Hurricane season on Boston Harbor: getting prepared

Its that time of year again….Hurricane season! With Hurricane Isaac in the news this week, Boaters will likely have the possibility of hurricanes on their mind for the remainder of the boating season (which still has a good two months left as I write this). Last year, hurricane Irene briefly threatened the Boston Harbor area, but its course veered to the West, resulting in the storm making landfall as a category 1 storm near New York City. Had the storm veered about 100 miles further East, we probably would have had more of a problem. I remember spending just about the entire day on my boat monitoring the hurricane. The damage at the marina was minimal, but in nearby Dorchester Bay, several sailboats moorings were pulled loose, and they washed up on the beach in South Boston near Castle Island. Above is a picture I took of the aftermath. Below is a picture I took of some docks at my marina which were blown out of the water due to strong hurricane force winds.

Here are some hurricane safety considerations for boaters:

First off, I would like to highlight an excellent and comprehensive hurricane preparation guide from BoatUS. This can be accessed here. Boaters should refer to this for complete and official hurricane preparation advice.

Much of the outcome of a hurricane on your boat will be dependent on the characteristics of the Marina you are docked at. Some of the most important factors determining the outcome of a hurricane are the height of the pilings securing the dock, and the number of sides on which the marina is surrounded by land. The higher the pilings, the lower the risk that the docks could rise above the pilings in a storm surge and become dislodged. In terms of surroundings by land, a marina that is surrounded by land on three sides, such as Hingham Shipyard Marina, will generally fare much better in a storm than a marina with land on just one side, as the wind fetch at most angles is minimized when the marina is surrounded by land.

In the Boston Harbor area, Hingham Shipyard Marina, Marina Bay, and the Town River Marina in Quincy all stack up very favorably on these measures. Other marinas may as well-these are just the ones that I am familiar with. Below is an example of the Hingham Shipyard Marina, where I tie up this season. Due to its surroundings by land on most sides, the marina is well protected from long wind fetches, with the exception of a little bit of fetch to the NE.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Ideally, pilings will be tall enough to hold the dock even in the event of a storm surge coinciding with high tide. These pilings below look quite adequately high:

 

The best and safest option to avoid damage from a hurricane is obviously to haul the boat and store it on land. However, this may be impractical and expensive, and could put an early end you your season. Boaters should monitor the direction and strength of the hurricane to assess whether hauling is the best option. In the case of a strong storm making direct landfall on your area, Hauling certainly is the best option. In a case where you don’t haul, consider the following:

If on a mooring, your boat may be more exposed, but in this position there may be fewer objects or other boats that could collide with your boat. Check the type of mooring you have and its scope. BoatUS recommends scope of greater than 3 to 1 to improve strength. Boaters should remember that during a storm surge, the higher water will result in a lower scope.

On a slip, it is imperative to secure boats thoroughly- BoatUS recommends use of eight lines. Another very important consideration is to remove canvases and curtains- anything that creates drag- as these things could act as sails in strong hurricane force winds, thereby increasing wind pressure on the dock. I witnessed this directly last year, when a large boat with a canvas top up created enough drag to buckle the dock and nearly pull it off its pilings. Were it not for the excellent and fast response from the marina staff and Environmental Police, there could have been extensive damage:

Good luck out there- hopefully hurricane season does not impact Boston Harbor, but if it does, hopefully this will help keep you and your boat safe!

 

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