Storm Survival Strategies

By Captain Vincent Daniello
1/10/2013 2:22:05 PM

Unfortunately, I've had too much experience with hurricanes. The 2004 season started when Hurricane Charley's 150 mph winds battered my wife's grandparents' home in Pine Island, Fla. Weeks later I was securing clients' boats ahead of hurricanes Frances and Jeanne. In 2005, I moved to Miami in time for Katrina, Rita and Wilma. Add Hurricanes Isabel in Washington, D.C., in 2003, Floyd in the Bahamas in 1999, Bob in North Carolina in 1991 and many more. I took away valuable lessons from each.

Photo courtesy of Kermarrec Aurelien

Of the three damaging elements of hurricanes -- wind, rain and storm surge -- wind is the most underestimated. Windage increases by the square of the wind velocity. Five square yards of flat surface generate about 10 pounds of pressure in a 10-knot breeze. At 30 knots, the same five yards create 90 pounds of force and at 100 knots, 1,000 pounds. With that much force, surviving 120 mph winds or more -- a direct hit from a solid category-three hurricane-- is as much about luck as preparation. But avoiding damage in a glancing blow or lesser storm is likely with proper preparation. "The area of serious destruction is pretty small," says Frank Atlass, CEO of South Florida-based Atlass Insurance Group. "If you're within a mile or so of the eye, you're going to have a lot of damage. But if the winds stay under 120 mph, it's possible to survive without too much damage."

Atlass' experiences with customers' claims back up my three-part philosophy:

1. Prepare well for a near-miss;

2. assemble and check all gear at the beginning of the season;

3. and keep preparations, and later dismantling, as simple and quick as possible.

Once a major hurricane is imminent, there are (or should be) far bigger concerns than the boat.

Consider my suggestions as an overall strategy. Each boat, dock and storm is unique and requires different tactics. For example, if a minor storm with lots of rain is forecast, I'll leave shore power connected to keep batteries charged. But if a major blow is coming, I'll disconnect power cords and run a portable battery charger using a heavy-duty extension cord from the dock. (Running the generator is another option, but storm debris will likely clog sea strainers.)

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