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Prepare Your Boat for Hurricane Season

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The question could be “when”, not “if” a hurricane hits this season. After all, Professor William Gray at Colorado State University forecast an active Atlantic hurricane season with 17 named storms, nine hurricanes, five intense hurricanes, and an ‘above average major hurricane landfall risk in the Caribbean”, according to his revised predictions at the end of May.

Those who think they can ride through a storm aboard their vessels should re-think these plans, says Bruce Wright, the Miami, Florida-based recreational boating safety specialist for the U.S. Coast Guard’s District 7, which includes Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “Never forget that storms move quickly and they are unpredictable. You can always replace a boat; you can not replace a life.”

So first, have a plan for your own safety ashore… then, don’t wait until a hurricane is already approaching to prepare your boat, says Bob Adriance of the American boater membership organization, BoatUS. “For example, if you need extra line or chafe protection, these items may be sold-out. Likewise, if you want your boat hauled, you may find yourself at the end of the line.”

How you prepare your boat depends on if you’re leaving it in the water or out.  Charlie Jackson, manager at Island Marine Outfitters, in Road Reef Plaza, Tortola, a three-store chain with outlets in the U.S. and British Virgin Islands, says, “If you’re leaving your boat in the yard, it’s easier, you need less gear. It’s advisable to strip your boat before leaving it though.”

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BoatUS’s Adriance agrees. “We’ve found that even boats that are hauled out and toppled over by a storm have less damage than those in the water that might bash against the piling before sinking. Do strip off the sails, roller-furling jib, and mainsail, bimini, dodger, and even unstep your mast if possible. Now, this isn’t possible for someone to do on a big boat.”

More yards are strapping vessels into place to secure them for the storm’s onslaught.  Robbie Ferron, managing partner of Budget Marine, an 11-store chain with locations on 10 islands throughout the Caribbean, says, “Nowadays, there are incredible strapping systems that can tension things up so easily and ensure they don’t blow away. They also store very easily.”

For those who do plan to leave their boats in the water, Paul Marshall, managing director of Island Water World, with six locations throughout the Caribbean, says, “High quality chafe gear and an extra anchor with chain is a must.”

As for chafe protection, Adriance explains, “A simple way for providing durability is to make up a piece of polyester line the same diameter as the existing nylon line. It should be at least six feet long and can usually be 10 to 20 feet long. Make an eye splice, leaving a large eye about a foot long. Be sure to have at least five, and preferably six, tucks in the splice. The polyester line can be passed through the existing nylon line in an eye-to-eye fashion. This gives a dock or mooring line the best features of both types of ropes – nylon’s stretch and polyester’s abrasion resistance.”

Other essential items for hurricane preparation, says Island Marine Outfitters’ Jackson, are “batteries, torches, coolers, battery-operated radios, rain gear, extra fenders.”  Also, says Island Water World’s Marshall, “Do plan to have on hand a stock of food, water, medicine and flashlights.”  Jackson adds, “It’s good to check your safety equipment, such as the condition of flares and life jackets.”

For monitoring the weather, Cherryl Williams, Budget Marine’s group marketing manager, says, “We have the Furuno Navtex receiver, which is great for keeping an eye on the weather. It automatically receives and stores weather reports and forecasts as part of a free service.”  And for comfort after the storm, Island Water World’s Marshall suggests, “How about a small A/C generator?  Inverter, solar panels?”

For more information, BoatUS offers a 12-page downloadable free guide called, “Preparing Boats and Marinas for Hurricanes.” Adriance says, “The guide is based on over 40 years of experience in preparing boats for the severe wind, waves, rain and storm surge. Included is a valuable storm preparation checklist that can help boaters methodically and carefully take the right precautions.” To find it:  www.BoatUS.com/hurricanes.

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Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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