Hurricane Safety: How Should I Prepare My Boat

 In Maritime Law

hurricane windsLiving in sunny South Florida comes with many great benefits. Unfortunately, one of the drawbacks of living in South Florida is hurricanes! Not only can a hurricane be devastating for homeowners, it can be even worse for boaters. On average,two hurricanes come ashore each year somewhere in Florida. When the storms hit, they leave behind a complete disaster. Aside from destroying homes, these hurricanes can sink boats, and destroy docks, seawalls, marinas or anything else in the storm’s path.

Any seasoned boater will tell you that having a plan is paramount to success on the water. The same advice goes for hurricane preparedness on the water. Mainly, there is the decision to secure your boat ashore versus on the water. This is a decision that must be made before hurricane season. According to research performed by students at MIT, during a storm, boats stored on land have a greater probability of being safe as opposed to vessels being kept in the water. For many, storing your boat at a marina or keeping it on a trailer is already part of their hurricane preparedness plan. Additionally, even some marinas and yacht clubs have implemented evacuation plans to assure that storm damage will be kept to a minimum.

Unfortunately, even marinas with a hurricane plan in place are extremely susceptible to hurricane-force winds. Vessel owners that keep their boats on high-rise storage racks are especially vulnerable during a hurricane. It is strongly suggested that any boat on high-rise racks should be taken down and placed on a trailer in a safer location.

On the other hand, securing a vessel in the water takes more preparation foresight. American theologian William Shedd once said that “a ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.” Clearly Mr. Shedd has never ridden out a big storm before. Avid boaters know that waters can turn into a raging sea in the blink of an eye. Contrary to Mr. Shedd’s implication that boats should be taken out during a storm, the prudent thing to do would be to find safe harbor.Importantly, smaller vessels are especially vulnerable to being overcome by waves and turbulent waters because of their low freeboard.

One major concern is a storm surge. A storm surge of 10 feet or more is common during a hurricane. Typical areas that would normally provide protection may not offer any protection at all during a hurricane due to the rise in water level. Looking for a place with relatively few rocks and a sandy bottom will assure safe anchorage and a friendly surrounding should the vessel come loose. Depending on the harbor, water can sometimes be displaced out of the harbor, leaving vessels stranded for a period of time. As such, any boater would rather have their vessel settle onto sand as opposed to rocks.

Unfortunately, there are times that any preparation will be overcome by Mother Nature’s force and damage your vessel. As a result, you may find yourself in a deadlock with your maritime insurance provider to get coverage on your damaged vessel. It is important to know that marine insurance law has never been codified in the United States. Marine insurance is not as heavily regulated as other types of insurance. US courts interpret marine policies on a case-by-case basis and will look to federal maritime law. In the absence of federal law, courts will look to applicable state law that is consistent with the Supreme Court’s decision in Wilburn Boat Co. v. Fireman’s Fun Ins. Co.

If you have been denied coverage under your marine insurance policy, call an experienced maritime/ admiralty attorney that can assist you in getting coverage for your damaged vessel.

Image courtesy of bVlado

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