What to do With Your Sailboat During a Hurricane?

Secure your boat in any way that you can: remove excess cargo, set your anchor in the right place, and locate a proper hurricane hole to store your boat in case you need to evacuate your area. Under no circumstances should you be on your sailboat during a hurricane.

Nobody wants to think of the worst, but everybody needs to prepare for it. If you’re out on the open sea, there’s no telling what could happen.

We have weather reporting and advanced meteorology, but mother nature has a funny way of unleashing the unexpected at the worst possible times.

By nature, storms and strong winds are not categorized as a hurricane until they reach 74 MPH.

Depending on what size vessel you’re using, you can imagine how those high winds could cause a lot of things to go wrong.

Hurricanes can get up to 156 MPH or more, which is classified as a category 5 hurricane.

If you live in a coastal and partially tropical area during hurricane season, it’s important to know every possible measure to prevent damage or capsizing during a hurricane.

Safety Tips

It’s about more than just protecting the boat: it’s about protecting yourself.

These quick tips will help you stay safe, whether you’re preparing your boat for the storm, or you’re braving it yourself.

Remove the Battery

Mitigate damages to your boat by removing the battery when anchoring or putting your boat in a hurricane hole.

This removes the possibility of extreme stress or damage causing lead acid to leak from the battery and damage your electrical system.

Those are the unexpected repairs that nobody thinks of that can cost a ton and this will also eliminate the risk of electrical shock if you are riding out the storm below deck.

The Heave-To

Trim the jib to the opposite side.

This will go against everything you learned during sailing lessons/practice, but it’s going to help you out.

Lash the helm, and understand that the jib is going to try and suppress the bow, but that’s what you want.

The mains are going to try and fill, but once it tries to, that lashed helm will use the wind to try and move forward.

You’ll be repeating these back and forth to essentially park your boat in the middle of a storm, while slightly moving forward.

Ignore Floating Docks

You can Google photographs of floating docks that fling onto shore, and they end up acting as sails to your boat, building up wind and pulling your boat along for the ride.

It’s always a bad idea.

These are cheap ways to get a dock, but they’re a surefire way to turn your boat upside-down and heavily damage it.

Bring SOS Equipment

Assuming that things have gone horribly wrong and you have survived the brunt of the storm, your boat might be left completely damaged (or capsized).

Bring a waterproof backpack with you, and ensure there’s a handheld spotlight or method of SOS.

Tactical flashlights come with strobe modes for this. So long as they have a lot of lumens (measurement of light), these will be viable for signaling air support.

Respond to Issues Quickly

Have a bilge pump ready and perhaps an extra battery, keep emergency inflatable vessels handy, and act as quickly as possible when things look rough.

If the situation is dire, inaction is going to lead to loss of options, which could be disastrous for you and your boat.

Using your judgment as a benchmark, always do something to actively secure yourself or fix issues on the boat.

How to Secure Your Sailboat at the Dock

Secure Sailboat

There’s a bit of an art form to this, because you need to focus on more than just what’s in front of you.

Ideally, you’ll have three to six dock lines, and a sturdy dock to secure things to.

While we recommend seeking out a hurricane hole, we understand that isn’t always an option. This will provide you with the best likelihood of preventing damages to your boat.

First thing’s first: drop the anchor with the bow facing towards the source of the storm.

If you have two anchors, drop them both. We want to create as much stability as possible, especially if this dock is directly on the shore, not in a small bay.

You want to use your dock lines to create a tense hold. It would be ideal to get between two docks and use the adjacent posts for the best results.

Tie a cleat hitch knot around the hitch, and tie the other end around two to three posts on each dock, keeping the rope as tense as possible to create solid stability.

If you’re not lucky enough to have a spot in between two small docks, you’ll have to pull your boat up alongside one dock, and use four to six lines to tie it down.

You’ll want a stern line, bow line, quarter breast line and forward breast line.

The bow and stern lines will work to keep your boat from drifting away from the dock, while the breast lines will keep the boat from banging against the dock.

If wind direction comes from the stern line, your boat would have to rely on the bow line, and vice versa. If you have the option to position a total of six lines, do so.

How to Anchor Your Sailboat in Case of a Hurricane

Anchor Your Sailboats

You’re out on sea, and there’s not enough time to get back to shore before the hurricane rolls in and passes directly overhead.

It’s time to prepare for full-on anchorage.

We don’t want to assume the strength of the hurricane, so instead we will plan for the worst.

Do your best to determine the direction that the hurricane is coming from. Sail directly towards the source, and drop your anchor while doing it.

The goal is to get your anchor as low as possible without using all of your chain, so that it can hook onto something below.

Move your sailboat along slowly until you feel the anchor catch. This will be most noticeable by an abrupt halt of your sailing efforts as the boat jerks forward.

The anchor is set, and if you release additional slack, you’ll be able to unhook it when all is said and done by sailing in the opposite direction and removing the anchor from its holding position.

You must have additional slack if you want to properly retrieve your anchor after the storm has passed.

You’ll be braving the brunt of the storm as it passes overhead.

Depending on the size of the storm and the speed that it’s moving (speeds usually decrease when it makes landfall or comes within ten miles of the shore), you’ll be able to determine a reasonable estimate of time that you’ll be required to endure it.

After this, the storm will be making landfall, and you’ll stay put for one to two hours until there is a safe space for you to dock.

What are Hurricane Holes and How to Find One?

Hurricane holes provide refuge from the damaging winds and horrible waves of hurricanes.

Just using your experience as a benchmark, think of all the different ways that your sailboat could be damaged off the top of your head.

There’s likely a ton of variables floating around right now: loose items that aren’t secured to anything flying off and damaging the deck, the mast being bent or snapped (and consequently the sail), the below-deck door receiving immense windforce.

Finding a hurricane hole can help you prevent all that damage.

There’s no foolproof method to completely prevent damage, but thinking logically, you would want to put yourself in a situation with the highest statistical probability of success, in this case having the least amount of damage to your boat as possible.

So a hurricane hole is a smaller body of water that you can bring your boat to, which will help protect your boat from hurricane damage.

Canals, rivers, small private bays, things of that sort.

With less water for your boat to drift around in, that hurricane hole will also have smaller waves, less violent surges, and do all but ensure that your boat won’t float out to sea.

On that note, in a hurricane hole, you need to secure your boat to something with multiple ropes.

A canal would be the ideal environment if you can secure the rope to your ship, and run the other end of either side of the canal.

Three ropes on each side of a sailboat secured to trees or docks on the canal’s edge would create tension from six different points, keeping your boat dead center in the water throughout all the waves and surges that were to come.

You’d of course want to remove anything that’s going to get majorly damaged. Store the sails, keep everything secured below deck, and do your best to remove all variables from the situation.

If you’re using a hurricane hole, you’re likely under an emergency evacuation warning, and you should have no problem leaving your boat here for a short amount of time after the storm has settled.

It is obviously in your best interest to retrieve it as soon as possible so cleanup can resume.

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