Lessons from Harvey and Irma, for Boaters

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Small boats proved imperative, after Harvey hit. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Zachary West)

Recreational boaters and their boats turned out to be some of the heroes of the recent spate of hurricanes, including Harvey. It was jon boats, bass boats, and skiffs that were used to rescue countless people from flooded neighborhoods. But a lot of boats, of course, were damaged in the storm, and many were completely destroyed. What did we learn? Here are a few of the lessons for boaters, from Harvey and Irma:

hurricane harvey

Small boats proved imperative, after Harvey hit. (U.S. Army photo by 1st Lt. Zachary West)

1. A lift is a terrible place for a boat to be stored through a storm. While it may seem like a secure perch, in reality, as water levels rise you only have two choices: leave the boat un-tied, so it may float off the lift and end up wherever the wind and waves take it, or secure it to the lift, and if the water level grows higher than the boat’s gunwales, it’ll stay right there and fill with water. Boats on lifts are much better off pulled, and towed to higher ground.

2. Boats being stored on a trailer (or anywhere on land, for that matter) must have all drain plugs removed regardless as to whether or not the boat has bilge pumps. In fact, in a deluge of the magnitude of Harvey, the drainage system of many boats can’t keep up, anyway—plenty of boats filled with water even though the drain plug had been removed. All but the best covers are not reliable in these sorts of conditions, so the best bet is to park the boat under a roof, if at all possible.

3. Large boats and boats stored in the water need to be pulled well in advance of the storm. There were areas where a lack of capacity made it more or less impossible to get all the boats out of the water in time to securely haul and block them prior to the storm. In most cases the losers were those who acted late. So when a storm seems headed your way, get the boat pulled early in the game. Yes, this can be expensive, but don’t forget that many insurance companies will foot part or even all of the bill to get your boat out of the water in advance of a named storm.

4. Close the vent on all portable fuel tanks, in advance of a big storm. Many folks who failed to do so ended up with water in their fuel. Since replacing that fuel was more or less impossible for some period of time in some areas, those boats were dead in the water. Literally.

5. If you have a small boat on a trailer, don’t secure it to the trailer as you would for the road, or water could over-top it. Instead, tie it off with a leash that will allow the boat to float up off the trailer if necessary, if waters rise that high, but will still keep the boat in place.

What else did we learn about boaters and boats, thanks to this hurricane season? They can be heroes, for real.


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