The Miami Herald

Caring for your boat

The annual hurricane prep seminar at Black Point Marina in Cutler Ridge is full of advice for boat owners seeking to protect their boats from the next big storm. But it's the photos taken after Katrina, Wilma, Andrew and other hurricanes that make the biggest impression on the crowd that gathers every May at the marina's Ocean Grill.

Boats piled on top of each other like Tinker Toys. Boats thrown into parking lots. Boats skewered on pilings.

The underlying message? Be prepared. Have a plan.

"All boat owners should really have a plan in place, whether they keep their boat at a marina or not," says Kathy Haley, manager of marina operations for Miami-Dade County Parks. "Our concern is making sure that everything is done in time."

Storing a boat out of the water is the optimal move, according to boating experts at BoatUS, a national boating association based in Alexandria, Va. But many boaters in South Florida don't have that option, Haley points out.

Regardless of where a boat is secured before a hurricane, there are key moves every owner needs to make. Among the basics: Remove anything that could flap or become airborne, including T-tops, bimini tops, awnings, dodgers, cushions, dinghies and sails. Extra lines are a must. Chafe protection wrapped around the lines -- whether it's new leather chafe guards or old, rubber hoses -- is an added benefit. Charging atteries and making sure the boat is fueled also should be done ahead of time. (Remove batteries from sailboats.) Valuables also need to be removed and the boat should be left unlocked. If authorities need to search vessels for victims, they'll break down all locked doors.

OUT OF WATER

• Portable boats more than 20 feet are best stored indoors since the freeboard may act as a sail and move the boat and trailer, possibly tipping the boat over, advises Broward County's Hurricane Preparedness Plan. The boat should be placed in a garage or carport with the car left outside.

• If the boat is left outside, "pull the plug so the boat doesn't fill up with water," says Haley with Miami-Dade Parks. "If you leave the boat on a trailer, deflate the tires." (This causes water to drain out of the back of the boat.)

• If the boat's on a lift, tether the bow and stern to the lift itself so that high water won't float it off, says MarineMax, the nation's largest recreational boat and yacht retailer.

• To keep a boat from being blown over, strap it to the ground, according to BoatUS. A strap holds the boat more securely against the jack stands, steadying the boat so that there is less movement and less chance of the jack stands working loose. Some use helical anchors screwed into the soil, a technique similar to that used by mobile homes; others have resorted to eyes embedded in concrete pavement or concrete runners set into dirt, sand or gravel.

STAYING IN WATER

When a boat has to be left in the water, deciding where to put it is the single most important decision to make before a storm," says BoatUS. One of the most secure places is a residential canal or narrow waterway. A narrow body of water won't have large, breaking waves, and a boat secured in the middle of the waterway with long lines ashore can rise and fall with the surge. (Coordinate this with boaters using the area so that you don't block other boats from seeking shelter.)

Broward County's Hurricane Preparedness Plan suggests tying sailboats out from the docking area by using at least two anchors (one forward and one aft) and lines into deeper water, allowing sufficient slack for as much as four to five feet of tide.

Seaworthy magazine notes that a seawall or sandy spit that normally protects a harbor may not offer any protection in a hurricane. And although some boaters head to the Miami River, it officially cannot be used as a safe harbor unless the boater has contracted for marina space, warns Miami-Dade County's Office of Emergency Management.

ADDED SECURITY

There are never any guarantees in a hurricane, no matter where you leave your boat, but there are some steps with obvious advantages:

• If you secure lines to trees, avoid tying up to non-native exotics, such as Australian pines and certain palms, which are vulnerable to blowing over. Pilings, most indigenous trees (mangroves are good) and earth augers screwed into the ground are the best alternatives, according to BoatUS.

• Duct-tape vertical windows to prevent water from getting in. If possible, duct-tape engine room vents to prevent rain intrusion, MarineMax says.

• In a storm, a boat will rise and fall with water levels, so position the fenders on pilings or docks that pose a constant threat to the hull, advises Miami-Dade County's Office of Emergency Management.

• When docked, double- or triple-line boats, allow them to move with the water, but keep them tight enough to prevent the vessel from slamming against docks and poles -- the cause of most boat damage, MarineMax warns.

LINES COUNT

Using more and larger lines significantly improves a boat's chances of surviving a storm, reports BoatUS. Eight lines should be the minimum. Although the size of cleats determines the maximum size of the rope, a three-quarter-inch line will outlast a half-inch line and two three-quarter-inch lines will outlast a single three-quarter-inch line.

"One of the most obvious mistakes is old lines," says Miami-Dade's Haley. "Make sure your lines are in good condition, not frayed."

Using braid-on-braid lines, which have 50 percent less stretch than three-strand, has helped in previous hurricanes, advises BoatUS. Nylon lines are traditionally stronger, but polyester lines are more resistant to chafe, so using a combination of both can be beneficial. Only two lines should be tied to any one cleat or piling. Multiple, long lines to shore allow the boat to rise and fall with the surge without coming in contact with pilings, piers or seawalls.

WHEN TO ACT

Boaters should start moving or preparing their boats at least 48 hours before a storm. Once evacuations have started off the barrier islands, Intracoastal Waterway bridges in Miami-Dade will be opened only infrequently until lockdown.

In Broward, lockdown will be approximately three hours after an evacuation order is issued or when winds reach 40 miles per hour. These lockdowns can be ordered 24 hours or more before a hurricane hits.

SAFE HARBOR

Helpful websites for boaters looking for hurricane preparedness tips:

• BoatUS has a Hurricane Preparation Worksheet

• Miami-Dade County

• Broward County

• MarineMax




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