now) or painters blue masking tape. Tape is used to seal and secure:


· cabinets and drawers

· vents for fuel and water tanks

· engine room vents

· instrument gauges

· switches

· windows

· hatches

· seams in windows & doors


Wind driven rain will find a way into every crack and crevice in your boat unless you prevent it from happening. It will rock your boat with violent motion and cause everything to shake, rattle, and roll. Flying objects can break glass and damage fiberglass and plastic. 


If you have through hull openings not fitted with sea cocks, you can seal them with wooden plugs available in varying sizes at marine stores. Engine exhausts on larger boats should be plugged by whatever you can find. Try using golf balls or tennis balls. Use a towel or rag around the item to allow you to pull them out again after the storm passes. 


The minimum size of line is ˝” and should be larger for boats over 25 ft in length.  Use old lines as backup and emergency gear. Anywhere lines touch anything they must be protected… on your boat, on shore, or where they cross each other.  Chafing gear is essential wherever your boat will be kept. This is protection for your lines and boat. This includes extra long and sturdy gear available from retail stores or items that you may have on hand such as neoprene garden hose, old fire hose, heavy canvas, chain,  automobile tires, boat fenders, and fender boards. 


Your lines must be protected from the violent, rapid, repeated, and jerking movements that can cut, wear, and overheat them. Your lines can easily and quickly be destroyed by friction.  A popular choice for chafing gear is two layers of plastic garden hose over the line, the second layer being a size larger.  Some experienced boaters slide extra lengths and pieces of hose onto their lines for use if chafing gear fails, so they can then slide these “standby” pieces into place as needed. 


Chain is terrific for securing around trees, pilings, over seawalls and other objects but must be used in conjunction with nylon line. Where your boat may come in contact with anything, tires and fenders are required.  Use anchors that are much larger than what you would normally use. You should have at least two storm anchors with extra long rodes composed of chain and nylon line.  The cleats on your boat are probably too small for use in a violent storm. Consider adding larger ones with 4 holes instead of 2. When installing new cleats, be sure to back them with aluminum, stainless steel, or marine plywood plates. There will be several larger-than-normal lines tied to your cleats, so plan accordingly. 


Consider adding an extra battery if your boat has a bilge pump. Batteries should be fully charged before a storm and the bilges cleaned and cleared of debris.  Make sure your permanent fuel tanks are filled to prevent liquid movement, and expected violent sloshing during a storm.  It can lead to leaks and fuel system damage.


United States Power Squadrons®

For Boaters, By Boaters

Manatee Sail & Power Squadron