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Hurricane Plan

Now that 2010 Hurricane Season is ramping up, do you have an emergency plan for your Yacht?

If your yacht is permanently located in the Hurricane Zone (Florida, Bahamas, or the Caribbean) most insurers request that you submit a written Hurricane Plan. It is certainly Hurricane Picturereasonable for insurance companies to request a written plan, but by submitting such a plan you commit to executing it exactly as you wrote it. It is extremely important that this plan be both reasonable and well designed. Insurers are not enthusiastic about covering hurricane damage. In fact, many no longer cover yachts in the Hurricane Zone or have Hurricane exclusions.

When preparing your Hurricane Plan, ask yourself these six helpful questions:

  1. Is your plan reasonable? Many owners and managers write up fantastic plans in order to get insurer approval even if there is no reasonable way they could ever follow through on all the tasks agreed in the plan. Any coverage is voided by default. For example, you own a 50' Catamaran that is 30' wide and you agree to have the vessel hauled out in the event of a threatening hurricane. There are real problems with this plan. Firstly, there are very few yards that have a lift large enough to haul such a wide yacht. Secondly, many yards will not pull boats out for hurricanes nor do they have room in their yard to keep such a large yacht on the hard. Chances are that you will not be able to fulfill this promise to the insurance company and void your coverage. With a smaller monohull this is a more reasonable plan, but even then I suggest making the arrangements well in advance with the yard.

  2. Is your plan sufficient? Realistically, nothing will protect your yacht from a direct hit of a Category 3 or worse storm. Your goal is to secure the boat to be the best of your ability. Committing to anything more may put your coverage at risk. A sufficient plan always includes:

    • choosing a safe slip in a protected marina
    • securing the boat extremely well with ample line and allowance for a large tidal flux
    • removing all easily damaged exterior parts including sails, canvas, cushions, etc.
    • Surround the vessel with fenders that will stay put in high winds.
  3. Are you prepared? Always have extra lines and large fenders near the boat and easily accessible. Once the storm is predicted it may not be so easy to run out and buy these items.  Beware of predictable shortages. When storms are predicted, stores frequently run out of plywood, gasoline, and water. The same holds true for boat supply companies. During a storm they may run short on fenders and dockline. It is key to buy the supplies you need to execute your hurricane plan in advance at the beginning of the season and have them stored near the vessel.

  4. Who will execute your Hurricane Plan?Are you a reliable candidate to secure your own boat? If not, make pre-arrangements with someone you trust. Don’t assume you can find someone competent after the storm is predicted. Finding a competent contractor at the last minute who is not already committed can be an insurmountable task. As the owner of a management company with several yachts to secure, I delegate the responsibility of each boat to a manager before the season begins.  We have all materials on-hand and even do a ‘trial run’ so we know what to expect when the time comes. It can take 6 - 8 hours and 2 people to properly secure a 45' Catamaran for a storm. Expect to pay $80 per hour plus material costs for storm preparation. And, don't forget that after the storm passes, the vessel must be restored to operational status.

  5. How do I choose the right location? Personally, I recommend narrow canals like Fort Lauderdale's residential canal system. Mangroves are frequently used in the Caribbean and Bahamas. The root systems are very strong and likely to be able to hold a dock line in almost all conditions. Any roots over 4" in thickness should have ample strength to hold one of the minimum of 9 lines needed. The Florida Keys are tricky because there are often mandatory evacuation orders during an approaching storm. Avoid Tidal Surge Areas. Shallow approaches against a solid low lying land mass are a sure bet for a tidal surge. Avoid these areas.  Sometimes isolated islands out at seas fair better because no tidal surge can build up against them.

  6. Can I Outrun the storm or take the vessel out to sea? Never! Always keep in mind that human life is far more valuable than any expensive yacht. Hurricanes can be unpredictable and should not be toyed with. Taking a vessel out into open ocean in advance of an oncoming storm puts more lives at risk than just your own and should be avoided at all costs. If this does not dissuade you, then be sure you are with experienced crew and well equipped with emergency and heavy weather gear. i.e. Liferaft, Drogue, Sea Anchor, Epirb, Survival Suits, Ditch Kit, Satellite Phone, Personal Satellite Locator Equipment, etc. etc.Spider Tie System for Hurrican Dockage

As a charter yacht manager, this is what I usually submit to our insurance company for one of our 45' Catamaran.

Your location is the ultimate catalyst of the plan.  If you are in the Keys, start this process early, as you may be evacuated a few days in advance of the storm.  In Fort Lauderdale or anywhere in the mainland, evacuations are less likely  and are not restricted to just one long highway. If the yacht is a charter yacht, then there should be a written agreement signed by the charterers during hurricane season that explains the procedures to be followed when storms threaten.    This usually defines communications protocols and cruising radius restrictions as the storm path becomes more focused.

Most important, stay safe and don’t sacrifice your safety to secure a boat.  Many have died needlessly fighting forces of nature to save a boat.  If you ask their friends are family, all will agree that the financial and emotional loss of a boat is far less than the loss of a life

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Written by Jay Phillips
Director of 360 Yachting
All rights reserved