Should you move your boat when a hurricane is approaching?

Have a coherent plan before you decide to move your boat.

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Despite the fact that modern forecasting methods are far from perfect, a large storm almost always is tracked with enough precision to let you know if you’re potentially in the path of destruction. With a day or more of warning, you have plenty of time to take the precautions necessary to give your boat the best chance to survive a major storm.

One of the most basic questions is whether your boat should be moved to another harbor. Most regions have protected anchorages known as hurricane holes. The only problem is that usually these are known to everyone, and may become so crowded when a major storm threatens that they become more dangerous than a more exposed anchorage.

Moving to a hurricane hole early is no guarantee of safety. You may get the best spot, but there’s no way to keep someone from anchoring right on top of you. If you think all boat owners are a generous and gentlemanly bunch, you haven’t seen them in time of stress when their boats are endangered.

You must realistically assess your chances of survival wherever you are. If strong southerlies are forecast in a harbor whose north end is a stone wall, you’d better think about moving elsewhere, or at least moving as close under the weather shore as is practical. Don’t forget to allow for changes in wind direction, however.

The wind itself is usually less of a problem than high tides and waves which reduce scope and increase chafe as the boat surges. If you’re behind a seawall which is only 5’ above mean high water, a storm which comes at high tide is likely to submerge the breakwater, exposing you to the full force of wind and waves.

Use common sense. Try to imagine what will happen to docks, pilings, seawalls, and the other boats around you. What happens when the wind shifts? What if the docks come loose? Don’t move your boat until you have a coherent plan, and only if you can say with confidence that the place you have chosen is better than the place you are. An exposed location with a bottom that has good holding characteristics may be better than a protected location with lousy holding, if you have adequate ground tackle.

For more tips to help your prepare for and recover from hurricanes, check out the Hurricane Preparedness Guide from Practical Sailor.

Practical Sailor has been independently testing and reporting on sailboats and sailing gear for more than 45 years. Supported entirely by subscribers, Practical Sailor accepts no advertising. Its independent tests are carried out by experienced sailors and marine industry professionals dedicated to providing objective evaluation and reporting about boats, gear, and the skills required to cross oceans. Practical Sailor is edited by Darrell Nicholson, a long-time liveaboard sailor and trans-Pacific cruiser who has been director of Belvoir Media Group's marine division since 2005. He holds a U.S. Coast Guard 100-ton Master license, has logged tens of thousands of miles in three oceans, and has skippered everything from pilot boats to day charter cats. His weekly blog Inside Practical Sailor offers an inside look at current research and gear tests at Practical Sailor, while his award-winning column,"Rhumb Lines," tracks boating trends and reflects upon the sailing life. He sails a Sparkman & Stephens-designed Yankee 30 out of St. Petersburg, Florida.

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