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Protect Your Boat During Hurricane Season

You need to take some precautions during hurricane season if you have a boat moored, docked or stored in a recreational harbor along the Gulf Coast, an LSU AgCenter expert says.

Dr. Brian LeBlanc, an associate professor with the LSU AgCenter, says even relatively small storms can damage boats, so he advises making decisions before hurricane season about what to do with your boat if a storm threatens.

“Even a Category 1 hurricane, with winds between 74 and 95 miles per hour and a storm surge of 4 to 5 feet above normal, can have devastating effects in a crowded harbor,” LeBlanc says.

“You need to consider your situation, determine the safest place for the vessel to ride out a storm, think about the adequacy of the present mooring or dock and evaluate what type of equipment is necessary to have onboard,” he explains. “Then put those decisions into play well in advance of the approaching storm.”

LeBlanc stresses protecting human life is the most important factor.

“Storms of the magnitude of Katrina or Rita can override even the best precautions,” he says. “If you cannot get your vessel out of harm’s way, secure it the best you can, then get you and your family out.”

While the LSU AgCenter expert says only boat owners can decide what is best for them, he offers these general suggestions for guarding your vessel against storm damage:

–The best choice, if possible, is to get it out of the water. If the vessel is small and can be easily transported on a trailer, get it out of the water and move it to higher ground. Just be sure your tow vehicle is capable of adequately moving your boat. Also, check your trailer tires, bearings and axles to make sure all are in good shape and ready days or weeks prior to a possible departure.

–Consider rain and wind. Getting a vessel out of the water does not automatically mean it’s safe. That just protects the boat from the storm surge and wave action. Rain and wind still must be considered and taken into account in your plans for storing the boat.

–Store the boat in a covered area. The best solution is to store small vessels removed from the water in a covered area such as a garage or other dry storage facility. If in dry storage, lash the boat to its cradle with heavy lines.

–Protect boat and contents. If it is not possible to store your boat inside a shelter, remove all equipment and store that indoors. If you have it on a trailer, place the trailer frame on blocks so the frame, instead of the axle and springs, will carry the boat’s weight. The drain plug should be installed and the boat partially filled with water if the hull is strong enough to withstand the weight (as are most fiberglass hulls). Also, secure your boat with heavy lines to fixed objects from four directions, if possible, in case storm surge hits the area. If the hull is not strong enough to hold water (such as plywood or wooden planked hulls), use heavy lines to fixed objects from four directions, if available, or use multiple anchor tie-downs, such as large tent pegs or house trailer tie-downs, to hold the boat in position and make sure the drain plug is removed.

If you can’t remove the vessel from the water because of its size or other conditions, LeBlanc offers these tips for protecting a boat that remains in the water:

–Take precautions if the boat is to remain at dock. Keeping a boat at the dock may be the most hazardous location, even during moderate storms. Many marinas have particular guidelines you must follow, and some may require you to move your boat from the facility. Talk to the harbor master about these policies well in advance of a storm so you can make the best possible decisions. If the decision is to stay at the dock and the facility doesn’t have standard policies about tie-down procedures, ensure all lines are doubled and that chafing protection is in place where dock lines pass through fairlead chocks or over the sides of the vessel. The best chafing protection is to cover lines with a rubber hose of the same diameter and then tightly wind it with fabric and fasten with heavy tape. A vessel tied to a dock also should have ample fenders to provide protection to the hull. Dock lines should be fastened to the pilings rather than to the cleats or other fastenings on the dock. As flooding and storm surge raise the water level, dock lines will move up the pilings. Do not stay on board!

–Staying at a “safe” mooring is an option for boats in the water – if you have ensured that the mooring tackle meets safety standards and has been inspected for wear. Any mooring gear that has worn by one-third of its original diameter should be considered unsafe. On the other hand, like staying at the dock, one of the drawbacks of staying at the mooring is the threat of the storm surge. If the water level rises even moderately above normal conditions, the mooring scope may not provide sufficient holding power. Check the expected storm surge reports. Do not stay on board!

–Minimize the amount of surface area exposed to wind. Whether the boat stays at the dock or mooring strain on your vessel and the dock mooring increases as more surface area is exposed to the wind.

–Remove the sails and stow them below deck. If it’s not possible to remove the sails, you must fasten the sails as securely as possible.

–Look around and remove other possible objects that can catch wind such as flags and pennants. After you have removed flags and pennants, make sure all loose items are stored away or tied down.

–Make sure all ports are closed securely and that all funnels are removed and capped.

–Using lines from both sides, secure the tiller or wheels that operate the rudder.

–Do not leave coils of line on the deck without proper stops or other means of rendering them immovable, and take out all slack from any running lines on the deck or mast.

–To minimize the impact of loose vessels, all protruding objects such as anchors must be removed and stowed, and fenders should be set on both sides of the vessel.

If your boat is in a crowded area, LeBlanc says you may want to consider moving to an area of safe anchorage, also known as a safe harbor.

“Before making such a move, however, consider that safe harbors can become crowded with other vessels seeking refuge from approaching storms,” he says, adding, “Safe harbors should be located before the storm season by consulting an inland chart. Several options should be available.”

He also offers these tips on locating a safe harbor and taking your vessel there:

–Look for a location that has deep water (you may have to arrive at low tide) and is close.

–The best spot has a route free of highway and railroad bridges and has good protection, such as a high bluff, outer reefs or tall trees on as many sides as possible. Visit potential areas ahead of time, if possible.

–Arrive at the area of safe harbor at least 12 hours before the storm’s landfall and set the anchor with at least a 7-to-1 scope. (For example, in 7 feet of water, 49 feet of anchor line is needed.) Nylon is the best anchor line, and chafing protection should be used where the anchor line passes through the anchor chute chocks.

–Leave your vessel by means of a small boat once it is securely anchored and you have rechecked all automatic switches.

–If you elect to stay aboard, which is not advisable, stay in touch with all weather advisories and stock up on fuel, water, food, ice, clothing, portable radio, flashlight(s), extra batteries and prescription medications. Also remember it might be necessary to put the engine in gear during the worst part of the storm to ease the strain on the anchor line, so stay awake at all times to prevent the boat from drifting.

LeBlanc’s final message is not to attempt to take your vessel offshore when a storm is approaching or expected to approach.

“Unless you have a large recreational vessel of 100 feet or more, experts do not recommend that you go offshore,” he cautions.

For more general information on preparing for a storm, go to the LSU AgCenter’s Web site at and consult the variety of storm-related links found there under “Features.”