Storing your boat away for hurricane season is a daunting task. There’s not much you can really do if Mother Nature conjures up her worst, but with proper planning and solid preparation you’ll sleep better knowing you did your best — and short of suffering the direct hit of a cat 4 or cat 5 hurricane — your boat should survive!
Choosing a Location
The easiest way to avoid a hurricane damaging your boat while hauled out for summer storage is to avoid hauling the boat where hurricane activity exists. For cruisers on the east coast of the United States this can be easier said than done. For many, insurance mandates that the boat be out of the water if kept anywhere within the “hurricane box.” The actual boundaries of the box are somewhat fluid, but for most the northern line is generally the Keys, sometimes as far north as the mouth of the Chesapeake, and the southern cutoff is Grenada.
That said it’s not always practical to move your boat that far north or south. So choosing the “safest” location inside the box is your next best bet, but this can feel like rolling the dice. NOAA provides a “Historical Hurricane Tracking” interface that allows you to view the track of every single hurricane that has been tracked over the last 150 years. Below is a map of every hurricane in the last 40 years to hit the US east coast.
Looking at this image can easily send you into a state of despair. However, after taking a closer look, there’s a few interesting trends and data points that the astute cruising sailor can pick up on which offer a bit of comfort.
After short study, it’s apparent some areas of the coast have a higher density of hurricane tracks, and others that haven’t seen a named hurricane in 40 years. Three areas in particular jump out:
Charleston, SC –> Cape Hatteras, with a particularly dense hotspot centered on the boarder of North & South Carolina. This area seems to be a magnet for hurricanes. The combination of the Gulf Stream, the jet stream, and the predominant weather patterns of the North American content seem to funnel hurricanes originating from all over the Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean seas right through this stretch of coast. I would not haul my boat out for summer storage here.
The next two spots stand out to me for a different reason: the surprising absence of hurricane tracks in the past 40 years. Don’t get me wrong, there have been plenty of storms and many major hurricanes that have passed very close to, or even over these parts of the coast. These “hurricane tracks” are extremely narrow bands representing the path of the eye of the storm and many of these hurricanes are hundreds of miles wide. So this is not to say that hurricanes have been absolutely absent from these parts of the coast. But when compared to places like Cape Hatteras, it’s plainly obvious there is a significant difference in quantity.
- The first of these areas is a handful of pockets spread out across the west coast of Florida and the Florida Panhandle. Tampa Bay and St. Pete is one area and Pensacola another with a lack of tracks. Generally this part of the Florida coast seems to see a significantly lower number of hurricanes than Cape Hatteras.
- The second area lacking in tracks stretches from just north of Daytona Beach, Florida up to Savannah, Georgia.
With a little bit of extra homework out of the way, these are the only two areas I’d really consider leaving the boat over hurricane season, which brings us to choosing a specific boatyard.
Choosing a Boatyard
Our requirements for a boatyard:
- Located as far inland with as much elevation as possible.
- Ideally it’s located behind a lock or nearby a large estuary that can absorb storm surge.
- Be able to unstep the mast.
- Hurricane anchors to secure the boat to the ground.
- Electricity to run our dehumidifier.
- Gravel under the jack stands at a minimum, concrete even better.
Beyond these requirements, other nice things to have is a webcam to check the weather and possibly get a peek of the boat. WiFi to set up an onboard monitoring system. After that, all other liveaboard amenities and good reviews are a bonus.
After Hauling Out
The real work begins… This is our to-do list lifted directly from our project tracking tool we use to keep track of everything on our boat.
- Strip sails & canvas — Step #1. Reducing windage is vitally important. Imagine your boat going through 50,70, 100mph+ winds! Anything that can catch wind needs to be removed and stored below. Beside reducing windage, storing sails and canvas inside will reduce UV exposure and prolong their life.
- Wash entire boat, then buff & wax fiberglass — Ending the season with a clean boat seems to be counter-productive. The real goal is to remove any acidic or corrosive salts left on the hull after hauling out. Additionally, having a clean boat paves the way for buffing and waxing. Using a quality wax like McGuiar’s Flagship Premium Marine Wax wraps your boat in a protective layer preventing UV damage and makes it easier to clean upon return.
- Metal-wax stainless — Despite what you may think, stainless does stain. It just stains…less. Fighting rust on a 40 year-old boat while cruising around in saltwater is an endless job. We found a magic product called Collinite Metal Wax which incorporates a rust converter with a wax-based prohibitor, meaning it cleans & removes rust, and leaves behind a protective coating of wax keeping your stainless shiny for longer.
- Clean, buff & polish Strataglass — After removing the canvas, we clean the clear panels of our dodger. Over time the sun will damage these panels, causing them to haze and yellow. Cleaning them before putting them away protects them from long-term damage.
- Replace running rigging w/messenger lines — Removing your expensive running rigging from the mast and replacing it with cheap messenger lines ensures none of it gets shredded by the wind, dragged through dirt in the boatyard, or baked by the sun.
- Unstep the mast — The mast itself has a lot of surface area. Removing the mast is a pain, but it greatly reduces the stresses put on your boat during significant wind events, and will drastically increase the odds that your boat will be upright on the jack-stands upon your return — should you find yourself in the worst-case scenario.
- Install mast plug & “mini-mast” for UV cover — Our mast is keel-stepped, so removing the mast leaves us with a giant hole in the deck of our boat. This needs to be closed up and sealed watertight. We accomplish this with a custom-built “plug” that sits in the partners. On top of it we built a short “mini-mast” from which we tied a web of Paracord out to the stanchions to support our UV cover.
- Secure CB pennant to bottom of mast plug — Our centerboard weighs about 200lbs, and we secure the pennant/control line to the bottom of our mast plug to keep downward pressure on the butyl rubber, helping to ensure a watertight seal.
- Cover boat w/UV cover — Assuming there is no direct hit from a hurricane, the biggest threats to your boat are water/moisture on the inside of the boat and uv/sun exposure baking the outside. We build a UV tent on deck with an agriculture cloth that allows wind to blow through, but blocks 50% of the sun’s damaging UV rays, protecting our varnish and gelcoat.
- Rinse lines in fresh water & detergent, dry — We have a giant plastic tub that we use to organize everything in our cockpit locker. Once we’ve removed all our running rigging, we start the process of cleaning all the lines. We soak, rinse, wash and rinse again every bit of line on our boat to dissolve the salts, remove the dirt and condition the line to keep it soft. We put a very small amount of laundry detergent into the bucket during the wash cycle, and use our feet like we’re stomping grapes to agitate the wash basin. It works quite well and keeps our line soft, flexible and clean. Once washed and rinsed, we hang it all to dry. It’s important to allow it to dry entirely before storing away to avoid mildew and rot.
- Rinse sails in fresh water & dry — Similarly to the reasons for washing all your lines, we rinse down our sails with fresh water before drying them completely and storing them away in their sail bags.
- Clean, flush & refill water tank — There are two schools of thought on this one: Keep the water tanks completely full OR keep them completely empty and dry. The idea is if the tanks are completely full, there’s nowhere for the bacteria to grow, and if the tank is clean to begin with, there shouldn’t be any growth happening. Conversely, moisture creates a breeding ground for bacteria, so if the tanks are kept completely dry and there’s no moisture for bacteria to thrive on, then they’ll stay clean. We opted for filling them completely.
- Fill fuel tank — We don’t use any biocide in the fuel, and haven’t had any growth issues in our fuel tank. Growth occurs where there is both water and diesel. So if you can keep the condensation out of the tank by filling it completely, you remove the environment in which bacteria likes to grow.
- Plug thru-hulls w/screen — We close all thru-hulls to prevent critters from entering the boat, except for the galley sink drain. We leave this one open as a drain for our dehumidifier. That said, even though most are closed we still stuff them full of screen just to ensure nothing makes a nest up in those spaces.
- Remove 3/4″ rudder plug — The previous owner of our boat put a small plug in the rudder to drain and dry it out while on the hard. We remove this after hauling and let it dry out until just before launching.
- Steam clean cushions — This is maybe an every-other year task. The goal is to remove embedded salts which have built up over time giving the cushions a constantly damp, sticky feel. The cushions look and feel MUCH cleaner after a good steam cleaning.
- Clean wood & surfaces — We use Orange Glow for cleaning and SC Johnson Paste Wax to protect & finish. Our interior wood surfaces are varnished but it’s a thin coat and very old. This combination keeps the mold at bay and gives it a nice shine.
- Lube portlight gaskets & install covers — We use a product called Sil-Glyde to lubricate and recondition our portlight gaskets to protect them from the summer sun and to keep them soft and supple. We used some leftover PVC-based headliner to cut custom portlight covers and install them over the portlights to provide further UV protection to the gaskets and wood interior of the boat.
- Flush engine w/fresh water & drain — We installed a T-valve on our raw water intake line that allows us to easily connect a garden hose to flush the engine with fresh water, thus preventing saltwater from sitting in the engine’s raw water cooling system while in storage.
- Spray engine w/corrosion inhibitor – After flushing the engine we give all the exposed metal bits a spray down with CRC SP-400 which is a corrosion inhibitor that covers the metal in a hard, waxy coating. This can be removed before launching with a citrus cleaner, but to be honest we haven’t bothered with it.
- Lube o-rings on propeller & cover — We have an Autostream feathering propellor. We use the same Sil-Glyde product on the o-rings for each of the blades, and then top off the grease with our grease gun. Last step is to cover it with a plastic bag. The first year we left the prop in the open, and upon return after adding grease, we realized all the o-rings had hardened and cracked (as the grease started splurging out all around them).
- Install sacrificial dorade covers — We have very nicely varnished teak dorade vents. We remove these and replace them with some wood used for storage purposes.
- Remove all food — We try our best not to end up with a huge cache of food stores before hauling out, but whatever remains is removed. There are several good reasons not to leave any: it will either go bad, expire, or attract pests. Even canned goods will start to rust. We’ve felt it’s better to bring everything with us and eat it up/replenish it over the summer months on the road.
- Remove all clothing — We actually don’t follow this rule to a T. The last two years we have left some “boatyard” clothing behind. These are our dirtiest work clothes that we have no use for anywhere else. However, anything that stays behind is washed, dried and stored away in Spacesaver vacuum storage bags.
- Vacuum pack any fabrics staying aboard — We’ve been leaving our linens for the v-berth, a few towels, and a few other odds & ends that could end up molding or mildewing if left out in the open. So these items are all washed and dried before being stored away in large vacuum bags, too. We have been using these Spacesaver vacuum bags which have been holding up OK. They say they have a lifetime warranty, and we have one or two of them that no longer seal, but have yet to send any in for repair/replacement.
- Setup dehumidifier — We seal the boat up tight. We don’t want the humid summer air entering the boat. We have a GE dehumidifier we run all summer long, set to about 65% humidity. If we vented the boat it would be running constantly trying to dry out the entirety of Florida! The dehumidifier is set to auto restart after a power loss and drains directly into the sink and out the thru-hull. This setup has kept the boat dry and eliminates the moisture that mold and mildew require for growth. This is why having electricity at the boat is so important.
- Fill 5-gallon bucket w/sodium chloride tablets — This is our cheap insurance for dehumidifier failure or power loss. We buy a 30-pound bag of water softener tablets from Home Depot and split it across two 5-gallon buckets and our large plastic cockpit locker bin. The idea is if we lose power the salt in these buckets would start absorbing any humid air that builds up until power is restored, at which point the dehumidifier would kick back on and dry the salt back out. So far it has either worked fantastically or not at all… It’s always been dry upon our return.
- Set out Tea Tree Oil — Another boat owner tipped us off to Kanberra Tea Tree Oil Gel. It has a very fresh and pleasant smell, which is nice, but the real magic lies in the anti-microbial and anti-bacterial nature of the tee tree oil itself. It has the ability to kill the source of mold, mildew and odors. It is quite expensive. We started with one 2oz container, and have recently restocked with the 24oz refill pouch. The big price has us wanting to test some other brands to see if Kanberra Gel really has some proprietary science or if any of the tea tree oils would do.
- Install companionway cover — We used the same leftover material from the headliner to create a custom fit companionway cover that slides in over the top of our Lexan hatch boards to block UV light from entering the boat. With that all that’s left is…
- Tidy up underneath boat & make sure everything is secured — This last step can’t be underscored enough. The concept here is you’re leaving the boat expecting it to go through hurricane-force winds… You’re hoping it won’t, but you need to prepare as if it will. So give everything a last look over to ensure that anything that can catch wind or blow away is secure — and not to the jack stands!
Let us know what you think!
Did we miss anything? What tips or tricks have you learned over the years? We’d love your feedback.