As a beginner sailor, I used to wonder a lot if one could survive a hurricane while aboard. This was the reason behind writing this article. In this post, I will try to share with you everything I found during my research on the topic.
So, Can A Sailboat Survive A Hurricane? Yes, sailboats can make it through a hurricane strike without any major issues depending on a few factors such as taking necessary precautions, the strength of the wind, boat’s location and the position of the vessel in the hurricane, etc.
Every year an average of two hurricanes makes landfalls in the US alone and causes a tremendous amount of damage.
However, boat owners can take precautions that will reduce the likelihood of damage, if you are unfortunate enough to find yourself in harm’s way.
Read on below as I go over these crucial factors that can impact the safety of you and your boat before, during and after a hurricane. I will also share with you some practical precautionary tips and tactics that can make your boat hurricane proof.
So, let us discuss the topic in more details.
What is a hurricane?
Hurricane, also called cyclone or typhoon, is a tropical rotating storm with high winds that consistently blow 74 mph or more in the North Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, or the Gulf of Mexico.
Hurricanes only occur over warm waters in the tropics usually above 27°C or 81°F.
When Do Hurricanes Occur?
You might ask when do hurricanes occur?. It is known that in the Northern Hemisphere, hurricanes occur between the months of June and November.
In the Southern Hemisphere, on the contrary, hurricanes form prominently between December and May.
The time of the year when hurricanes occur in a particular region is considered the ‘hurricane season’ for that region.
Countries Most Vulnerable To Hurricane
Although hurricane and cyclones are a worldwide phenomenon, some areas are more susceptible to them than others.
When a hurricane hits the North Atlantic, it is likely to affect: the USA, Canada, and Mexico and the Caribbean Sea. When it occurs in the Eastern Pacific, it will affect Hawaii and the western coast of Mexico.
When typhoons originate in the western Pacific, it is likely to affect Japan, China, Taiwan, and Southeast Asia. The Southeast Asian countries including the Indian subcontinent, are regularly affected by cyclones from the Indian Ocean.
In the Southern Hemisphere, the tropical cyclones of southwestern Indian Ocean might strike Madagascar and countries along the east coast of Africa.
If cyclones originate from the southeastern Indian Ocean, they are likely to affect the northern coast of Australia.
How to avoid getting caught in a hurricane?
Ideally, the best choice you can make is to move your boat and sail away from the hurricane’s path. Bear in mind that wind blows at about 200 mph or more in center of the hurricane.
However the further you sail from the hurricane’s center the weaker the wind becomes. So, you only need to sail away about 50 to 100 miles to be in a much safer location.
One thing about the storms though, you know where it is going at least a week in advance so, you will have plenty of time to sail out before the hurricane hits. By doing this you make sure you and your boats are safe and protected.
The second and my favorite choice is staying in a hurricane hole during heavy storms.
Hurricane holes are bays and harbors or deep, narrow coves or inlets that are surrounded by trees which block the wind and surges and provide best locations to tie off your anchor lines.
The best hurricane holes are places that are not crowded and are far enough inland to avoid wind and surges but at the same time close enough to be reached easily from the land.
Places such as Guatemala or in the Caribbean, Cuba, and Haiti have well-protected hurricane holes. I highly recommend you to find protected hurricane hole in the area you are sailing ahead of time.
How to prepare for a hurricane?
Hurricanes could be extremely destructive, and they shouldn’t be taken lightly. Even advance planning cannot guarantee your vessel will survive.
However preparation and planning can improve your chance to survive and this makes all of the effort, time and money worthwhile.
let’s start with our preparation.
Create A Plan In Advance:
In this step, you will mention what protective measures you need to take when a hurricane threatens in advance. Plan, where your vessel will best survive the storm ahead of time. Have a hurricane hole in mind to moor your boat during the hurricane.
Insurance claim files have shown that the risk of damage can be minimized by choosing the most storm safe location long before the hurricane is forecasted.
Read and Understand Your Insurance Policy:
It is extremely important to understand the insurance policy and marina contracts. For instance, it is common for insurance policy providers to pay you to 50% of the cost of hauling or moving your vessel, prior to a storm or hurricane. So, it is best to read these documents once again.
Coordinate With Your Marina:
If you do plan to haul or move your boat, make sure you arrange this in advance with your Marina operator. It is well known that the boats stored on land are much safer than boats kept in the water.
Relocate Your Boat To Safe Water:
If your boat has to be left in the water, now it is the time to relocate your vessel to your ideal hurricane hole or other places with minimum hurricane hit. Canals are great places to hide out since they generally allow lines to be tightened to both sides, so the boat doesn’t move and budge.
Be An Educated Storm Tracker
As soon as a hurricane or strong storms are forecasted in your area, stay informed about it by using resources such as Boatus.com and Global Weather Tracker to get the updated information on the hurricane track.
Secure Your Boat At A Dock:
When fastening your lines to fixed docks and pilings that don’t float with tide or surge, you must use long lines so that your boat can float up as water height rises. Short lines can break or pull pilings out of the water which causes damage.
The pilings at the Marina must be hight enough to withstand a storm surge. Choose pilings that are 15 feet high or more as storm surges could easily reach 10 -15 feet high.
By choosing high pilings you will avoid floating off the top of the piling and ending in the harbor. Similarly, you need to reduce windage by directing the boat bow to the anticipated wind direction.
Secure Your Boat On Multiple Anchors:
Strong storms and hurricanes place an extreme force on the anchors and anchor rodes. Choose a high-quality anchor. Research by BoatUS has shown that Helix Anchors one of the best on the market as they screw into the sea surface.
Helix Anchors are much stronger that Mushroom or other types. According to BoatUS testing Helix Anchors can hold between 12,000 – 20,000 pounds of weight unable to be pulled free.
It is crucial to use multiple anchors to be protected from the powerful wind surges of the hurricane.
You might want to use either Setting Tandem Anchors or in multiple directions.
If you have 2 large anchors set them apart about 90 degrees the anticipated wind direction. 3 anchors can be set 120 degrees apart.
Your lines should be New And In Good Condition:
Hurricanes can put an enormous amount of force on your boat and especially on lines and anchor. So, you want to make sure your lines are thick, undamaged and in a good condition.
A recent test by Practical Sailor Magazine showed that old lines lost 49 to 75 percent of their strength due to lack of lubricity in addition to chafe, dirt, and salt.
Reduce Windage By All Means:
You should try to minimize windage to reduce the force put on your boat during the big storms and hurricanes. Additionally this also Basically this means that you remove everything that comes loose or fly off.
Things such as canvas, dodgers and biminis, dinghy and genoa. Mainsails should also be removed and stowed.
Start Preparation In Advance:
Prepare your vessel for the hurricane early and do not delay any of the steps I have discussed above.
Stay On the Boat or Not
It really depends on your situation, area and your option of shelter ashore. I have to admit it is a hard decision to make for any sailor.
However, my rule of thumb is: Leave your boat and find shelter somewhere safe if possible, only stay aboard if that is the safest thing to do at that moment.
If staying on the boat is the safest option for you to do, then there are certain precautionary measures that you need to take to make sure your boat alongside its passengers are safe.
What should you do when aboard during the hurricane?
If you have decided to stay aboard during a hurricane, then here are a few important things to do to keep you safe and protected.
- Bear in mind that during the hurricane you are on your own. There is no one there to help, nor you will be able to help others.
- The boat and the storm’s condition can change in a split of a second, make sure have everything you need at hand and ready.
- Wear proper clothing. It’s wet, rainy and probably cold during the hurricane. Wearing your wetsuits is a must. Wear proper shoes and avoid wearing slippers and flipflops in case you have to evacuate the boat. If you find yourself on the deck, make sure you wear a life jacket and harnesses.
- It is super practical to use your snorkel masks, as it is much easier to keep watch and breath during a heavy storm.
- Check your anchor lines and chafe gear from time to time if it is safe. Make sure they are properly fixed and not damaged.
- High waves and rain will fill your boat with water, be ready to run the bilge pump every now and then.
- During the storm, keep watch on deck as well as on radar or GPS. You can not afford to neglect the storm. Ask yourself: Are we dragging or is another boat dragging towards you? If yes, then there are things you can do to keep your boat safe.
What To Do Straight After Hurricane?
When you are sure that storm has died down, make sure that the other boats’ people are safe and protected and check if anyone needs any assistance.
High waves and rain might have filled your boat with water, be ready to run the bilge pump now to dry your boat.
Examine your boat and the gear for any signs of damage and if you find any fix things straight away.
Raise your anchor: This will take anywhere from 1/2 to 4 hour to raise the anchors. This is because your anchors may be buried deep in the seabed.
Last but definitely not least, watch out for floating debris.
I hope this post has been helpful and I also hope that you never face a situation where you have to use it. However, should get a catch in a hurricane your advanced preparation and knowledge can dramatically reduce the likelihood of damage.