What to do with your boat before the storm

Sailboats sit smashed on the rocks at the Dinner Key boat ramp in Coconut Grove after Hurricane Wilma in 2005.
Sailboats sit smashed on the rocks at the Dinner Key boat ramp in Coconut Grove after Hurricane Wilma in 2005. Miami Herald Staff

When Hurricane Andrew's category 5 winds tore through Miami-Dade County in 1992, it flattened homes like pancakes, tore down trees and left the landscape littered with boats.

Twisted metal and shattered fiberglass, remnants of the vessels that filled Key Biscayne's boat slips, were splayed throughout the island's streets and yards. Boats blasted through glass front buildings along the scenic Coconut Grove waterfront. A freighter beached itself in the backyard of a home in South Miami-Dade.

The hangar at Black Point Marina was badly damaged and tilted over, and small fires rippled through. There was so much boat damage throughout South Florida that an official dollar amount of the devastation couldn't be tallied accurately.

The past two dozen hurricane seasons have spared us from disaster. Sure, Katrina's winds swiped and flooded us, and Wilma left a trail of damage. But for the most part, boats have been spared.

But it won't last, experts warn repeatedly. The most common warning holds true: All it takes is one.

The best advice bears repeating: Prepare a safety plan for your vessel well before a storm is conceived. As the storm approaches, execute the plan, making sure you have plenty of time to to deal with more important issues like personal safety.

"Right now you should be preparing your vessel and scouting an area," said Jorge Pino, spokesman for the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Find a secure place to tie the boat and avoid private property or blocking waterways. If your boat is small enough, tie it down to metal hooks embedded in cement near your home. Inland waterways like the Miami River often offer safe space, but make certain you don't block navigable waterways or tie the vessel to a tree that could topple in a storm.

And always use extra rope, securing two lines to a solid foundation in case one of the lines breaks. Empty the vessel of any unnecessary contents like fishing poles or water skis.

Finding a canal and securing a vessel to mature mangroves also works, but Pino warns not to crisscross the waterway with lines, and to make sure the waterway remains navigable for other boaters.

Another alternative: If you have the opportunity, you may want to leave your boat in a marina hangar. Hurricane Andrew taught a valuable lesson, and Black Point is much safer than it used to be.