When a hurricane is approaching

Published on September 6th, 2022

Scuttlebutt HQ, located in the southwest corner of the USA, does not have much experience with hurricanes. Any storms in the Pacific Ocean lose their punch when greeted by our colder water, though Hurricane Kay is alleged to soon deliver some rain. We could use that.

However, the tracks of Atlantic storms are far less kind, and in this report by Practical Sailor, they offer tips on whether to move a boat when a hurricane is approaching:

Despite the fact that modern forecasting methods are far from perfect, a large storm almost always is tracked with enough precision to let you know if you’re potentially in the path of destruction. With a day or more of warning, you have plenty of time to take the precautions necessary to give your boat the best chance to survive a major storm.

One of the most basic questions is whether your boat should be moved to another harbor. Most regions have protected anchorages known as hurricane holes. The only problem is that usually these are known to everyone, and may become so crowded when a major storm threatens that they become more dangerous than a more exposed anchorage.

Moving to a hurricane hole early is no guarantee of safety. You may get the best spot, but there’s no way to keep someone from anchoring right on top of you. If you think all boat owners are a generous and gentlemanly bunch, you haven’t seen them in time of stress when their boats are endangered.

You must realistically assess your chances of survival wherever you are. If strong southerlies are forecast in a harbor whose north end is a stone wall, you’d better think about moving elsewhere, or at least moving as close under the weather shore as is practical. Don’t forget to allow for changes in wind direction, however.

The wind itself is usually less of a problem than high tides and waves which reduce scope and increase chafe as the boat surges. If you’re behind a seawall which is only 5’ above mean high water, a storm which comes at high tide is likely to submerge the breakwater, exposing you to the full force of wind and waves.

Use common sense. Try to imagine what will happen to docks, pilings, seawalls, and the other boats around you. What happens when the wind shifts? What if the docks come loose? Don’t move your boat until you have a coherent plan, and only if you can say with confidence that the place you have chosen is better than the place you are. An exposed location with a bottom that has good holding characteristics may be better than a protected location with lousy holding, if you have adequate ground tackle.

For more tips to help your prepare for and recover from hurricanes, check out the Hurricane Preparedness Guide from Practical Sailor.

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